Divided school board issues split vote on committees

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In two narrow decisions that differed by one member voting for one resolution but against the other one, with current conditions affecting her decisions, a divided Board of Education will re-establish a board committee for personnel but not a committee for education.

The board voted 5-4 last week to create a personnel committee, and 5-4 against creating an education committee. The board last year had decided to no longer have committees for those topics, but some members, including some recently elected ones, have urged their return.

The differing results at last week’s meeting swung on board member Lisa Herbowy voting in favor of creating a personnel committee, but voting against creating an education committee. Otherwise, voting in favor of the committees were board President Paul Hagerty, Vice President Tanya Davis, Karen Fontana and John Nash. Voting against creating the committees were Paul Fitzpatrick, Leigh Loughran, Jonathon Matwijec-Walda and Joseph Mellace.

Each vote was preceded by nearly 15 minutes of debating comments by board members about pros and cons of the committees, which typically include three board members each. Some members said they preferred the extended discussion opportunities available in committee meetings, and more opportunities for contributions from members with specific interests in certain committee topics. But other members said they would rather have the full board get information directly from administrators, instead of receiving committees’ reports on what was discussed.

After the meeting, Herbowy said of her vote in favor of a personnel committee “I think it’s necessary in this time of fiscal crisis that we evaluate our current staff to determine if there are areas in which we could consolidate or decrease the amount of staff we currently employ.” The school district has “had several retirements and resignations within the last few months, and I think it’s imperative that we evaluate whether these positions need to be filled at this time,” she commented. Also, “with the district in the process of reconfiguring our buildings, now is a good time to look at the necessity of various staff,” she added; the board’s 2020-21 budget discussions in early March had included a potential elementary school closure, but it was not pursued after many complications and uncertainties developed due to COVID-19.

Regarding an education committee, however, Herbowy said she does not think it is necessary because Assistant Superintendent for Educational Programs Christopher Brewer “has done a fantastic job of keeping the board updated on educational programs, staff development, the improvement plans needed for our ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) schools, and other issues pertaining to curriculum.” Brewer’s presentations are very informative, she said, plus “he quickly responds to any questions posed by board members and is willing to have a conversation with anyone regarding curriculum.”

After the votes, Mellace asked whether the board at that point should discuss who would be on the personnel committee and who would chair it. But Hagerty said it could be done at a later date. The board does continue to have committees for finance and for policy, and has not opted to eliminate them. But last year it also eliminated a committee for buildings and grounds, which was not part of the recent re-establishment actions.

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