Categorized | News, Schools

Emotions Still Run High at Regular Board of Education Meeting, 4/26/12

PERTH AMBOY – Emotions ran high at the BOE Meeting of 4/26/12 but it was not all due to the previous night’s suspension of Dr. Janine Walker Caffrey. The PAHS Debate Team was honored for their excellence in achievements as was the PAHS Odyssey of the Mind Improvisational Group who will represent Perth Amboy at a competition in Iowa. There was also a performance by the Jazz Assembly Band. Lauren Marrocco, a 4th grade teacher at the Edward J. Patten School was the recipient of the 2012-2013 District and Middlesex County Teacher of the Year Award. Dr. Joyce Richardson-Melech delivered a very poignant speech honoring her father, the late Dr. Herbert N. Richardson. (see editorial)

Those in the audience who spoke included resident Stanley Sierokowski who questioned the Board of Education about the lack of transparency when it comes to some of the items listed on the agenda. He specifically focused on items that said, “attachment included” where there were none available to the public.

Board Secretary Frank Jess said the attachments are available to the public upon request which led Sierokowski to reply, “In that case they should be on the same table where the agendas are displayed.”

The specific item that interested Sierokowski was a trip that was listed. “All trips should have the purpose of the trip, the cost, who is going and why,”stated Sierokowski Board Member Israel Varela started to explain to Sierokowski about the Sisters Under Sail Program which had nothing to do with the trip that was listed on the agenda.

There was some confusion when it was stated that the BID was contributing money towards the trip listed but were asking to be reimbursed by the Board for the money they were donating.

Another hot topic for discussion had to do with how open job openings are filled in the school district. Sierokowski wanted to know, “What do you call cronyism? When you want to help someone who is down on their luck and a resident of the City?”

Another resident came up to the podium who said, “You always want to fill a position with the best candidate regardless of whether or not they are a resident. An application always needs to be filled out even if an applicant is down on his or her luck.”

The suspension of Dr. Caffrey was mentioned by several speakers who also spoke at the Special Meeting the previous night. Resident Alan Silber made reference to Board Member Dianne Roman who believed she should have been censured for making a statement at the special meeting supporting Dr. Caffrey after she abstained from voting. He said to Roman directly, “You should not have spoken.”

PTO Members Bob Kennedy and Donna Stewart showed their support for Dr. Caffrey and their disdain for the Board members who voted for Caffrey’s suspension. Kennedy said, “There were a lot of passionate words spoken on the Special Meeting on Wednesday, but only three people talked about the children. They were Donna Chiera, Maria Garcia and Dr. Caffrey.” He hoped that Dr. Rodriguez can put the same passion in him as Dr. Caffrey did. “We need to get back to basics because education of our children should be foremost.” Looking directly at the Board, Kennedy said, “You are embarrassing at times.”

Donna Stewart stated, “I am my children’s first teacher and coach. I am disappointed by what happened last night. My daughter said we need change and we needed it for a very long time.”

Teacher Linda Nagy from the Richardson School applauded the Board Members for their actions and she welcomed Dr. Rodriguez whom she considers more qualified than Caffrey and she is proud to have Rodriguez as her boss. “Rodriguez is bilingual and is familiar with the community. Many teachers left the system due to bogus charges contributed to Caffrey. If allegations are true, Caffrey can be fired and the Board does not have to pay. The Board did to Caffrey what she did to them. If Caffrey is right she should be given her job back.”

Another resident, Linda Cruz said, “I am a taxpayer and born and raised in Perth Amboy. The new suspension policy has been in place for ten months. What happened last night was an embarrassment. We need to fix it and talk through it and get it right. Our taxes are too high.”

After two days of criticism toward at the Board. Board VP Ken Puccio and Member Israel Varela felt a need to respond.

Before Board Vice President Kenneth Puccio spoke towards the end of the Board Meeting he stated, “Perhaps the Board Attorney should sit next to me because of what I’m about to say. I got elected three years ago and have not missed one Board Meeting. This is not my real job. I have been in law enforcement 29 years with 22 years in the juvenile division and I see what is going on. I was born, raised, educated and am a taxpayer in the City. It’s a damn if we do or don’t and the Board Members don’t get paid. I spend 25 to 30 hours a week doing this. I get stopped by taxpayers and children all the time and I know what I got myself into. In 22 years as a juvenile director I’ve also done crisis planning for the Middle Schools and High School. Make no mistake – it is about the children. I am a human being whatever happened last night wasn’t easy. We all deeply care about the children.”

Board Member Israel Varela also made a very emotional statement. With a raised voice he stated, “I am one of the individuals accused. If you have proof that I asked anyone for a job for any friends of mine (in reference to the allegations by Caffrey) – then you are a liar!”

With that he took off a strap that was hung around his neck with the words Perth Amboy High School on it, slammed it on the table to back up his words.

Earlier in the evening Ronald Snipes was approved as a Security Guard which he publicly thanked the Board and those in attendance. He had applied for this job for several years and was grateful for the position and said he hoped to also be a role model and father figure for the students. Snipes had been honored earlier in the year by the City Council for saving the life of an individual who attempted to jump off the Victory Bridge.

Board Member Varela apologized to Snipes and fellow Board Member Ken Puccio for not realizing that Snipes was the individual on the agenda as the new hiree for the security guard position. Varela had wondered why another security guard who had been in the school system longer was paid a less amount than the new hiree. Varela said he did not realize the qualifications that Snipes which allowed him to come in at the higher salary. Snipes had applied for this position several years ago and was finally called.

Board Members Obi Gonzalez and Mark Carvajal were absent at the 4/26/12 meeting.

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