Dear Editor,

I have had the unfortunate experience of being sued by Debbie, and her husband Robert Boyle, the former whom is running for reelection to the Board of Education this Tuesday. The lawsuit against myself and eleven others began last October and spanned through late summer, with multiple revisions trying to support, unsuccessfully, that damages had been caused to Mr. and Mrs. Boyle. Most of my Co-Defendants were unknown to me at the time I was served with legal papers, although enduring this ordeal together has been a bonding experience. The result of the lawsuit was dismissal of all charges against all defendants, and a large bill for which South Plainfield taxpayers, and several individual residents, are left to pick up the tab. This letter is in response to Michael Boyle’s Oct 30, 2019 Tap into Letter to the Editor. While I can respect Mrs. Boyle’s son offering new perspective from her point of view, I do feel it is necessary at this point in the process to offer my perspective as a parent forced through this process.

At the time of the events surrounding this lawsuit Mrs. Boyle was according to the SP Boro webpage, a member of the following organizations: SP Board of Education, legislative liaison and Public Relation/Services liaison (Safety Town), SP Education Foundation, Board of Directors Vice President, SP Business Association, Financial Secretary, SP Public Celebrations Committee, chair, SP Sustainable Green Team, Associate Member and BOE Liaison, SP Mayor’s Wellness Committee, Suburban Woman’s Club, Leadership Committee, Boyle Memorial Foundation, Founding President, SP Woman’s Leadership team, SP National Night Out Committee, SP Cultural Arts Commission, SP High School Athletic Boosters, SP High School Music Boosters and is a SP High School PTOO Trustee. Mrs. Boyle coordinated Meet the Candidates Nights, recorded meetings for the newspaper, attended County Planning meetings, worked the concession stand at the High School Football games, and organized events for the SP Teacher’s Union. Yes, as part of my defense to show the imbalance of power, I wasted a lot of my time looking this information up. By contrast, I was a parent of three South Plainfield children, attending PTO meetings at my children’s schools to get information about picture days, fieldtrips, and dances. I was a member of the Middle School PTO during this time.

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Mrs. Boyle and I had successful worked together for two years on Middle School PTO events, and then Mrs. Boyle decided I was not her friend. We had no altercation or words; someone screenshotted a conversation I had with a third party and sent it to Mrs. Boyle. When I found out that Mrs. Boyle was upset about that conversation, as I had already shared my feelings on the subject with her and the PTO at multiple PTO meetings, I was sincerely surprised. But how I found out that she was upset with me, and what she did as a result, surrounds what involved me in this process and why I wish to discuss the character of our BOE members here. Mrs. Boyle treated me unprofessionally in a very disturbing way. When I understood that she was directing this behavior at me I requested we speak after the PTO meeting. When we spoke, I outlined the behaviors that I found objectionable over several PTO meetings and Mrs. Boyle confirmed she had intentionally behaved this way, alluding to the four-months prior conversation sent to her.

When the policy allowing BOE Members to remain in school organizations but limiting them to non-leadership roles came up for discussion I went to the BOE privately via email with my concerns detailing her behavior, Mrs. Boyle included. Her actions had clearly displayed how a person in authority as a member of the BOE did create a conflict when the BOE member also led the PTO, and that the conflict would be avoided if BOE members were not to assume PTO leadership positions. You can watch a video to follow the discussion of the resulting policy at the July, 19, 2017 BOE meeting at: www.vimeo.com/channels/753895/226462602 where discussion of the topic begins at minute 24 and my discussion begins at minute 52.

I had first become aware of financial discord within the Middle School PTO in November 2016. A parent and member of the PTO asked for the information and was denied access. When it became clear to Mrs. Boyle and her personal attorney, who had become involved in denying access to the documents, they would not be able to stop the transmission of the information to paid members of the PTO, a financial disclosure meeting was scheduled. I was at this March 30, 2017 PTO meeting, which was the last meeting that Mrs. Boyle presided. I saw firsthand the financial information, and would not call the meeting transparent. A 7th Grade parent was ejected because the parent could not prove she had paid the $2 PTO Membership fee. At this meeting, the PTO Treasurer passed around loose leaf pages from the checkbook 3 stubs at a time, and bank statements that did not span the entire year were also passed around. This was the first time the financials of the PTO had been presented since I had become a member in September 2014.

Many questions arose from that meeting, during the remaining school year, and into summer, (See Tap into SP Sept 25, 2017 letter to the editor written by the newly formed PTO of SPMS) when parents learned that the policy limiting Mrs. Boyle’s leadership had caused dissolution of the PTO, not in accordance with its Bylaws, and leaving only $14.32 in the Middle School PTO account. The PTO Bylaws required in “Article V, Section 4 Ending Balance- The organization shall leave a minimum of $2,000 in the treasury at the end of each fiscal year,” and “Article VII Dissolution- In the event of dissolution, any funds remaining shall be donated to South Plainfield Middle School.” Mrs. Boyle responded to parent concerns in the Sept 1, 2017 of the SP Observer (also available online). At that time Mrs. Boyle responded for the organization as the former President, now it is silly for her son to allude that after she assumed responsibility for the subject that community concerns should now be directed toward other members of her PTO Executive Board, when the PTO web page was deactivated immediately following the dissolution, not allowing access to that information.

