Recap of Board of Education Meeting - Sept. 9, 2021

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BOARD OF EDUCATION Meeting Recap 9.9.2021

The Clifton Board of Education met for their regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday, September 9 at 7:00 pm in the Clifton High School auditorium with all commissioners ultimately in attendance except for Dana Beltran. Clifton High School’s new principal, Mr. Hamdeh, was in the hallway welcoming visitors. There were eight members of the community sitting in the auditorium to observe.

Following the Pledge of Allegiance and a brief moment of silence was a reading of the district’s mission statement: “The mission of the Clifton School District, in an open and reciprocal community partnership, is to provide all students with a quality education to develop the skills necessary to become literate, life-long learners who are responsible and productive citizens contributing to a democratic society in an ever-changing world.”

COMMUNICATIONS AND ANNOUNCEMENTS

Judy Bassford reported on the notes from a district Home School Association meeting, including updates on how Covid will affect the new school year. Fundraising and field trips can resume with appropriate safety measures in place (masking and distancing). Seating charts in every class will aid in contact tracing when there is a positive case reported.

Dr. Robertozzi announced an important change to the definition of who needs to quarantine. The New Jersey Department of Health recently updated its guidance for K-12 settings, stating that if the close contact was wearing a mask they will not need to quarantine. Dr. Robertozzi explained that in theory, this could mean that almost nobody would need to quarantine unless they themselves test positive or if they are a close contact in a setting where masks were not being worn, such as during lunch or athletics.

COMMITTEE REPORTS

The Policy Committee, chaired by Judy Bassford, discussed updates to Policy 0167 – Public Recognition. Ms. Bassford suggested two options for the Board to vote on – one which would reinstate the former policy of allowing the public to speak twice – once on agenda items only with a three minute time limit and another which would allow for five minutes on any topic of interest to the school district. The other option would limit the public participation to one five minute session. In both options, the commissioners’ comments would be limited to five minutes each, down from the current eight minutes.

There was an active and sometimes difficult to follow discussion among the commissioners regarding these policy changes:

  • Lucy Danny suggested removing commissioners’ comments altogether as a way of respecting the public’s time to shorten the meetings by as much as an hour and twenty minutes.
  • Fahim Abedrabbo agreed and countered that perhaps commissioners could have two minutes each in which to offer their comments.
  • Feras Awaad said that he’d be in favor of eliminating commissioner comments.
  • Joe Canova objected to the idea of eliminating the commissioners’ comments completely, stating that it’s an important way for the public to hear from them and to get a sense of how they are thinking about things. He said that he would support an amendment which would allow for speakers to call in from home in order to participate remotely. He wants to ensure that the public continues to have an active voice in these meetings.
  • Ms. Bassford agreed with Mr. Canova and voiced her preference for reverting to two public recognition periods, as was the policy before meetings were moved to a remote platform.
  • Board President Jim Smith voiced his concern that removing the commissioners’ comments would stifle their voices and make it difficult to thoroughly discuss topics that need to be discussed.

After approximately 45 minutes of discussion the Board passed a motion to amend the policy. The amended policy, once passed, would give the public one five minute session in which to speak on any topic pertaining to the school district and board commissioners would be restricted to three minutes each. The second reading of this policy will happen during this Thursday’s BOE meeting.

The Facilities Committee, chaired by Dana Beltran (not in attendance), gave updates on damage to our buildings from Storm Ida. Schools 12, 16, 17, CCMS, and CELA B all sustained flood damage but only School 16 needed to be closed due to excessive flooding throughout the building. That school is currently on remote instruction while efforts to assess and correct damage are ongoing. The district’s flood insurance policy carries a deductible of $50,000 per building with a maximum payout of $5 million dollars for the whole district.

PUBLIC RECOGNITION

Several speakers came to the podium and most thanked the BOE for their efforts in reopening our schools and addressing the crisis caused by the flooding. Lori Lalama, president of the CEA (Clifton Educators’ Association) asked for information regarding the status of each building and the damage in each. She thanked Kim Castellano from Power of One, which has been working to collect and distribute donations to those affected by the storm.

NEW BUSINESS

There was no new business to discuss.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS

In addition to Policy 0167 there were many Education/Administration, Personnel, and Finance/Facilities resolutions to adopt including approval for Transportation Services and use of school facilities for district events. All passed without discussion. These can be reviewed in detail on the BOE website here.

BOARD MEMBER COMMENTS

The commissioners kept their comments brief, mostly focusing on sending out their thoughts to those affected by the storm and welcoming the district’s children back to school.

During the Superintendent’s remarks Dr. Robertozzi welcomed everyone back and assured the community that emergency water was available in every school for students to drink. He also invited anyone who is still suffering from the flood to please reach out to the district if they need help – they can contact a teacher, a principal, or anyone at the BOE.

Dr. Robertozzi praised the efforts of his staff in the aftermath of the flooding. He specifically mentioned newly appointed Assistant Superintendent Mark Gengaro, who helped to remove carpets from flooded classrooms in an effort to ensure a safe return to school for everyone. “That’s the kind of people I get to work with,” he said, sharing the credit for the district’s response to the crisis.

He went on to share a quotation about leadership, “The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.” He then added, “I’m merely adjusting the sails while everyone else is doing the real hard work.”

The next Board of Ed meeting is scheduled for September 23rd at 7:00pm.

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