Tuesday, September 22, 2015

South Brunswick Board of Ed Tries to Oust Education Advocate

In every generation, you hope there will be people who are active and engaged in the community in which they live. You hope they are smart and willing to devote time to contribute and make things better in their corner of the world. New Jersey is lucky to have a lot of such people, especially in education advocacy. 

One of those people is a young woman named Melissa Katz. She is smart and funny and completely dedicated to becoming an urban educator. She is deeply involved in state advocacy for public education, seeing it not only as duty to a greater good, but also with the intent of saving a profession she dearly loves. Her future students will be very lucky to have her as their teacher.

Yesterday, I had a conversation with Melissa, actually I should say another conversation, about how her local Board of Education does a not great job of informing the public about their meetings -- specifically with regard to making their meeting agendas public. What is made available to the public before every meeting, via the district website, is a single page with an outline of a meeting. It looks like something the Business Administrator might start with before filling it in. As a member of the public, you should be able to look at an agenda, 48 hours in advance per the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), and discern what will be discussed. You should be able to decide if there is business you need to attend the meeting for -- either to comment or just to hear the details. South Brunswick Board of Education does not do this. You must attend the meeting to get an actual, full agenda.

Several members of the public have previously brought this to the Board's attention and nothing has been done. Melissa was troubled that the public comments had been ignored. We talked about the best way to approach the Board to ask for an explanation. This, with the full understanding that a Board does not have to respond to the question itself at a meeting. So, Melissa went home and looked at surrounding districts' websites for their Board agendas. All of them were complete. 

At last night's South Brunswick Board of Education meeting, Melissa asked what could be done about providing the full agenda per OPMA. She showed the Board members agendas from three districts. All of which were no less than 19 pages long. She held up theirs...it was one page. She asked how a member of the public could make a decision to attend or not based on the one page "agenda" with no information on it. When she finished, in under the time allotted for comment, she was given a quick thank you and that's it.

Melissa asked the Board VP repeatedly if he would respond. At that point, a simple courtesy (due to anyone who stands up to make a public comment) would have been just to thank her again and take it under advisement. But he didn't do that. Instead, he nodded to the police officer in attendance and asked for her to be removed. 

Think about that for, oh, half a second. A member of the public brings up a legitimate concern regarding how this Board conducts its business, that is by the way, theoretically prosecute-able, and the VP's response is at first to be rude, and then absurd by asking the  police officer to remove her. Melissa refused to leave and sat down. The officer stood over her for several minutes -- presumably to intimidate her into silence. It worked. She said nothing else.

Obviously, this raises some really basic concerns. 

1. Let's presume the Board is not providing a proper agenda because they don't know any better. (Yeah, I know. Suspend your disbelief for a sec.) Once this was brought to their attention, apparently now several times, why didn't they do a better job of informing the public by providing full agendas? Do they not want public input? It sure looks that way. 

2. Boards are not required to respond directly to any questions posed to them during a public meeting. However, they can answer if they choose to.   

3. Perhaps most important, will last night's ridiculous behavior by the Board VP have a chilling effect on the rest of the public? They have just witnessed what happens when a concerned citizen asks a perfectly legitimate question: A police officer will stand over you to shut you up. 

A reminder to the majority of Boards of Education in the state of New Jersey: You are elected to represent the public. Ignoring and attempting to intimidate the public to whom you are responsible is reprehensible. It is unethical. If you can't or won't do the job you were elected to do, step down, get out of the way. There are citizens who would be happy to do the job responsibly.


Note: I'll post video when I can get me hands on an edited version. The entire original is over an hour long. 

Edit to add:
Melissa posted her experience here. This is the edited version from the meeting:







4 comments:

  1. Every neighbor and fellow parents should go to the next meeting and ask the same question over and over.

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    Replies
    1. I certainly hope residents will do exactly that.

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  2. My aunt used to say..
    "Keep them dumb, feed them false information, repeat and don't educate. Then you can control them."

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  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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