The April 29 Board of Education meeting primarily discussed the Board’s proposal for full-day kindergarten and redistricting which was ultimately approved by a four to two vote. 

To begin the meeting, Donna Felezzola, School Business Administrator and Board Secretary provided the Correspondence Report which shared that the district has received a multitude of emails from parents and teachers sharing their views on full-day kindergarten and redistricting and that the Board has received over 20 OPRA requests. 

Ms. Felezzola’s report was followed by the Report of the Student Representatives which updates the Board on the various events taking place at the high school. Senior representative Emily Haines provided updates on the recent performance of sports teams such as the baseball and golf team. Junior representative Thomas Burke detailed the activities of clubs including the discussion “What it Means to Never Forget: Being the Grandchild of a Holocaust Survivor” which was held to celebrate Genocide Awareness Month. 

Sign Up for Berkeley Heights Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

Board of Education President Doug Reinstein then took the time to make a brief comment reiterating his support for full-day kindergarten and redistricting. Mr. Reinstein also expressed his disappointment towards some of the ways in which members of the community have responded to the Board’s actions in recent weeks. 

Dr. Melissa Varley then presented her Superintendent’s Report. She began her report by reemphasizing her support for full-day kindergarten and expressing her disapproval towards personal attacks by community members who labeled her a “liar” for some of the ways she has handled full-day kindergarten and redistricting. 

The next part of her report recognized the efforts of several community volunteers who have worked tirelessly to secure vaccines for community members and district faculty. 

In the third and final part of her report, Dr. Varley updated the Board on the results from the parent and faculty survey where they voted between Scenario 4 and Scenario 5 for full-day kindergarten and redistricting. The survey completed by parents showed that 63.9% of the 442 viable votes voted in favor of scenario 4 over scenario 5. The staff member survey showed similar results with 58% voting for scenario 4 over scenario 5. Using information from the survey and feedback from parents, Dr. Varley recommended that the Board implement scenario 4 but with minor changes. These changes include allowing 3rd and 4th graders to continue attending Hughes if they live on Plainfield Avenue (instead of going to Mountain Park), expanding subscription busing, and conducting additional analysis via a transportation study. The traffic study will be completed by May 31st and will hire an external traffic/engineering firm to assess the traffic and pedestrian activity at Mary Kay McMillin and the elementary schools. The study will also work with the Berkeley Heights Police Department and their safety officers to review walking routes, paths, location of crossing guards, and other considerations ensuring the safety of students. 

Dr. Varley’s report was then followed by the Liaison Reports. Board member Joy Young provided the only report sharing that the recent Union County School Board Association meeting held discussions on returning to school in the fall and shared information on the various workshops/symposiums they will be offering to New Jersey board of education members in the future. Additionally, she reported that Governor Murphy recently announced that over $500 million of additional aid was being restored to school districts covering any budget cuts imposed by the pandemic. 

Mr. Reinstein then shifted the meeting to the Facilities Report given by Ms. Felezzola. Her report shared that the track at Governor Livingston High School is currently being approved for a summer camp, cameras are being installed at the GL snack shack, provided more information on the traffic study mentioned in the Superintendent’s Report and that contracts for new bathrooms at Mary Kay McMillin and Woodruff would be approved later in the meeting.

Before the Citizen's hearing, Board members were given the chance to ask questions. Board member Christine Reilly asked if the district had begun making plans for students’ return to school in the fall. Dr. Varley responded by saying that all school principals have met with Berkeley Heights Education Association representatives to discuss potential plans for full-day schooling including lunch plans. 

Thereafter, the Board moved to the Citizens Hearing where members of the public were given a chance to speak to the Board. Among the many questions and issues raised were encouragement for Board members to vocally express their disapproval towards any comments that undermine the district’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, opposition to the Board’s plan for full-day kindergarten and redistricting, and more.

As the meeting was drawing to a close, Board members voted on whether to approve plans for full-day kindergarten and redistricting. Ultimately, the matter was approved with a vote of 4-2. 

Board members Robert Cianciulli and Joy Young voted in opposition to the plan explaining that, since the information was still being collected, they felt uncomfortable approving a plan that did not take into account all information. Board members Angela Penna and Christine Reilly along with Board President Doug Reinstein and Board Vice President Mike D'Aquila all voted for the plan citing the current imbalance of schools as an issue that could not be further postponed and that the plan still received the majority of support from parents and staff.

In the final part of the meeting, Board members voted in unanimous support to pass all proposed matters regarding administration, education, and finance.

The next Board of Education meeting will take place on May 13th at 7:30 pm.

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: Thomas Burke is a junior at Gov. Livingston High School and is the Student Representative for the Board of Education. The reporting expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.