BARNEGAT, NJ – Earlier this month, the Barnegat Board of Education started the year with its annual reorganization meeting. At that time, members chose Michael Hickey as board president and Robert Geddes as the vice president. When some questioned the vote, the Board decided to hold a special meeting, which was held yesterday.
Hickey said that a minority of the membership wanted the special meeting. It was up to him as board president to make the decision. “The fact of the matter is that the minority voice needs to be heard as to whether the vote should be overturned. After all, they were elected to their positions.”
At the reorganization meeting, Board member Lauren Sarno called into the meeting and participated by telephone. A current policy board policy addresses specific instances when electronic devices may be used. Since Sarno’s absence was due to an emergent situation calling her to work, she had no way of meeting the strict notice requirements.
Some dismissed the validity of Sarno’s vote, which resulted in a 5-4 victory placing Hickey and Geddes in their respective positions. During the Public Session portion of the meeting, former board member Rafael Adorno addressed his concerns about the existing policy.
“You have to give five days notice when you are not able to attend a meeting and want to exercise the right to participation,” Adorno said. “Was it ever taken into consideration if someone was ill, and sends in information that they still would like to participate?”
Adorno questioned how the vote took place if Sarno did not give the requisite notice. “The board attorney. and you, (the board members) should all know the policy, as you set it.”
Board attorney Martin Buckley suggested the current policy makes it almost impossible to follow. The five-day notice requirement doesn’t consider board member illness or emergent calls into work.
“State law, outside of board policy, allows for people to use telecommunication devices in order to be present at a meeting,” advised Buckley. “The vote for the president and vice president are most important as it sets the tone for the rest of the year.”
“I was not in a position to take that out of Ms. Sarno’s hands and not allow her to vote,” Buckley continued. “I felt we would still be in accordance with state law if we did allow her to vote. I made a legal call because the policy was impossible to follow.”
Strauss Esmay Associates LLP, an outside firm retained for board policy services, was involved in drafting the original policy. Buckley suggested that they might be asked to revisit it without some of the current limitations.
Concerns Extend Beyond the Vote
Some suggest the vote itself isn’t the real problem. George Fedorczyk, who ran for the Board of Education and regularly attends meetings, shared his impressions.
“There’s a divisiveness that occurred with this election that is still very real,” he observed. As he continued, Fedorczyk pointed out that even the seating arrangements proved his point. “You have one side on either side of the table.”
Fedorczyk called upon the newer board members to become part of the team. He further urged the incumbents to accept them as part of the team. “Our children are in the schools, and we don’t want them involved as far as who we think is right.”
According to Fedorczyk, he thought problems could have been alleviated if the explanation concerning the vote was offered at the reorganization meeting. Fedorczyk also suggested some book titles he thought would help promote the concept of teamwork.
“A team is built with a platform, and the platform is trust, “Fedorczyk emphasized. “If you do not have trust, you’re not going to make the other four pillars.”
Although Fedorczyk’s observations about the seating arrangements were correct, Sarno defended her choice. “In all fairness, we didn’t set up our seats,” she offered. “We just sat where our name tag was positioned.”
Hickey acknowledged that a lot of things are going on in the district and knew the importance of working together. “This meeting was scheduled to build trust and to look at something as a team that might not have been comfortable for everybody.”
“Going forward, I am going to be advocating for the most inclusive policy that’s possible,” affirmed Hickey. “We have several members on this board that are involved in emergency management of some type.”