SOUTH ORANGE AND MAPLEWOOD, NJ - Monday night's South Orange Maplewood School District (SOMSD) Board of Education meeting drew an overflow crowd, with the district meeting room filled to capacity with additional people filling the hall outside.
Prior to the meeting, about 30 people rallied outside the SOMSD administration building starting at 6 p.m., many wearing red and holding signs with messages such as "Accountability Now" and "Maplewood isn't Ficarra's Playground," referring to Interim Superintendent Thomas Ficarra. Several people held a banner with "New 3 for BOE."
Eddy Bikales, one of the participants in the rally, said he was there because he wanted to hold the school board accountable for their actions. "I want to see three new members elected to the board on November 6," said Bikales.
Another protestor, Carolyn Berry, said she was there because she was unhappy with the lack of transparency from the board and superintendent, as well as in the timing of the dissemination of information about personnel changes.
"We're taxpayers and we voted for the Board of Education members, we deserve transparency," said Berry.
At the Board of Education meeting, more than 20 people spoke during the first public comment period, addressing a range of topics including their opposition to the reassignments of Columbia High School Principal Elizabeth Aaron, and Montrose Early Childhood Center Principal Renee Joyce.
Other issues raised were the hiring of paraprofessionals, who are hired by an outside firm and are not district employees, concerns about school bus safety, and the need to seek and listen to input from students.
One of the speakers expressed his concern that his son was an incoming senior at Columbia High School, and he will have an Interim Principal, an Interim Director of Guidance, and an Interim Superintendent.
Others said they thought the Board of Education and the Superintendent needed to be more accountable to the community, and that there needed to be more transparency and better communication moving forward.