WAYNE, NJ – January is School Board Appreciation Month and to mark the occasion, the Assistant Superintendent of Wayne Schools, Donna Reichman read off a proclamation at Thursday night’s Wayne Board of Education meeting. In the proclamation it said that this is “the time when all residents can acknowledge the contributions made by our local school board members.”
This school year has been like no other and whether you agree with the decisions made by the BOE over the last few months, or you have not, the truth is that the nine members of this Board have shouldered greater responsibility this year than just about any other Wayne BOE in the past.
If at any point in history, there was a time to recognize the difficulty of decisions made by the Wayne Board of Education, this is it.
A global pandemic has triggered both political pressure to keep schools open and political pressure to keep them closed. There are hundreds of scared teachers, students and parents who must sift through so much information and misinformation about the pandemic. There are many angry parents who worry for the children’s mental health, worry for their jobs (if they are fortunate enough to still have them), and worry that their children are falling behind academically.
BOE member’s jobs can typically be thankless or worse, but this year it has been much worse. These members have felt the anger and disappointment of parents who feel that their children are suffering more than they should, and teachers who are afraid of going to work.
The board has had a vote of no confidence against them from the Wayne teacher’s union because they kept schools open. And the board has also been accused by several parents of serving only the teacher’s union whenever the schools have gone all-virtual.
All eyes turn to these nine members to make extremely difficult decisions that affect so many, and on top of this, a reporter is there at every meeting, lurking in the background, ready to report on their decisions and ready to pounce on any mistakes made, or wrong words said.
While there are many who understand and do appreciate the enormity of their responsibility, the sacrifice of their time and the service of these nine unpaid volunteers, there are many more who don’t. During the same meeting on Thursday night, a few parents called in and used the words “disgusted” and “a disgrace” to describe how they felt about the Board’s decisions.
There were three seats on the Wayne BOE up for election in 2020. The three existing members ran for re-election and the daughter of another existing BOE member was the fourth on the ticket, and no one else.
In 2019, out of 55,000 residents, two existing members filed to be on the ballot for three BOE seats up for re-election, and no one else. The third seat was determined by write-in votes.
Clearly there is not an overwhelming desire for Wayne residents to serve in this unpaid, volunteer capacity, take on the responsibility of ensuring quality education in a Town known for it and then suffer the complaints of those who could not or would not step up to do the job themselves.
While there are some members who, in the past, have used their time on the board as a steppingstone for a political career, there are many others who have not shown any higher aspirations and it seems that they take on this responsibility simply as a duty to their fellow residents, and/or as a labor of love.
- Don Pavlak, a recently retired Wayne Police Officer, is the senior member of the board. This is his sixteenth year as a Trustee.
- Eileen Albanese and Michael Bubba have entered their ninth year as members of the BOE
- Cathy Kazan, the current President of the board has begun her eighth year.
- Suzanne Pudup, the current Vice President of the board, has begun her fifth year as a board member.
- Stacey Scher is also starting her fifth year on the board.
- Sean Duffy has begun his fourth year.
- Matthew Giordano is in the third year of his first term.
- Dawn Kumar has been serving for just over a year.
The proclamation read by Reichman at Thursday’s meeting described the role of the members of the BOE.
- They “act as advocates for public school students as they work with administrators, teachers and parents for the betterment of public education.”
- They “strive to provide the resources necessary to meet the needs of all students including those with special needs.”
- They “provide accountability to the public. They communicate the needs of the school district to the public, and they convey to school administrators the public's expectations for the school.”
The Superintendent of the Wayne School District, Dr. Mark Toback spoke up after the proclamation was read to offer his thanks.
“There are many different ways that someone could volunteer in any community,” he said. “Whether serving as a volunteer coach, or as a volunteer at the animal shelter, or raising funds to support the local food bank. There are countless, meaningful ways to be involved in activities that help others.”
“However, there is a level of service to any community that goes well-beyond traditional volunteerism,” Toback added. “By that I mean service on any Board of Education. In my opinion there is no higher calling to community service.”
“Service on the Board of Education is rarely a simple undertaking,” he said. “Board members are confronted with numerous complex problems that, in many cases, have no easy answers. So, I want to take a moment to personally thank all of our board members for their service to the community and in particular for the dedication to the staff and students of this school district.”