School power back in the nick of time

| 15 Feb 2012 | 09:10

    BOE considers changing spring musical director Sparta — In spite of some uncertain moments last week as two school district buildings limped along with no electricity in Hurricane Irene’s aftermath, all power was restored just in time for school and on Tuesday all buildings opened for the new school year with no glitches. Sparta Middle School was without power since the storm hit, cancelling the open house for students scheduled for last Tuesday. Power came back by late Thursday and the open house took place on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. Now that the middle and high school start times have been staggered, officials say middle school students will have less down time before school and most morning commutes will be smoother. All middle school buses arrived on time for the first day of school, in spite of the new bus routes recently added. Other schools reported some late buses on Tuesday, but according to Superintendent Dr. Thomas Morton, this is not unusual for the first day, which was also a rainy day. Morton said, “I visited each school on Tuesday and every principal was very happy with how things went for the first day of school. All the schools looked great and the kids looked excited to be there.” Missing agendas Mohawk Avenue School, which houses the district offices, was also without power until Thursday. At the board of education meeting last Wednesday night, which was moved to the high school due to lack of power at the middle school, the power outage was cited as the reason no meeting agendas had been posted on line, nor were any copies available to the public in attendance. This prompted several complaints from the public, some of whom claimed the omission was intentional. However, secretaries in the board offices reported the next day that they had been instructed by Business Administrator Dr. Warren Ceurvels to go to the high school on Wednesday and make copies for the public for the meeting that night. They said they made 30 copies of the 50-page agenda and took them back to the board office, placing them in the customary location where agendas are kept before a meeting. They said they informed Ceurvels the agendas were copied and were in their usual location, expecting he would take them to the meeting, but the agendas remained in the office. Agendas were posted online as soon as power was restored on Thursday. Change for the high school musical? For the past nine years, English teacher Angela Davis has directed the spring musicals for the high school. Drama teacher Victoria Reed has been the director of the fall drama since she was hired in 2006. For this year, High School Principal Dennis Tobin has recommended that Reed, the drama teacher, take on the directing duties for both fall and spring productions and the recommendation was supported by the Superintendent. The matter was brought before the board last week. Around 20 students, along with some staff members, attended the meeting to support Davis and urge the board to keep her as the musical director. Many spoke of Davis’ consistent success with the musicals, telling the board, “If something isn’t broken, don’t fix it.” Davis also spoke on her own behalf, saying her shows are always well attended and successfully involve numerous students in a positive and productive event. She listed her own experience and training that she said made her the best candidate for the position. Although she praised Reed’s theatrical experience, she said, “Her stage performance experience does not qualify her for directing.” Vote in question Eight members of the board were present and the result of the vote was four in favor of Reed as the director, three opposed, and one abstention. Ceurvels said the vote resulted as a tie because the abstention counted as a negative vote, so the motion did not carry and would be tabled until the next meeting. However, there is now some question as to the board’s policy on voting and how an abstention should be counted. Board member Kevin Pollison spoke to the Independent the day after the meeting, citing Policy 0165, “Voting Bylaws”, which states: “Abstentions shall not be counted as votes but shall be recorded; a member who abstains from voting is deemed to have acquiesced in the outcome of the vote.” Pollison said if this policy wording is taken verbatim, the abstaining vote should not have counted at all and the motion should have carried. In the past, Sparta boards have counted abstentions as negative votes. New Jersey Press Association attorney Tom Cafferty said his legal understanding is that an abstention counts with the majority vote, unless it is a matter for which statute requires two-thirds, or a super-majority of the elected membership of the public body, such as for a bonding ordinance. Superintendent Morton said Sparta’s policy does reflect the stipulation mentioned by Cafferty, where it states: “All motions shall require for adoption the majority vote of the board members present in voting, except as provided by statues of the state of NJ, this bylaw, or parliamentary authority and provided that the number of affirmative votes is at least a majority of the board’s quorum.” However, Morton said he will seek clarification from the board attorney as to how this applies to a personnel matter, which in his understanding, requires a majority of the members present, and that would have been five votes. Ceurvels said he thinks this is true and although he agrees the board policy should be re-examined, he believes the motion to name Reed as musical director did not carry. He also agreed that in the past, Sparta’s boards have counted abstentions as negative votes Next month Tobin will likely make another recommendation on the matter, which will be placed on the superintendent’s agenda for a board vote. Ethics review Prior to the board meeting last week, board attorney Rod Hara gave a two-hour review/crash course on ethics and proper roles and responsibilities for board members. He went point-by-point through New Jersey statute 18:A, the School Ethics Act, and especially 18:A 12-24, which is the Code of Ethics for Board Members. Hara said one of the most commonly misunderstood parts of the Code of Ethics, and one that leads to numerous and often unintentional ethics violations is part D, which states, “I will carry out my responsibility, not to administer the schools, but, together with my fellow board members, to see that they are well run.” Hara called this “a delicate balancing act” and said board members must understand the clear division of responsibilities between the board and the administration. He also said this point is one of the reasons the School Ethics Act was drafted, so that board members would not be involved in running the schools. Another part of the Code of Ethics which commonly leads to ethics complaints, Hara said, is part E, which states, “I will recognize that authority rests with the board of education and will make no personal promises nor take any private action that may compromise the board.” Hara reminded the board they must act as one body and cautioned them not to let outside persons influence their decisions.