HALEDON, NJ - At the January 2, 2020, Manchester Regional High School Board of Education Reorganization Meeting, Ms. Bridget Arrick of Prospect Park was sworn in for a one-year term, having gained 464 votes over Mr. Thomas Magura's 148. Sworn in by Prospect Park Mayor Mohamed Khairullah and surrounded by family, she made history as the board's first female African-American member.
Mr. Jeffrey P. Fischer was sworn in to represent Haledon for a 3 year term. Sworn in as well were Mr. Panzera and Mr. Barca of North Haledon.
Present for the meeting were Ms. Ellen Fischer, the previous president; Ms. Cynthia Fusco, previous vice president; Mr. Daniel Batelli; and Mr. John Vander Molen. Mr. Michael Galluccio was not present.
Mr. John Serapiglia served as Business Administrator/Board Secretary. After the oath of office was administered, a vote was taken to elect a new president and vice president. A vote was split between Ellen Fischer and John Vander Molen twice, 4-4. This was repeated for the selection of a Vice President as well, with Serapiglia saying that the deadlock would be referred to the county superintendent. For practicality's sake, he led the meeting through the agenda items.
"I'm proud to sit in the seat to represent Prospect Park," Arrick told TAPinto Hawthorne. "I'm really appreciative of the support of the Prospect Park residents. I'm looking to make sure that I lend not only my experience in education, advocating for parents, advocating for students, and also improvement of the academic needle in Manchester Regional High School. I'm excited about having the opportunity to support those endeavors."
Mayor Khairullah said, "As a mayor, my first priority is to support candidates who are qualified and Bridget has the passion and the knowledge to be a member of the board. She demonstrated that even before going onto the board. As a member of a minority community, it is always important for us to break barriers and Bridget has broken one today. We're very proud of her. She brings a person to the table who is really concerned about the community of Prospect Park but also has the capability to inspire young people and all to look up to her for guidance. I think she's a great asset for the community."
When asked for his impression on the new board, Khairullah said, "My feeling is the current board is a board that needs to catch up with and understand its community, whether the demographics or economics, and in my interaction with them as a mayor, with the other two mayors, I have not found them to be very cooperative. I think supporting Bridget and supporting candidates like her in the future will change the attitude of the board. It breaks my heart to see the students of Prospect Park, Haledon, and North Haledon not wanting to go to Manchester. So the issue is how do you make them want to come back to the local school? It could happen with cooperation instead of what they perceive as a competition, which is Passaic County Tech."
The mayor believes that the challenge can be met, however. "Something can be done in collaboration with the county schools, something can be done with local municipalities, but to think they are an island on their own and they don't have to answer to the community is absolutely wrong. We hope that in the future they'll be more understanding that our concerns are the concerns of the residents. Nothing is going to come back to us; we want what's best for the community and that is balance between education and smart financing so we can have sustainability and good education. We know they've received an increase in aid, that is not going to slow down during the Murphy administration, so there is an opportunity to help stabilize taxes and, through smart financing, improve the infrastructure of the school. We've informed them that we are willing to support bonding, so rather than having to use half a million for one project, they could bond a couple million, financed over several years to do more, larger projects. The mayors are willing to stand behind them, however, we still have walls that we have to work on."
Vander Molen welcomed Arrick and Barca to the Board and began by wishing everyone a happy new year.
Among the issues discussed were parking in the Prospect Park side of Manchester, and what should be done regarding overnight parking. A discussion ensued over whether or not to issue a permit, a fee for a permit, or other course of action. While no decision was made, there was agreement that some type of permit should be in place, although there was disagreement as to whether or not this should be subject to a nominal fee.
Arrick proposed the establishment of a "Family and Community Engagement Committee" whose purpose would be to enhance engagement with parents, students, and stakeholders in the communities to foster communication between those segments and improve the branding of the school. Jeffrey Fischer, however, disagreed with the initial proposal in that form. "The Board has streamlined committees to reduce the administrative burden," Fischer said. "All these go under the Education Committee." He concluded "I would be opposed to it at this time."
Panzera took a counter-point and disagreed with his Haledon colleague. "By bringing in other people, that will strengthen it. I strongly agree and think that [the committee] is a great idea." Arrick said that at present, parents and community members do not have the ability to sit in on a committee.
Ellen Fischer said that there was a mechanism available through the Principal's Advisory Committee.
Arrick and Jeffrey Fischer had an exchange at one point, with Batelli saying there was no sense in bickering, but that it was a good concept. It was decided to table the topic for the time being.
After the meeting, Arrick spoke with TAPinto Hawthorne. "We are not addressing the barriers." She expressed her concern that the changing demographics of the three towns presented new issues for students and parents who spoke a variety of languages and come from different backgrounds. To improve the school she suggested a mechanism to facilitate "babysitting so parents have the ability to come, the single mom, the working mom or dad that has two jobs... it might be conference or video presentations. Those are some of the missing pieces I feel we have."
During the meeting itself, there was no public address system or electronic recording apparatus. Some members of the audience found it difficult to hear the discussions, particularly among more soft-spoken members of the board. "One of the trustees suggested we start recording the meetings," Arrick told TAPinto Hawthorne. "Everybody's about Twitter, Facebook, and technologies that can bring parents in with their busy lives and students can look at it and be more involved. It is something as simple as microphones. We have excellent technology in our Innovation Center, we need to utilize some of those."
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