BLOOMFIELD, NJ - The Bloomfield Board of Education candidate forum was nearly two hours long. In order to inform the public of the issues in the most reader friendly manner, TAPinto Bloomfield is reporting on the forum in segments. 

Continued Coverage Bloomfield BOE Forum: Audience Questions 1-3 and Candidate Responses

Bloomfield citizens with questions for Board of Education candidates Heaney, Heller, Rogers, Salinas and Smith were asked to specify if their questions were for seated board members running for re-election or for the challengers. Candidates were allowed two minutes to answer questions from the audience.

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Bloomfield Home and School Council sponsored the forum. Marya Pastore and Carolyn Petti, Council officers served as timekeepers.

Questions 1-3 are presented in this article. TAPinto Bloomfield will cover all questions and responses in upcoming articles.

QUESTION 1

The first question directed to the seated board members was: “What are some of your concrete plans to improve communications and enhance transparency?” Similarly, the challengers were asked: “What are your thoughts about improving communications with the community?”

The citizen asking the question commented that while some information was provided via The Independent Press, it was requested that more information be available via the district website; a medium with broader reach that more citizens could regularly access. The citizen stated that they have been asking for increased communications for a year.

Emily Smith: ‘I worked with Sal this year to develop a monthly calendar…to address education issues…It’s a from the Superintendent’s Desk, not necessarily written by the Superintendent. Regarding transparency…That’s also a big issue for me…’

Ellen Rogers: ‘Transparency, I feel that’s been an issue that we’ve work towards constantly. I feel that sometimes we take a beating in social media…We are trying very hard to be transparent. 

Michael Heller: Heller stated that while the word calendar had been used in the previous candidates’ responses, what had actually been published in September was a column written by the assistant Superintendent. ‘I would have imagined that the inaugural column would have come from the Superintendent himself…I have championed minutes that have represented what happened in a meeting. I’m not quite sure my two seated board members agree with that position…I think Director of Communication is a sorely needed position…that position would allow us to do a much better job of messaging.’

Jessica Salinas: ‘There are concerns that they [the elderly] have…they have no more children in the school district so how do they get their information? They want to be involved in the school district. Let’s incorporate our [communications] programs [Virtual Backpack etc.]  for the people who don’t have children in the district.’

Thomas Heaney: Heaney acknowledged the two high school students that attended and filmed the forum. ‘I think we should have more participation, not just from the elderly, but also the high school students…Heaney stated that while the district had started using Facebook and Twitter: “There are a dozen other applications on the phone that the students use effectively…As far as transparency, I will always be honest and forthright.’

QUESTION 2

The second question centered on the assumption of a 30% budget deficit for Special Education and the need to address students left behind: ‘how do we tap into bringing each student in the system into the 21st century?’.

How do you plan to access funding [30% budget deficit] and what is your intent in terms of addressing the needs of all student?

Heaney: ’…We have been working with inclusion classrooms that started at Fairview a while back. I see that we have a lot of special needs students in all the classrooms. Inclusion classrooms have been working. They [the students] don’t’ have that bias. Heaney stated that he would like to further research the issue and provide an updated answer.’

Heller: ‘We have a district wide effort as of this year to have inclusion classrooms at the elementary level…a testament to a strong fiscal situation. I’m not sure about the 30% deficit. In terms of ‘not leaving children behind, the New Jersey School Board Association is working on a Task Force report that addresses ‘what are we doing in public education for those children that are not college bound’…I do believe we should start earlier…we should have a full day pre-K…I believe a collaborative board working with the administration, working with the Township and understanding the wishes of the community, can make that happen for all of us.’ Heller also noted that special ed costs are not limited to the 2% cap.’

Salinas: ‘Regarding the 30% budget deficit Salinas said: ‘I would have to research that so I had more information to have an answer for you.’

Rogers: ‘I think there might be some confusion with the 30%... I do know we have been looking into the idea of using Medicaid funds to help the special Ed budget… Special Ed funding is extremely high…If people actually saw the numbers I think they would be surprised…What Emily and I have been discussing is trying to see how insurance can be pulled into the equation…I am involved in ‘Pre-K Our Way in Trenton to get universal pre-k throughout the entire state…’

Smith: ‘Relative to Special Ed, it’s not a deficit we have; it’s that we are underfunded by about 30%, possibly more. When IDEA was put in place, the idea was that the Federal government would cover the costs of those educational programs by 40%. That has dwindled down to roughly 10%...The boards of education are now having to go after property owners to fund the special education costs…My interest is through group effort and united front from every district in the state to go after the state and federal government to restore the level of funding that was promised when this legislation was enacted.’

QUESTION 3

Bloomfield District policy provides for the enactment of a Citizens Advisory Committee. The third question posed to the candidates was: “Would you commit to creating a Citizens Advisory Committee?”

Heaney: ‘I would be willing to work with a Citizens Advisory Committee. Yes…Anything that improves communication with the community at any level is a benefit.’

Heller: ’Yes. Policy 9140 needs to be enacted. We as a Board of Education are essentially a policy making body…If you’ve heard anything that I’ve said in board meetings under the policy session of our agendas, I have been asking where our policy review is. We have adopted that as a goal both in 2016-17 and now we are entering 2017-18 and nothing has happened. Board leadership needs to take this on…’

Salinas: ‘Yes. One more yes. Were this is in the best interests of the children, I will support this.’

Rogers: ‘Yes from me as well. I agree that it certainly needs to be brought up again. I do remember Mr. Heller introducing that idea. I was not against it at the time…I do remember the suggestion.’

Smith: “I remember that issue being brought up and I’m not against it at all…I think there are some mechanisms that already exist in the existing structure to work with the community on various issues... People come to the podium and they bring up an issue and the board figures out a way to work on that going forward… I guess what you are talking about is a specific body, that would work with a certain group of citizens toward the same thing.  I have no problem doing that at all. I think you’ll find that from my experience on the board is that people start out real strong in the beginning and overtime it dwindles down to a very small group of people, but we could certainly start and see where it leads us.’

Related: Issues Voiced at Bloomfield BOE Forum include: Strategic Plan, Transparency, Test Scores, Enhanced Community Communications and Improved Board Member Collaboration

Related story: Bloomfield BOE Candidates - How would you spend a one-time $1 million dollar gift