A Parsippany Board of Education member's motion to delay dealing with a number of school district business matters in early January may have had an unintended consequence—the loss of $30,000 in savings from the refinancing of bonds for capital improvements.
At the BOE's Jan. 3 meeting, member Michael Strumolo moved to table consideration of the superintendent's and secretary's reports until new member James Carifi could educate himself on the information contained within them. The motion launched a heated debate between members over whether the delay would bring board business, as member Fran Orthwein cautioned, "to a screeching halt."
Ultimately, board attorney Mark Tabakin said that because most items were already approved to cover the rest of the present school year, business would not be disrupted, and the board approved Strumolo's motion.
Orthwein cast the only no vote.
At the meeting held last Thursday, the matter arose again when Strumolo made a motion to table the secretary's report.
The move did not receive a second and died on the spot.
Member Gary Martin re-crafted the motion, pointing out specific sections regarding reappointments that end at the close of the school year, such as those for architecture firm Parette Somjen, health insurance broker Doyle Alliance Group and a host of per-hour and per-visit physicians who offer medical services to district schools.
"If we can save the district money, shouldn't we take a look at it?" argued Martin. "We don't have to stick with the same old companies year after year when we might be able to save the taxpayers money."
Martin said the board might find that the current appointees are the best, most economical choices.
"But we don't know until we look at it," he said.
Orthwein noted an unintended consequence of having tabled the previous meeting's secretary's report, and specifically, the refinancing of old bonds for capital improvements.
"Because we waited, we lost the opportunity for saving the taxpayers money," she said pointedly, noting that the loss was $15,000. Further delay, she added, would double that figure to $30,000.
Strumolo scoffed at the statement. He turned to the board's lawyer and asked whether Orthwein's assertion was true.
Tabakin looked down and said that she indeed was correct.
After a heated debate, the matter ultimately came to a vote. Strumolo's motion passed—with Orthwein voting yes alongside Strumolo, Martin, President Golderer, Vice President Sharif Shamsudin, James Carifi and Anthony DeIntinis. Members Frank Calabria and Anthony Mancuso voted no.
Other items led to less charged discussions.
Board President Susy Golderer announced that the body is looking at the possibility of restructuring public meetings so there would be a workshop meeting, where members hash out issues, and a business meeting, where voting would take place.
This method of doing business, reputed to be a more efficient way of getting work accomplished, is employed by other New Jersey school districts, including Livingston, Paterson and Summit.
She said the matter would be considered in the Critical Issues Committee, which now is headed by Strumolo.
Another idea came from Calabria, the previous board president, who suggested making committee meetings open to the public.
"You never said that when you were president," he charged.
"I wasn't smart enough to think of it then," Calabria responded with a smile.
President Golderer sent that idea to Critical Issues as well.
The committee will also consider a suggestion by Orthwein to issue a resolution similar to the one passed by the Parsippany Town Council to urge the state legislature to override Gov. Christie's veto of the Good Samaritan Act. The law, if passed, would prioritize saving lives over punishment by offering limited immunity to those who suffer drug overdoses and to companions who call for help.
Strumolo came out forcefully against Orthwein, saying that a school board must stand strong against all drug use.
Orthwein argued that saving lives should be the priority.
Coincidentally, there was a similar difference of opinion in Trenton: In the General Assembly, District 26 representatives BettyLou DeCroce and Jay Webber supported the measure last year, while state Sen. Joseph Pennacchio did not.
On another matter, Superintendent LeRoy Seitz said that a Youth Leadership Academy idea proposed on Jan. 3 by member James Carifi was considered as promised. He said the district felt Carifi's idea to bring law enforcement and emergency responders into contact with students was a good one and that administrators would try to meld his idea into the existing Student Leadership Retreat offered during the summer.
Another measure considered was a proposed policy change regarding rules over opportunities for public comment during board meeting.
As expected, the board approved on first reading a refinement to the existing policy that essentially maintains the rules already in place, including a three-minute limit for commenters.