The following are Elissa Malespina's remarks during the public comment of the South Orange Maplewood Board of Education meeting on June 13, reprinted with permission.

Hello,

Thank you for the opportunity to speak. Public comment on district concerns is critical for your understanding of community concerns. Please keep in mind the well-being of each and every student is this district, as you hear my comments, and as you engage in the evaluation tonight.

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While I have numerous concerns, I have come to you tonight to talk to you specifically about the evaluation of the superintendent. Dr. Ramos’s contract states that if he meets all of his metrics (which I will discuss in more detail later) he will receive a $26,607.25 bonus. That is a huge amount of money for a district that is cutting librarians, educators, guidance counselors and other positions and continually claims poverty. We are at a fiscal cliff, in fact, according to Dr. Ramos.  

When negotiating Dr. Ramos’s contract, and the contracts of all bonus eligible employees for next year, I hope you will take a long look at reducing or eliminating the bonuses all together. It is irresponsible to continue providing bonuses when the district continues to project budget deficits.

Also, I ask you, Dr. Ramos, to consider donating whatever bonus you do get back to the school district -- as Dr. Osborne did a few years ago, when we were facing similar circumstances. I think it would do a lot to help foster goodwill with the staff and community.

While looking through the merit bonus metrics, I have a few questions as to how to actually evaluate whether some of these criteria have been met. The contract clearly states that “we will obtain approval from the Office of Civil Rights for proposals to address issues outlined in the Resolution Agreement." We have yet to receive that approval. In fact, Dr. Ramos has chosen to not implement any of the suggestions outlined by Sage Consulting in their initial report, claiming that he has “leapfrogged” past some of those items detailed in the resolution.  

The Access and Equity Policy does not address the discipline or special education issues identified in the complaint. Under Dr. Ramos’ guidance, we have actually sat through yet another year of inactivity and inaction. We have done nothing to address the many issues outlined by the Office of Civil Rights. I ask you, as responsible Board of Education (BOE) members, to not give him his full merit bonus for this criteria.

It also states in his Merit Criteria that Dr. Ramos will increase the percentage of observations for non-tenured and tenured certified staff. While I do not believe this should even be in as a bonus item since, as stated in Achieve NJ, this is something the district and the Superintendent needs to be doing by law anyway, I do question allowing payment for this when you as a BOE allowed Dr. Ramos to appeal to the state and have the number of observations reduced from 3 to 2. Because you decreased the number of observations,  his percentage is bound to increase, even if he did nothing to make this happen.

Dr. Ramos’ contract also states that “we will ensure the district's strategic communication plan is updated and implemented in the 2015-2016 school year.” The plan was completed on May 6th of this year, although Communication regarding this meeting, the recent bias incidents and many other recent communication problems point to issues with its implementation. We have a long way to go in terms of the implementation of this policy. We’ve spent money on “Let’s Talk” which I am still waiting over a week for a reply from Ms. Turner about communication issues. Have we improved communications?  Is the community satisfied?  When was the last time Dr. Ramos and Ms. Turner reported the average Let’s Talk response times, ratings, and written feedback to the board at a public board meeting?  Are teachers, administrators, and board members replying to emails from the public?

Another merit criteria states that the district will “establish a comprehensive vision for school district testing and how each test relates to an important learning or strategic objective. Analyze the assessment system used to determine the amount of testing necessary to serve diagnostic, instructional and accountability purposes. Except for one document posted in March that lists all the tests students take in the district (I challenge whether you can find this easily on the website), to the best of my knowledge, there has not been any other discussion about the amounts of testing or the quality of them that has been shared with the BOE, our educators or the community.

This year has just been another of the same, in a string of turbulent years in our district with staff worried about retaliation, student voices being suppressed and open and transparent communication not occurring. The baseball investigation is still not fully addressed after more than two years and our district received a failing rating from the state on QSAC, and on Least Restrictive Environments. Three of our schools are still not off the focus schools list, partially because your staff did not get data to the state in a timely manner. I urge you to review the RAC reports, if you haven’t done so already.  

I urge each member of the Board of Education to consider and address all of these issues during the Superintendent's Evaluation.