Haddonfield Board of Education candidates discuss pressing issues at forum

The League of Women voters moderated The Board of Education forum Monday evening in preparation for the Nov. 8 election

At the Meet the Candidates Forum held on Monday night in Haddonfield Middle School’s auditorium, five candidates discussed the Board of Education’s challenges and how each candidate would work to solve them if elected or re-elected to the board.

The League of Women voters moderated the forum and asked candidates about topics involving the board’s most pressing issues.

One of the first major topics discussed was the relationship between the public and board. The candidates were asked what they would change about the BOE’s relationship with the public. Glenn George, a challenger hoping to get a seat on the board, voiced his concerns about the lack of transparency.

“I think a lot of what the board does, a lot of what our school district does is insufficiently transparent to the public, so this is more than just communicating that which is determined to be public, it means actually making more things public, it means explaining the rationale for actions, it means making reports, background materials and internal budgets and things which are currently not public, making them public in a timely fashion and making them fully accessible,” George said.

Other candidates said, if re-elected, they would work to serve the public.

“We are all one team, moving in the same direction,” Heather Paoli, a board member of seven years, said. “I want the public to know that people can ask for help and we will listen, and if we can do it, I want to do what the public is requesting.”

Although some candidates expressed goals and concerns about the board’s relationship with the public, some said they would not change anything, suggesting the communication between the public and board is already in place and that criticism should be embraced as a form of communication.

“Criticism comes with the territory; any board of education member or candidate should understand that criticism is an indication of public engagement and there’s always going to be an issue that comes forward, and our role as board of education members is to listen and also to help the members of the public to be their own advocate and go through the system properly, so I wouldn’t change anything,” said Maureen Lyn Eyles, a member of the board since 2012.

Another question at Monday’s meeting was in regard to the effects of the low participation in PARCC tests.

Paoli served on the board during the implementation of PARCC testing and explained the importance of raising awareness with the students about the impact test scores had on the reputation of the school district.

“(The board) did a very active campaign, especially at the high school so that the high school students understood the importance of taking the exam and how it was hurting our reputation,” Paoli said.

She also emphasized that after these campaigns, PARCC scores “significantly jumped up” and participation had increased due to these efforts.

Some candidates felt differently and suggested a potential re-evaluation of the test along with a different mindset of persuading students to take it.

“I think we have to rely on our professionals and ask them to make a recommendation regarding whether this is the right test and right way to assess our students, and if we decide by these recommendations that this is the right assessment, then we need to do a better job of communicating to our students and families that this is how we are going to asses our students and it shouldn’t be, ‘take the test or our else our reputation is going to suffer,’ it should be, ‘take the test so we can adequately assess you,’” said Tom Vecchio, a challenger.

The candidates were also asked questions about construction and deferred maintenance along with planning.

“Maintenance was not performed when it should have been performed, it was deferred,” George said, explaining the board must deal with issues as they arise and live within its means. The state-mandated 2 percent cap on budget increases is not necessarily the issue, George added, “it’s maintaining the facilities by planning annual incremental repairs and maintenance which are required and necessary to maintain the buildings safely and with full functionality.”

In regard to ongoing HEA contract negotiations, all the candidates were in agreement that the negotiations need to be settled,

“That’s easy, settlement contract,” said Robert Little, after which he received applause from the audience. He preceded by saying it is easier said than done. He stands by the belief that long-range planning can’t be achieved until there is a settlement between the teacher’s union and Board of Education.

Various topics were also discussed at Monday’s forum, such as Haddonfield’s special education programs and picking the new superintendent.

Voters can vote in the Haddonfield Board of Education during the general election on Nov. 7. To view the full bios of the five Haddonfield Board of Education candidates, visit https://haddonfieldsun.com/meet-the-candidates-in-the-2017-board-of-education-election-week-1-3e8ca7c797c7.