Mrs. Boyle’s Observer letter gave information spanning seven or more years, discussing financial items occurring years before the information pertinent to 2017. Parents were asking for the figures for 2016-17 expenses. Mrs. Boyle confirmed to the new PTO that in August of 2016 the Middle School PTO had $23,696 in their account. Mrs. Boyle could have simply said $23,696 + $3,660 (activity fees) + $1,540.23 (earned from school pictures) = $28,896.23. The $28,896.23 + PTO membership fees + two spirit wear fundraisers - (expense) - (expense) - (expense) - $3,700 transfer of funds to Education Foundation = $14.32, and would have saved herself a lot of hassle. Parents would have still been upset that the account was depleted to $14.32, and that funds were transferred to a Foundation where she was on the Board of Directors as Vice President, and that the transfer occurred after the PTO had been dissolved, which Mrs. Boyle addressed in her Observer letter, but they would know where their children’s money was spent. The intention of the newly formed PTO Executive Board was clearly stated as looking for this information, and directly and privately, so as not to affect any reputations as Michael Boyle insinuates in his letter.

Michael Boyle also says that “members of a newly formed PTO seem to be angered by the transfer of Middle School monies to a scholarship fund, perhaps because they felt entitled to use this money, although fundraised by others.” I would like to point out to Michael that parents did not care who organized the efforts to fundraise. Monies were raised and then deposited into the PTO’s account on behalf of supporting educational opportunities and supplementing the student experiences. Parents, myself included, were genuinely upset to have the monies removed and to insinuate that our “anger appears contrived” is very insulting. Parents and students participated in that fundraising, and monies that we raised were not available to the very students still at the Middle School the next year, of which my child was one. It felt at the time that the monies were moved so the very students that raised the money would not have access to it for assemblies, dances and picnics that a PTO would traditionally pay for to enhance student experiences. Mr. Boyle’s letter seems to assert that the monies raised by all Middle School students and parents should then be spent by the organizer of the fundraising efforts without regard for the student’s best interests. I do not believe it was in the best interest of the students to have no funds available to them, when transitioning new PTO leadership, as is done each year in our District, was a completely viable option. The newly formed PTO lamented at the time “Starting the year with no money, has obviously presented some challenges, as we begin anew.”

MS PTO Bylaws were also not followed regarding leadership transition following Mrs. Boyle’s departure as President. Michael Boyle’s Letter confirms this by saying that following the BOE decision limiting his mother’s Executive Board leadership, that “no serving members of the Executive Board wanted to take over as President” and “this led to the PTO being dissolved.” The PTO Bylaws state that elections were to take place in May of each year, however no member meetings were held beyond March for the 2014-15, 2015-16 or 2016-17 school years, and no members of the organization at that time were even informed that the PTO would be dissolved. Mrs. Boyle should not have been calling/asking only specific parents to take over the organization, as she confirmed in September 2017. When the Middle School Principal emailed Middle School parents to start a new PTO organization, in August with one week’s notice, 18 parents responded and 9 volunteered to move the new PTO forward, and many others offered support.

Mirroring Michael’s words, this letter is my opportunity to stand up to my false accuser, and limit her ability to silence me. Throughout this ordeal, Mrs. Boyle’s actions were designed to intimidate me as a parent, both within my children’s schools, and in court. To have to make the decision to speak up, to air this information and know that Mrs. Boyle continues her vendetta against me, has had a Private Investigator asking questions about myself and others for over a year, it is intended to be menacing.  But I worry when he says “I hope this lawsuit has raised awareness to prevent similar situations arising in the future for any publicly elected member of the community.” If taxpayers are not able to speak at BOE meetings for fear of retribution, or ask questions of our elected officials, where is our district headed?

If you take the time to read the publicly available court documents, you can read that Mrs. Boyle directly accused me, and five other women that I do not know and are not/were not on the Board of Education, of “acting with malice and intent to harm Mrs. Boyle for their personal gratification and vindictiveness and to aid the Defendant Ernie Jim Giannakis in retaliating against Plaintiff by engaging in cyber bullying and through the public behavior” in her lawsuit. Let me be very clear, I knew Jim Giannakis as a parent volunteer at Franklin Elementary School where my children attended. He was a great help to the PTO during his time as a parent there, often going above and beyond to help our school with resources and donations. I have seen him at many school functions throughout our time in the District together as our children have grown, and it is beyond insulting and completely untrue for Mrs. Boyle to suggest that Mr. Giannakis ever tried to solicit me to help him in any campaign against her. Or that I have ever bullied her. I find her accusations to be slanderous. Trust me, it gave me no pleasure to find it necessary to describe to the BOE how I, as a parent, had been bullied by Mrs. Boyle at PTO meetings and ask them to consider a policy to prevent this type of behavior. Mrs. Boyle’s retaliation for my going to the BOE was this lawsuit.

I do not wish to dwell in the past, but as I read Mr. Boyle’s recent letter I felt it is important to explain what has happened, as someone that lived through it, so that SP residents realize the toll this has taken on individual families, as well as the additional cost to our taxpayers, both now and in future insurance premiums. Especially the people not covered by homeowners’ policies, that faced a lot of unnecessary duress. If you agree that this is not acceptable behavior join me in voting for any of our other wonderful Board of Education candidates.

Respectfully, Kim LaCross, SP Taxpayer