Dear Editor:

Madison Board of Education President Lisa Ellis wrote in a March 26 Letter to the Editor published on TapInto regarding the decision of having school in session or not on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, “The decision will be made and any necessary adjustments to the 2015-2016 School District Calendar will be published by June 19, 2015.” 

Well…no.  Board President Ellis will not meet her own extended deadline.  Instead, the plan is to decide the issue at a Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, June 24, at 7:30 in the Media Center of Madison High School.  Note that as of this writing, June 17 in the evening, this meeting is not listed on the Board of Education posted meeting schedule on the website.  There is only a small notice buried in the News and Events section.

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Another thing not on the website as of this writing is the audio recording of the June 9 Board of Education meeting.  At the end of that meeting, after the reporters had left, it was announced that the board’s Curriculum Committee – composed of board members Grahling, Arthur and Coen -- would recommend that the District schedule half a day of school on the MLK holiday instead of the currently-scheduled full day.  It seemed to me that the board member making the announcement, Ms. Grahling, was making a special effort to avoid saying that the recommendation was from the special advisory committee that had been created.  Perhaps the advisory committee could not come to a consensus.

My opinion is that Board President Ellis has used a variety of procedural tricks to minimize the public view of the handling of this issue, including no comment on the advisory committee progress until the last meeting of the school year, waiting until after the press had left to announce the future process, and scheduling the vote for a meeting outside the normal schedule and on a different day of the week than usual.  It reminds me of the stealth meeting that Ms. Ellis scheduled for an afternoon in early December, attended by member-elect Coen but by no member of the public and no member of the press -- and for which no recording exists -- to receive the annual audit and discuss capital spending ideas.  This secretive behavior gives rise to letters like this one that are a combination of reporting and advocacy. 

When combining reporting and advocacy, there is a temptation to degrade the quality of the reporting in order to fit the advocacy.  I have tried to meet the challenge, but I would contend that others have not.  A review of the February 10 board meeting audiotape confirms that Ms. Ellis invited a minority, two, of the speakers to join the advisory committee and did not invite the majority of the speakers, as I had described.  The real solution to the inherent tension between reporting and advocacy is to give the public more high-quality, primary-source information.  Specifically, it is time to videotape and broadcast the Board of Education meetings as is done for the Madison Borough Council meetings and is also done for the Board of Education meetings for higher-performing districts nearby.

Lastly a comment on the proposed subsidized housing at the Civic Center.  Central Avenue School gets federal aid money because of its high percentage of students qualifying for a free or reduced-price lunch.  My recollection is that the figure for Central Avenue School is over 30% and that no other school in Madison comes close, but it would be better to have district officials provide the complete information.  Adding more children from poor households to arguably the most crowded, by the student to classroom floor space ratio, and academically challenged of the three elementary schools would make a difficult situation worse. 

Tom Piskula

18 Valley Road

Madison, NJ 07940

973-207-7632

EDITORS NOTE: The MLK decision is made by the entire Board Of Education on which Ms. Ellis is one member of.