The Parsippany Board of Education's attempt to reverse the controversial teacher layoff and staffing changes failed Thursday night.
The board initially voted in favor of reversing both decisions, but after convening in executive session—and two members not returning for the public session—the majority felt reversing the changes would only cause more disruption.
It was a heated couple of hours at Thursday night’s Parsippany-Troy Hills school board meeting with several hundred people filling up the seats of Parsippany High School’s auditorium.
Two particular items in the superintendent’s bulletin addressed recent actions in which the administration reduced staffing due to overstaffed classes and cut one teacher’s position.
One item dealt with “transfers of assignments” for 20 teachers, which shifted them to different schools, particularly the middle schools. The other item was approval of the “termination of employment” for one teacher “due to reasons of economy and efficiency effective Dec. 2, 2013," according to the superintendent’s bulletin.
After Superintendent John Fitzsimons’ presentation on why the administration made these decisions, dozens of residents, parents, teachers and former students spoke up with the majority overwhelmingly opposing these recent actions.
The board then rejected these two specific items in the Superintendent’s bulletin with a vote of 5-4 for the schedule change and 7-2 for the teacher layoff.
One suggestion made during the public-comment portion was
to bring back the teacher who was cut and have her teach in the elementary
school instead where the class sizes need to be smaller.
During the board discussions, it was made clear that even if she was brought back, she was not certified to teach on the elementary level. Board member James Carifi asked if the union, Parsippany-Troy Hills Education Association, would be open to discussions in which a swap could be made to bring back this teacher. For example, a current teacher certified to teach at the elementary level could move from the middle school to elementary school and the teacher that was let go, could come back and take her place.
However, Fitzsimons said it was too late because “she’s
already been noticed and we’ll work on it and see if there’s a possibility, but
until then, she’ll be terminated and subject to severance,” Fitzsimons said.
Board Attorney Mark Tabakin clarified that if the motion for No. 28 fails, “there’s no termination.”
Board Member Frank Calabria said that if the two items have already been initiated, “why am I voting on it?”
“It’s because we’ve done it many of times and where things have happened and after the fact, we have to vote on it,” said Board President Susy Golderer, adding the question to Calabria, “You’ve been on the board how long?” which was met with negative reactions from the audience. At the end of the meeting, after the executive session, Golderer apologized for her statement, saying that she’d “like to publicly apologize to Dr. Calabria because I shouldn’t have said what I said, but it was the heat of the moment … I would never disrespect anyone, especially fellow members of the board.”
“If we vote ‘No’ on this, does that mean that we go back and say, ‘sorry, friendsies.’ We have to do it all over again?” asked Calabria, adding that although the issue was discussed in executive session, “there was some misunderstanding as to the extent of this. That’s where I’m coming from.”
“I would hope that you would appreciate as an administrator yourself that if these transfers are not approved tonight, it would create havoc in the system,” said Fitzsimons.
Here’s how everyone voted:
- Calabria: No on the schedule change and teacher layoff
- Carifi: No on the teacher layoff and yes on the schedule change because although "I was not informed enough of the magnitude of the transfers that took place ... the transfers have already been made … in the interest of the children, to go back to that would be terrible."
- DeIntinis: No on the schedule change
- Mancuso: No on the schedule change and teacher layoff
- Martin: “This one’s killing me, 15 (the schedule change) no … (and the teacher layoff,) 28, that’s a definite No.”
- Orthwein: No on the schedule change and teacher layoff
- Strumolo: Yes to all
- Shamsudin: No on the schedule change and teacher layoff
- Golderer: Yes to all
With both items failing, the audience cheered and during executive session, many poured out of the auditorium and left. Only about a dozen remained.
“I’m very pleased. I’m thrilled that the board heard what we had to say,” said PTHEA president Joe Kyle, while the board met in executive session. “I’m so happy for the teachers and the students who will be able to go back to the teachers they had at the beginning of the year … Democracy in action just happened,” however, he added that he was worried that some votes may be influenced to sway the other way behind closed doors.
Kyle and others’ fears quickly came to fruition when the board reconvened after executive session. Calabria and Mancuso were not present after executive session.
Orthwein said that it was discussed that because the change has already been put in effect, it would be “physically impossible to (undo) this at this time … We cannot undo it and put the middle school back to the where it was,” Orthwein said.
“Going back (to the original schedule) would cause even bigger disruption,” said Carifi. “We all want it to go one way, but at the end of the day, after hearing enough information … I have to reconsider my vote.”
All but Martin, who abstained, voted to reconsider the change of teachers’ schedules, and this item was passed with six voting in favor of it, Martin abstaining and Calabria and Mancuso absent.
For the teacher layoff, the administration made it clear that if the motion fails and that teacher’s position is restored, since the new schedules have taken effect, there is no position for her, so she would be paid but would not work.
“After hearing what everybody had said and that there is no position for her and we would pay her to not show up for work, “I’m voting 'yes' to reconsider,” said Carifi.
Martin said ‘No’ to reconsidering the item, but the rest voted to reconsider the teacher termination, and this item was passed with six voting in favor of it, Martin voting against, and Calabria and Mancuso absent.
“Like James said, I think there may be something in the future, but at this point, we have no place to put this teacher, so I will have to vote ‘Yes,’” said Orthwein.
“I agree with Fran and with James,” said Shamsudin.Check back with Patch for more on this meeting, including comments from the public. The board has also begun its search for a new superintendent with an online survey, community forum and focus groups.
--Original Post before the Meeting--
With a capacity of 780, the Parsippany High School auditorium is filling up fast. Hundreds have filed in with many in PTHEA blue shirts.
PTHEA president Joe Kyle said that the goal of tonight is to make the school board aware that the recent district cuts were wrong and to ensure that no further cuts will be made to staff nor programs because that would be detrimental to students.
Kyle added that the superintendent is only here until April so he is not invested long-term in the district unlike many in the audience tonight.
Related Patch Posts:
- School Superintendent is 'Misleading,' Cuts Hurting Students, PTHEA Says
- Community Survey on Future Par-Troy Superintendent Starts
- Teacher Cuts Upset Parents, Parsippany Community
- Overstaffed Schools Led to Teaching Cuts, Superintendent Says
- 'Despicable' Cuts Will Have 'Detrimental Impact,' Par-Troy Teachers Say