Editor's note: Since this issue has been of interest in all the school districts and especially in Millburn as of late, we are printing the Bloomfield story here.
Shock waves rippled through Council Chambers earlier this week when, in a 6-0 vote, last week’s motion to move school board elections to November was overturned. Reacting to some council members’ reversal of last week’s vote, Mayor Raymond McCarthy quipped, “I’m sitting here feeling like I’m at a Rick Santorum convention, with everyone finding God all of a sudden.”
The unanimous vote came after numerous school board officials, including School Superintendent Jason Bing and Director of Human Resources and Labor Relations, Nicholas Dotoli, presented compelling arguments in favor of keeping school board elections in April.
“Funding is one of the potentially devastating areas of education,” said Dotoli, maintaining that moving the school elections to November would place an added financial strain on a district that is “trying to properly fund itself.” He predicted the district’s neediest children and as well as the schools’ aides and paraprofessionals, would suffer the consequences most.
Bing directed his comments to the mayor and council, saying, “I want to be able to meet our kids’ needs, I want to be able to raise our kids’ test scores and make you proud of our school system."
BOE President Mary Shaughnessy, appealing especially to the council members who have children in the school district, noted, “In terms of funding for our schools, we’re in the bottom fifth in the state, which means we have very little play after meeting such essentials as salaries and basic supplies. We need to know exactly what we have to work with by April, which is when the board is mandated to vote on the budget. A no vote from the public in November would create utter chaos."
Though he abstained from voting last week, Councilman Nick Joanow stated that he strongly believed school elections should remain in April, as per to the wishes of the majority of the school board.
“Come September we have to open every classroom with a teacher who is the real teacher, not someone holding their place before an election,” he said. “I will not be a party to creating chaos [in the classroom].”
When it came time for the vote, Councilman Carlos Bernard suggested rescinding the motion on the grounds that he wanted to find out more information from the state. This suggestion was quickly shot down by McCarthy, Township Attorney Brian Aloia and Councilman Bernard Hamilton, who said, “We need to make a decision today.”
After the vote, which was greeted by applause from the audience, some council members expressed surprise at the outcome. McCarthy called it “just amazing,” saying after the meeting that the council's change of heart could have been the result of the outpouring of calls and emails received over the past week.
Joanow commented, “You don’t need to add any more challenges to this school district. This [decision] will allow them to control their own destiny. It doesn’t matter what other school districts do. Bloomfield is its own entity.”
“I’m glad [the council] supported what the Board of Education,” said Hamilton. “The township needed to support them. It’s in the best interests of the township.”
He added, however, “I just don’t want to play games with decision- making. Now you’ve got a 6-0 vote when last week it was 3-2. They don’t understand the non-partisan part [of the issue.] They should have put ‘non-partisan election’ on the agenda.”
Not surprisingly, school board members expressed relief and satisfaction at the council's vote.
“I was at last week’s meeting and I thought there would be a tie tonight,” admitted BOE member Maribel Perez. “When those who serve us listen -- we can’t ask for more than that.”
“I appreciate what the town council did tonight,” said Bing. “That’s the beauty of democracy.”