PLAINFIELD, NJ — Plainfield's Board of Education annual reorganization on Tuesday began with an unusual announcement from Board Counsel Phil Stern. The public would witness the swearing-in of just two of the three elected board members listed on the agenda. Stern explained the technicality regarding newly elected Willie Pat Hembree, who won the seat originally held by Eric Andrews in last November’s elections.
According to Stern, under the New Jersey Teachers' Pension and Annuity Fund Guidelines, Hembree’s retirement from a 37-year career in the school district required her to be separated from the district for a period of six months. Stern noted that while the Board was not in agreement with this policy, they were required to abide by the rule and that Hembree would be sworn in approximately six weeks later once the 6-month requirement was fulfilled. Stern further stated that this did not constitute a Board “vacancy” and the NJ Superintendent of Schools has been made aware of the situation.
City Councilwoman Joylette Mills-Ransome administered the oath to Lynn Anderson-Person and Carmencita Pile, who were both re-elected to the Board for two-year terms ending in 2022. A bible app on a phone was used as a real one could not be located.
Two nominations were then put forth for the President’s seat: outgoing Board President Richard Wyatt nominated Vice President Cameron Cox, and Dr. Avonia Richardson-Miller nominated Anderson-Person. With a 5-3 majority, Cameron Cox was named the Board President.
Newly elected Board President Cox addressed his colleagues, thanking them for their vote of confidence in him to lead the 2020 school year. Cox suggested a “back to basics approach” to educating the whole child, and “being proactive and offensive, rather than reactive and defensive.”
Cox went on to mention the accomplishments of a diverse group of individuals who have contributed to the Plainfield educational system over the years: Veronica Cox, Donald Van Blake, Milt Campbell, and Kenneth and Jo-Ann Grace Bandomer.
“Let us collectively forge forward as a Board,” Cox closed, “and focus on the tasks placed in our hands by the Plainfield community while remaining the best shining example of what our scholars need to see.”
Cox moved swiftly to fill the Vice President seat. Board member Terence Johnson was nominated by Wyatt, and approved by a 5-3 vote.
Following the formation of the new board, a number of members of the public took to the microphone during a 30-minute public comment period. Resident Timothy Priano and David Graves voiced concern over Cox’s appointment as a President with “no voting power” due to a conflict of interest with relatives employed by the school district.
Sam Cooper urged the new Board to improve communications between the schools, and to continue to work as champions for the children. Resident Katherine Balch sought clarification from counsel on rules governing the restrictions on members with relatives employed by the district.
Following public comment, the new Board moved to approve specific reorganization agenda items and convened into executive session.
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