SPARTA, NJ- Seating seems to be the latest source of contention among the members of the Sparta Board of Education. They spent more than 20 minutes at the meeting last Monday discussing the issue of assigned seats at the board table.
The board president Karen Scott had arranged the seating at the last few board meetings, following up on requests from unnamed board members. Scott said some had complained that a few board members were "holding their own private board meetings" while the rest of the board was focused on the business at hand. The side discussions were "distracting."
According to bylaw 0171 Duties of President and Vice President... "As presiding officer at all meetings of the Board, the President shall: 4. Be responsible for the orderly conduct of all Board meetings."
At the work session meeting Scott addressed this issue with the board members. She asked if they could simply accept assigned seats or if the bylaw needed to be amended to specifically give authority to the board president, beyond what is already stated. Kim Yoemans did not support Scott's request, making an amendment necessary.
Scott indicated she had consulted with New Jersey School Boards' Association for advice. They had advised that it is appropriate for board members to be assigned seats because "some board members cannot get along and some get along too well."
The school board representative said it is a common practice for presidents of other boards of education to assign seats and that if there was still a conflict over the practice, his advice was to amend the bylaw, according to Scott.
There is a history of board presidents creating a seating chart. Linda Alvarez, Board Secretary said she had received emails from previous president detailing the placement of the name plates. Scott herself, having served under several different presidents, indicated she too recalls being assigned a seat. "I just sat where I was told," Scott said.
The issue was exemplified during the first public participation portion of the meeting when resident Mary Anne Ryan was speaking. She stopped her discussion to address Brenda Beebe and Richard Bladek who were deep in their own conversation and did not realize at first they were being addressed by Ryan. "Excuse me," said Ryan, "I wouldn't do that to you. And put your microphone down, I see what you're doing over there."
This is the second time select board members have challenged Scott's authority as board president. At the first meeting of the year Beebe, Bladek and Yoemans refused their committee assignment. Also found in bylaw 0171 Duties of the President and Vice President: "The President of the Board of Education shall: 7. Appoint all committees of the Board..."
After discussion with Scott and Superintendent Dennis Tobin, Beebe and Bladek later accepted a committee assignment. Yoemans, however, has not accepted a committee assignment.
The bylaw revision is on the agenda for the meeting scheduled for Monday, March 31. It will take place at Mohawk Avenue School at 7:30 p.m.
Also on the agenda for the meeting on Monday is further discussion of full-day kindergarten. District officials report they will be following the advice of Sussex County Business Administrator Neil Cramer as to how to proceed with changing the previous full-day kindergarten votes, as requested by Frank Favichia at the March 24 meeting. While the published agenda only indicates a discussion of the topic by Tobin, officials assure that the issue will be brought for another vote.
Last week Lafayette Board of Education voted to approve full-day kindergarten to begin next year. That leaves only two districts in Sussex county who do not provide full-day kindergarten programs; Sparta and Frankford.