“This is not a club; this is not a non-profit organization. This is a state organization, and we are all state officials empowered by state legislators to represent the town of Randolph in Board of Education matters."
Those are the words that former Board of Education president Al Matos said at the January 2017 reorganization meeting when explaining what the Board of Ed. should and should not be after what was, by all reports and in my opinion, a very difficult 2016 for that group in getting along with the public, the staff and themselves. 2016 started with a contentious reorganization meeting in January, Board resignations during the year (typical in Randolph, but not in other towns, based on my research) and a contested November election cycle in which Mr. Matos, Sheldon Epstein and Susan Devito were elected to the Board of Ed.
Almost two years later, the only thing that seems to have changed is that Mr. Matos has retired from the Board.
In the four weeks since Christopher Treston wrote his Op-Ed filled with inaccuracies and defamatory comments, I have heard from both Randolph residents and from members of Boards of Education in several communities across New Jersey, many of whom I had been discussing best practices with as I prepared to run for a seat on our Board of Ed. After the initial comment of “when is the Randolph Board of Ed. going to get their act together; as I told you before, when we have a problem, we see what Randolph has done and do the opposite,” - the question was always “are you going to demand an apology from either Mr. Treston or the Board as a whole?” I am not.
As a side note for those wondering where Mr. Treston’s Op-Ed disappeared to, I was advised that it was removed in its entirety because someone acting on behalf of the Board of Ed. had contacted the publication to request its removal, and the publication did so, even though Mr. Treston certified when he posted the Op-Ed that it was “factually accurate and not defamatory” (as I also certified when I posted this article). I did not contact the publication until the article was already down, nor did anyone on my behalf. Was this perhaps because someone on the Board of Ed. or connected to it saw something wrong with Mr. Treston’s Op-Ed or agreed that it violated a Board or State policy? If it did not, then why ask for its removal late on a Thursday evening?
We teach our children to apologize because it is an acknowledgement that they have done something wrong and a promise not to do it again. It is a willingness to shoulder the responsibility for what they have done. In my opinion, it is evident now that Mr. Treston is not willing to shoulder any responsibility for the outcome of his actions, so all an apology will be is meaningless words. Actions are what is needed here, as that is what shows true remorse, which is the demonstration that you want to make amends and change your behavior. As an adult, just saying, “I am sorry,” is simply regret, which is often done for selfish reasons, primarily to make an issue go away. The Board needs to show that violating the rules has consequences. Otherwise, the low bar they set when our students and teachers break the rules is total and complete forgiveness by merely saying three little words, with no expectation of a future change of behavior.
I do not believe that is the message we should be sending to either our children or our faculty, as it makes us poor role models. I teach my own daughters that when a person or body of authority sets boundaries, rules and laws, those rules must be followed, even if you disagree with them. I also teach my children that when they break those rules, there is no “get out of jail free card.”
I have contended that Mr. Treston’s Op-Ed violated Randolph School Board policy because he spoke out negatively about a parent, provided inaccurate information and made defamatory statements. Therefore, in my and others’ reading of the New Jersey School Ethics Act, he violated a State statute as well. It is now up to the New Jersey Department of Education School Ethics Commission to determine the School Ethics Act violations, because our Board and Mr. Treston did nothing and remained silent, hiding behind the Open Public Meetings Act and claims of attorney-client privilege. I remind Board Attorney Marc Zitomer that while the Board is his client, the taxpayer pays his bill and, in my opinion, the more the Board hides behind OPMA and privilege, the more parents and residents are forced to take matters into their own hands, forcing his bill up, taking away much needed dollars from our students, and sowing further division in our community.
Mr. Zitomer, as a parent in the District, in addition to counsel, I ask you to be part of the solution. You can be a problem-solver without compromising any of your ethical obligations to your client. The attorneys I deal with on a regular basis help me figure out how to meet the needs of my clients’ hundreds of thousands of shareholders within the confines of much stricter federal and state laws, including the regulations of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. We have figured it out without any of us going to jail, violating privacy laws or paying large fines (which in that world is a real possibility), and without the lawyers or communications professionals facing any of their own ethics charges. The stakeholders my clients have to contend with often remain anonymous and have no interactions with one another. In your case, the stakeholders are your and the Board members’ neighbors, friends and the parents of their children’s friends in our little town of Randolph.
And as an officer of the court, is the message you really want sent to children, “do as we say not as we do?”
I purposely waited until the last minute on Monday, November 5 at 5:08 pm in Dover to mail my complaint to the School Ethics Commission hoping that I would hear something from Mr. Treston or the Board of Ed., but I wanted to ensure that the complaint was mailed before Election Day so that there would be no questions as to what my motives were – win or lose, it was being filed. Mr. Treston has been served by the School Ethics Commission and his response date to the complaint is December 6.
As for the Randolph Board of Education policy, if we are to expect our children and staff to abide by the policies and rules which our Board of Ed. issues, then shouldn’t we expect our Board members to abide by those policies that govern Board Member conduct? Or are they just words on a piece of paper like “I am sorry?”
What message are we sending to our students about following rules and school policies about cheating, drinking, vaping, the dress code, and other expected norms of behavior, and to our faculty about issues such as the attendance policy and their use of the Internet, if our own School Board members are not held to the applicable policies within the Randolph Township Schools Policy Manual?
And aren’t the other Board members being hypocritical by looking the other way when one of their own violates the policies that apply to the Board, yet condemning students and staff for violating the rules? I believe that is what is known as being a member of an “Old Boys Club.”
Perhaps we should review the past statements made by some of our staff this year about Board officer behavior at REA negotiation meetings, and let the rest of the town know what many of us saw when another Board member snapped at the public during two separate Board of Ed. meetings, followed by that same Board member chasing after the offended residents to apologize, and saying “no hard feelings” at the library door as the meeting adjourned, which I myself witnessed. The only reason I can come up with for the Board not addressing Mr. Treston’s behavior is that they must be thinking, “There but by the grace of G-d go I that no one has thought to file an ethics complaint against me,” because there are School Ethics Commission decisions that almost exactly mirror the scenarios that we have seen in Randolph this year.
With all of that said, I believe that things happen for a reason. For the people who saw me on Election Night and the days after, they were astonished. I was calm and stress-free for the first time in months and have remained that way. It was and is evident in my face and voice. Maybe my purpose in the past few months was never to win or sit on the Board of Education, but to bring a voice to and finally confront the ethical lapses, lack of transparency, refusal to accept responsibility for their own actions, and overall poor behavior that, in my opinion, has been plaguing this Board.
To the six Board of Ed. members who have children in our School system, think hard about the “do as we say not as we do” message that you are sending your own children and ask yourselves if that is really what you want them to be learning from those who lead our school district. Think about if that is really the leadership platform you want our School District to be known for, because, in my opinion, this is far from the first instance of “do as we say not as we do” shown by this Board.
To my fellow residents, I ask you the same question.