SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Steps are under way to form a new parent-teacher organization (PTO) at South Plainfield Middle School.

As of press time, close to 20 moms have stepped up to help and, during an informal meeting Aug. 23 with Principals Roger Vroom and Kelly Rickhus, an interim middle school parent committee was formed.

“I want to thank you all for coming out on short notice but it means a lot,” Vroom told those who gathered in the high school auditorium Wednesday night. “I am optimistic that we will be moving forward.”

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However, before the ‘PTO of South Plainfield Middle School’ can officially be formed, various steps need to take place. The preliminary group of parents must create a mission statement and draft bylaws as well as apply for a new tax identification number (EIN) and establish itself as a 501c(3). Once all the paperwork is in place, the group needs to hold a public meeting to adopt the bylaws and elect officers (president, vice president, etc.).

“Right now, we are an interim committee working to form a new PTO. Upon completion of the necessary steps, a formal election will be conducted to form an executive board,” Georgia Lambert, a middle school mom and longtime executive board member of the Franklin PTO who offered to serve as co-vice president of the new organization told TAPinto South Plainfield.

Danielle Mendez, a former president of the Kennedy PTO who, along with mom Dawn Tomei, offered to step up as co-president of the new organization, said she is hopeful things will be in place for the PTO to hold its first meeting and vote in October.

“I am happy to see so many are on the same page. We all have the same outlook on things and want to help start rebuilding,” said Mendez.

While they work together to benefit the students, the middle school PTO – along with any of the district’s other parent-teacher-student groups – is an independent organization that is not governed by the board of education (BOE) or the building administrators. However, both Richkus and Vroom assured parents that they are available to assist. 

“As the principal and assistant principal, we don't have the ability to start a PTO, but we want you to know we have a vested interest. We will work with you in any way we can,” said Rickhus. “The past is the past and we are all here to move forward and do what is best for the kids.

Vroom added, “I know and understand the benefits of parent organizations and we are looking forward to working with the new board and continuing to move things forward for all of our children. We want to make sure that whatever we do benefits them; that’s why we are here.”

Mendez said she feels Vroom and Richkus were both ‘genuine’ in their efforts to help. “The only thing we can do now is start anew. I am glad we are all ready to go through this new chapter together and say goodbye to the past and plan a new future for South Plainfield Middle School,” she said, adding, “In the end, it is all for our kids and we all just want what’s best for them.

In addition to Lambert, Mendez, and Tomei, middle school parents Sharon Ciullo, Jennifer Flannery, Leslie Goncalves, Kim LaCross, and Andrea Yuill offered to step up to run the PTO as did Stellanie Callanan and a handful of others who could not make the meeting. 

At this time, parents looking to stay up-to-date about the formation of a new middle school PTO, including meeting dates, can follow the organization on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/South-Plainfield-Middle-School-PTO-132640136806081/.

The need to establish a new parent-teacher organization at the middle school comes in the wake of a policy revision approved in July by the South Plainfield BOE. Under revised Policy 9210, BOE members can no longer serve as an officer (president, vice president, etc.) or on the executive board of any school district parent organization (PTO, PTA, PTSO, etc.).

As a result, sitting BOE members Debbie Boyle and Sharon Miller were required to give up their PTO positions; Miller, who served as co-president of the high school PTO, resigned while the middle school PTO, which was run by Boyle (president), Nicole Plate (vice president), Eileen Brady (treasurer), and Tree Olano (secretary), was dissolved entirely.

In addition to offering to help establish a new organization, many middle school parents who attended Wednesday night’s meeting were looking for information about the files and finances of the now defunct PTO. While chocolate sale money raised by last year’s seventh graders for this coming year’s class trip to Washington, D.C. is set aside in a Student Activity account and earmarked for each child, parents want to know what happened to the other monies they contributed to the PTO throughout the year. They state they paid a $2 PTO membership fee to join the PTO as well as a $30 activity fee per student.

Under the bylaws of the now defunct group, at least $2,000 must remain in the organization’s account at the end of each fiscal year (Aug. 1 to July 31) with all monies donated to South Plainfield Middle School in the event the PTO is dissolved. As of press time, however, no documents or funds have been passed along to the middle school.

Looking for answers, several parents left the auditorium and headed straight for the high school media center where the BOE’s 8 p.m. public meeting was taking place.

“Mrs. Boyle…has completely dissolved the PTO and has left our children with zero funds and no explanation,” middle school mom Melanie Mott told the BOE during the public comment portion of the meeting. “As of today, there have been no payments of any kind made to the middle school...We need to know where that money for our school is. Now, we are all scrambling trying to figure out where our money went.”

BOE President Bill Seesselberg interjected, however, telling Mott that the board could not answer and that she would have to take her questions up with the former middle school PTO board.

“The board of ed, at this point, has no information,” said Seesselberg, adding, “While I understand the relevancy, we cannot answer any questions regarding the finances, the dissolution, the membership or anything to do with the prior middle school organization…”

TAPinto has received unconfirmed reports that the money is in a trust with the South Plainfield Education Foundation. However, Boyle, who serves as the foundation's vice president, would not confirm how much money is in PTO account or when/if it would be given to the school. An update will be posted as information becomes available. 

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