PLAINFIELD, NJ — Discussions related to the district’s budget calendar dominated the Plainfield Board of Education’s business meeting on Tuesday. Emily Morgan, Finance Committee Chair, made a passionate plea to the board to not move the preliminary budget forward; she cited insufficient data, as well as a lack of internal discussions.
“We want transparency and accountability”, Morgan stated, and urged the board to set an example and hold themselves accountable by following the district's policy outlining the development of budgets (Policy #3100).
Two budget discussions, scheduled for both February 11 and February 18 according to the budget calendar, were to be held prior to approving the preliminary budget.
“With a $200 million dollar budget, we need to do our due diligence and develop the best budget that meets the needs of the students," Morgan said. "The budget drives the success or the failure of the school district.”
Morgan added, “We were elected to this board to enforce and carry out the polices of the board,” claiming that she did not receive detailed documentation to support various budget items, including the purchase of text books, and did not have the opportunity to review or discuss budget items.
Morgan said, “I am very concerned that the board is being asked to approve something that is very inadequate,” and asked how the board can get out of the development process.
Vice President Terence Johnson added that the board was also at fault for not having its strategic plan as the board's retreat had not been scheduled.
Morgan also mentioned two charter schools that were approved by the county for expansion, Crest Haven Academy and Queen City Charter School, that would significantly impact the budget. According to Board Secretary and Acting Business Administrator Yolanda Koons, the anticipated impact would be $1 million, and the amount has already been included in the budget. The superintendent’s fiscal year 2021 budget was released on January 31.
Asked to define “budget discussions”, Board Counsel Phil Stern noted that it is evident that the board has not been having such discussions.
Stern also went on to mention an ongoing legal case filed by the Education Law Center against the Department of Education regarding the expansion of charter schools in Newark. While the case will not impact the 2020/21 budget year, Stern stated its significance as the impact of charter schools in Plainfield will be heard by the NJ Supreme Court as a part of the litigation. All five charter schools in Union County are located in Plainfield, and represent approximately $29 million dollars in the budget.
Board Member Lynn Anderson-Pearson expressed a need for the community to better understand the relationship between charter schools and the public school district, noting that the charter schools were originally intended to be incubators for creative ideas, not to compete with the public schools.
“We need to clean up our act first,” Board Member Carmencita Pile responded.
Pile was in favor of moving the budget item forward and stressed that the issue could have been addressed in the recent Work & Study meeting. She said that Morgan, as the Finance Committee Chair, has not adequately performed her job.
The board's final decision was to pull the preliminary budget from the agenda and present it to the public at its March 3 Work & Study meeting, with the adoption at the March 17 Business Meeting.
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The anticipated Memorandum of Understanding between the Plainfield Board of Education and the City of Plainfield was voted on and passed.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story stated that there was no vote on the MOU between the Board of Education and the City of Plainfield. However, Vice President Johnson reached out to TAPinto Plainfield stating there was a vote, and it passed.
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