Berlin residents present petition for “Vote of No Confidence” in BCS superintendent

At Thursday’s BOE meeting, parents submitted a document to the board urging the termination of Kristen Martello.

At Thursday’s Berlin Borough School District Board of Education meeting, parents presented a petition requesting, through a “vote of no confidence,” the board terminate Superintendent Kristen Martello.

The petition received 180 signatures over the last 30 days, representing the equivalent of six families per day, according to petitioner presenter Jeff Greenberg, a Berlin resident and former educator.

The document outlines a series of incidents BCS has experienced over the last few years, which petitioners attribute to Martello taking the job in February 2016.

From mold spores to cyberbullying, the petition says Martello, “failed to adequately address multiple issues concerning the health, safety and welfare of all students.”

The document urges the board of education to act immediately in removing Martello from her position.

Greenberg, who represented the 180 petitioners, submitted the proposal during the public portion of Thursday night’s meeting.

“We have become extremely and increasingly alarmed at the lack of transparency and communication between this board and the superintendent’s office, as well as the families that sit behind me and at home,” Greenberg said. “We are disgusted with the actions of this board, which have seemingly pandered completely and entirely to the office of the superintendent instead of to the public that has elected them.”

Greenberg supported the accusation with several cases, including the petitioners’ judgments of Martello’s unfair procedural changes, inability to reprimand bullying and inadequate air quality testing.

The petition mentions the public’s outcry at the Nov. 16 meeting regarding the district’s delay in posting results from air quality testing that took place in September. It was not until after the meeting that an environmental specialist from Camden County visited BCS to perform additional comprehensive testing in December. But, parents say, some classrooms were left out of the test.

According to the petition, parents were unaware of the original testing, saying they only learned of the issue after noticing de-humidifiers in classrooms and after students complained about congestion headaches and similar aliments.

Results from both tests can be found on the district’s website, https://nj01001442.schoolwires.net/Page/1.

The document also encompasses other concerns, such as the school’s lack of a full-time librarian, which is non-compliance with a state Department of Education regulation, and a shortage of substitute teachers, all of which petitioners also attribute to the superintendent’s office.

“This board should not allow the administration, specifically, in many cases, Mrs. Martello, to place any barrier between the district and parents and guardians of the children that attend this school,” Greenberg said.

In light of last week’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, which left 17 people deceased, the petition also says Martello rejected the Berlin Borough Council’s offer to assign a uniformed police officer within BCS.

During the meeting, Mike Chuppe a BCS parent and retired police officer, questioned the board’s status in hiring a school resource officer.

Board president Linda Welte thanked Chuppe for expressing his concerns and said he’d be notified if the board takes action.

“I do expect the board to take action,” Chuppe said. “This is not a threat, but mark my words — I will not go away quietly.”

Following the presentation, board members said they’d review the petition.

“I can say to you, the board will most definitely take it under advisement and get back to you at a later date,” Welte said.

In a call with The Sun following the meeting, Martello encouraged parents to contact her directly with any school-related issues, saying she is willing to listen and cooperate with them in finding solutions.

“I would welcome any community member who has any concerns regarding our district that they would reach out to me, so that I would provide information to ease their concerns,” she said. “I encourage anyone who has any questions regarding the school that they contact me, so I can work with them. I can ensure that we have a wonderful, beautiful school here that is achieving.”

According to the district’s 2016–2017 budget, which is published on the state Department of Education website, Martello earns $125,000 per year under her contract, which runs through June 30, 2019. Business Administrator Cande Kristoff said The Sun would have to request a copy of Martello’s contract through an Open Public Records Act request — which The Sun filed this week — to determine the language of the contract regarding early termination, should the board decide to go that route. As of press time, The Sun had not received the contract.

Greenberg stressed board members were elected by the community, so it is ultimately their duty to represent and reflect the interests of the public.

“The board must act accordingly in hiring a superintendent that will work to address these concerns without delay. Working together is vital to the community support of this school,” Greenberg said. “This petition will continue to grow, and as it does, demands for change will grow, too.”