LIVINGSTON, NJ — After welcoming Pamela Chirls and Ronnie Konner back to the Livingston Board of Education (LBOE) to serve their next three-year terms and electing Buddy August as the next LBOE president, there was a split vote among the five board members in the election of vice-president.
Chirls, the immediate past president of the LBOE, and Konner were officially sworn in at Monday’s LBOE reorganization meeting after being re-elected in November.
After nominating August for president, Konner was nominated by her running mate to serve as vice president, and August expressed his support. Although LBOE member Samantha Messer nominated herself for the position, George Shen abstained from the vice-president vote, ultimately resulting in a split vote in favor of Konner.
Some residents—including Messer’s husband and Rachel Selvin, a candidate in the 2018 LBOE election, as well as some parents— expressed concern that these positions have been rotating between only three board members over the last few years. Selvin, who was “very disappointed in the vote for vice president,” said the board should have taken this opportunity to allow someone new take a leadership position.
“The election that was run was run on supposedly transparency, community uniting and welcoming new ideas and differences,” said Selvin. “What was just done here tonight, unfortunately, was a continuation of not allowing new ideas and new leadership to come to this board of education...[Messer] made it very clear that she was ready, willing and able to work with the board in the best interest of the students in this community, and the fact that she was not acknowledged or recognized for her willingness to do so is very disappointing.”
Messer’s husband, Alan Glazer, said that after the recent elected showed “a divide in the community,” he found it “surprising that the three people on the board have decided to just retain power amongst themselves.” Earlier in the meeting, it was announced that Chirls received 5,715 votes and Konner received 5,339 in the November election, followed closely by opposing candidates Todd Goren with 4,046 votes and Selvin with 3,994.
“The smart thing to do to would actually be to follow in the ways of the town council, which alternates,” said Glazer. “I can speak only for my wife, who works countless hours and has to deal with countless things and pushback from the community and from people who don’t actually try to improve things but just like to complain. It’s disappointing that the board, frankly, in my opinion, rarely has stuck up for her or other teachers or administrators who have been put down on various websites and public forums.
“It just seems that the town has an opportunity to take one of the most well-respected people in education, has worked in all forms of schools, is continuing to work, has children in the community, and is impacted every day by what goes on here and I think by far has the best resume for someone on the school board. I find it disheartening and disappointing that the board would elect to rotate power amongst three people and basically make it a board of three instead of a board of five.”
Shen did not immediately respond to inquiries about his decision to abstain from the vote, but said during Monday’s meeting that “the friendship and the working together is more important than the difference in seating.”
August added that all five board members “have equal say about items” and vowed that all of them would listen to each other’s ideas. He said that it is the “ideas that give you power,” not the position title.
“I’m looking forward to all five of us this year working hard together as one unit,” he said. “Next year, there will be an opening at the vice presidency, and [if Sam] runs and wins, I would vote for her.”
Several other residents showed their support for the reinstalled board members as well as the new president and vice president during public comment, thanking the board as a whole for their continued dedication to Livingston’s students.
“I volunteer quite a bit for our community and I know the members of this board volunteer and give of themselves tirelessly to our community and our schools,” said Dee Dee Pulver. “They have the pulse of our community, they are involved in activities outside of the school board and they care and are dedicated and committed to providing our children and families with the best that they can possibly offer. I applaud them, and I thank them so much for their very hard work.”
Justin Alpert, a regular presence at the LBOE meetings, said that the board has “an incredible opportunity to have a brand new start to work together.”
“Thank you for finding a way to work together as a board,” he said. “People are going to be looking to communities like Livingston to establish new positions and take a leadership position and coordinate with other districts and grow. This is a really important time for Livingston because we’re looking for someone to come in and help lead us.”
On the subject of the superintendent search, Interim Superintendent James O’Neill said that the district already has “a very strong pool of candidates.”
“We have, as far as I can tell, more candidates for superintendent than other school boards have been able to acquire when they have done the search themselves,” said O’Neill, adding that selecting a permanent superintendent is one of the most important responsibilities that a school board has.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us to do, and I hope that all of us, cooperatively, will be able to work together so that we can provide the very best education for all of the students going forward,” Konner said as she thanked the community for its support in the recent election.
In his new presidential chair, August wished the community a happy and healthy new year, and joked that he promises to keep the LBOE meetings as short as possible in 2019.