Racial and Administrative Matters Overshadow Budget Hearing at SOMA Board of Education Meeting


MAPLEWOOD, NJ - The South Orange and Maplewood Board of Education held Monday night’s meeting with its biggest agenda item being the 2014-2015 budget, but parents’ views on the district’s attitude toward the black student body and the ongoing struggle teachers face with school administrators were the highlights of the meeting.

During the hearing of individuals from the public, the school district’s treatment of Black History Month was brought up.

Dr. Dionne Williams, a Maplewood resident, said she objected to increase of the budget because “not everyone in the district gets fair and equal treatment.”

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Williams closed her statement by reading a portion of the lyrics to the song, “Old Man River,” that contained a racial slur. She said that the song, played over a loud speaker, was “the only way that one of the middle schools really addressed anything having to do with black history month.”

Dr. Walter Fields, one of the organizers of the SOMA Parents of Students of African Descent Workshop, spoke after Williams, and he too acknowledged what he viewed as the district's failure to recognize its African-American students. Shields addressed the absence of black history in the American history curriculum in schools.

“This school district is not confined to celebrate black history in 28 days,” Fields said before reminding the board it isn’t too late to make amends.

“If you’re going to tax taxpayers, particularly black taxpayers, to consent to what is widely acknowledged to be high taxes, we have a reasonable expectation that you will make the elimination of racial disparities in academic placement and achievement a priority,” said Shields.

Following the budget discussion, which is a proposed $106,563,115, various South Orange Middle School teachers took the stand to address the board about the on going problem with school administration.

Teacher Angela Ferraro spoke about the unbalance in classrooms when it comes to technological aids such as smart boards and Chromebooks within the school and pushed for the board to pursue to create equal classroom environments.

Other teachers, Ashley Corino, Frank Guastella and Jazmine Wright, daughter of board member Johanna Wright, all discussed the undermining and intimidation of faculty by administrators in the school. 

Each teacher gave personal declarations about their frustrations with the lack of action taking place after various attempts to have the problems resolved on different occasions, most recently at the last Board meeting on March 17.

“Success in this profession relies on our ability as a collective unit to buy into the culture of our building, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to be as creative, collaborative and enthusiastic in an environment that is as stifling and as micromanaging as ours has become,” said Guastella.

Like at last month’s board meeting, teachers signed up to yield time to those who had prepared statements.

The reporter is writing as part of a journalism partnership between The Alternative Press/Tap into SOMA and Kean University.

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