LIVINGSTON, NJ – At a standing-room-only turnout of residents and educators who packed the Livingston Board of Education (LBOE) headquarters meeting room on Monday, members of the community weighed in on the controversial 3-2 vote at last week’s LBOE meeting to accept the resignation of Superintendent of Schools Christina Steffner.
In addition, this special LBOE meeting brought out several people who spoke positively about Riker Hill Elementary School principal Jo Tandler, whose resignation was accepted unanimously by the board.
Board member Samantha Messer, who voted against accepting Steffner’s resignation along with member George Shen, called the vote at the July 25 meeting “reprehensible.” Board members voting to accept her resignation included board president Pam Chirls, vice president Charles (Buddy) August and member Ronnie Ferber Konner.
“We could have tabled this vote until today to get greater input,” said Messer. “If we weren’t aware there was this amount of community support for Superintendent Steffner, why weren’t we aware?”
She added that votes on much-less-important issues have been delayed in the past when the board received even a small handful of Emails asking for it.
Chirls said there was adequate advance notice for the vote to take place on July 25.
“On a personal note, we are all operating on the basis of what is best for the community,” said Chirls. “That includes the three of us who voted yes and the two members who voted no.”
She said that an interim superintendent would be introduced to the community by Aug. 15.
Among the many residents who were critical of the board’s ability to select and retain superintendents was Ian Shainbrown, who asked why the community should “trust the board to get it right this time.”
“Is there a problem identifying appropriate people and retaining appropriate people for the superintendent position? It is costing tax payers hundreds of thousands of dollars?” said Shainbrown, referring to the settlement fees, search costs and legal fees.
Picking up on the theme of avoiding costly lawsuits, resident David Schaefer added that there “will always be controversial things before the board—like every other board.” He told the board that it is “okay to disagree,” but to “please be respectful.”
“You have lost the confidence of your constituents,” said resident Sharon Apple. “The process has failed. The lack of anticipating the reaction [to the vote] is a problem.”
Apple suggested the board consider opening the selection process for the new superintendent. She said that a committee should be set up with “new people who have fresh ideas.”
Resident Amy Schaefer was among those who disagreed with Apple’s assessment of the community’s feelings about the board.
“Not everyone has turned against you or lost confidence in you,” said Schaefer, who went on to praise board members for putting in countless hours at no pay to serve the community.
It was announced during the meeting that Lisa Capone-Steiger, assistant superintendent, and Steven Robinson, school business administrator, will assume the duties of the superintendent until an interim selection is made.
As her last comment to the board as superintendent, Steffner said, “We are really in a good place. We are all ready to open the schools in September.”
Read more from her outgoing speech made last week by clicking HERE.
Tandler resignation brings other changes to Livingston Public Schools:
The board’s unanimous acceptance of the resignation of Tandler from her position as principal of the Riker Hill Elementary School brought about two other personnel changes.
With Tandler’s resignation, Debra Ostrowski, principal of Mt. Pleasant Middle School, will now assume the role of principal of Riker Hill Elementary School for the 2018-19 school year. The board also approved the appointment of Andrew Espinoza to be the interim principal of Mt. Pleasant Middle School for the 2018-19 school year.
“Jo Tandler embodies all the qualities of a great leader…She puts great emphasis on continuous learning,” said Judith Frohman, a teacher at Riker Hill. “Riker Hill has about 400 students. Somehow, she knows everyone by name…She inspires teachers to be better teachers, students to be better students, and parents to be better parents.”
Donna Richter-Maschio, a former Livingston teacher said that it was with regret that she learned of Tandler’s resignation.
“Her departure is Livingston’s loss,” she said.
Although Tandler will not be continuing as principal this year at Riker Hill, her official resignation will not become effective until June 30, 2019. When the board was questioned on this issue, Chirls said that the board cannot comment on personnel matters during public meetings.