Westfield Board of Ed Regroups After Bond Vote, Finn Resigns, Teacher Evaluations Discussed, at Meeting

Amy Seid, co-president of the Education Fund of Westfield, right, presents a certificate to Darielle Walsh, noting that a new iPad lab has been named in her honor. Walsh served on the Westfield Board of Education for many years, including as president. Credits: Patricia Harris

WESTFIELD, NJ--The Westfield Board of Education is regrouping following voter rejection of a $16.9 million bond referendum last month. The referendum would have funded new roofs at a number of schools and an artificial turf field and lights at the high school.

At the October 2 meeting, board president Richard Mattessich addressed moving forward with the district’s facility needs. He pointed out that 25 percent of the town’s citizens turned out to vote—a high percentage—and that more than two-thirds of them voted no, for a variety of reasons.

"The cold fact remains that the majority of roofs need to be replaced,” he said. “We will find a way to do so.” He suggested the board might still have to go out to bond or take funds from its operating fund, which might necessitate program cuts, or from its capital funds, which might affect the district’s 5-year capital plan.

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Regarding the turf field, the president said the board would have to decide whether to pursue the project, perhaps with a separate referendum. In the meantime, the district would have to look for ways to patch up fields or change patterns of usage.

Mattessich pledged the board would start the dialogue that night and consider what measures to take over the next few meetings.

Business administrator and secretary Dana Sullivan noted $13.6 million in the referendum was for roofs, and the district would have to do some reprioritizing and defer some of the planned work. She said the greatest need is for a new roof at the high school, which will cost approximately $4 million. She recommended holding a more limited bond referendum on Dec. 11 that would provide funds for work at two schools.

The board left open the possibility of holding another referendum by voting to notify the county of its intention to do so. The board is not obligated to hold the referendum and does not have to set an amount at this time.

Sullivan agreed to present a more detailed report at the next meeting on Monday, Oct. 22, on staging and funding of the roof project. Board members also asked to see the tax impact and the possible impact on programs if funds are taken from the operating budget.

In other business, Mattessich announced that Vice President David Finn has resigned from the board due to an urgent family medical matter. Finn, who served on the board for three and a half years and was chairman of the negotiations committee in addition to serving as its vice president.

“David, you will be missed on this board,” Mattessich said. He appointed board member Ginny Leiz to take Finn’s place as chairman of the negotiating committee. The board then voted board member Roseanne Kurstedt as its new vice president. Finn’s vacant seat need not be filled before a new board convenes in January.

Also at the session, the board heard from members of an advisory committee on a new teacher evaluation system. The system is being implemented to comply with state regulations, and the committee could choose from five vetted models.

The group selected one developed by educator Kim Marshall, which they found to be workable and more affordable than others. The board is to vote on purchasing the new system at its Nov. 13 meeting. The system calls for more frequent unannounced visits to the classroom for observation and provides for discussion between supervisors and teachers on where improvements can be made.

Kurstedt praised the model for focusing on real teaching and showing what a highly effective teacher looks like.
“This model is more personal, and teaching is personal,” she said.

The system allows four levels of evaluation, which she called more meaningful than the current “satisfactory-unsatisfactory” rating. “It’s exciting that we’re moving in this direction,” she said.

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