On average, the same dozen or so people show up religiously to every Monroe Township Board of Education meeting regardless of what’s on the agenda. Between the nationwide mercury-in-the-floor problems, the ongoing issues at Holly Glen Elementary School and the possibility of hiring a new principal, the town showed up in droves – so much so last week’s meeting was moved from the regular location at the high school to the auditorium.
Prior to reading the notice about public comment, the board passed a motion to limit public comment to one hour. In addition, the board agreed to not respond to any of the comments at the time of the meeting.
After the meeting, Interim Superintendent Richard Perry clarified the board’s position, noting time concerns and the goal of keeping tangents and emotions at a minimum were the driving forces behind the decision.
“We wanted to take on roles as listeners,” he said. “We value everybody coming out and giving public comments.”
Perry added the board intends to respond to everyone’s comments after the meeting.
Knowing the board would not respond to their comments didn’t stop residents from approaching the microphone stand with their concerns.
Resident Jennifer Lewis-Gallagher questioned the justification for limiting public comment to one hour where each resident can speak for three minutes at a time.
“At our last board meeting, there were 17 members of the public. This is exactly what we want to see take place, to have our public involved, and our voices are being constrained to one hour,” she said. “Three minutes, that’s 20 people. There’s far more than 20 people that have a vested interest in this school district. It’s frustrating.”
Resident and teacher at Williamstown High School, Gretchen Czbas, spoke about transparency and the possibility of opening Holly Glen this September.
“One of the rumors that’s floating – and I hope it’s not true – is that Whitehall is next on the shutdown list and that we need to get Holly Glen back in because we need to move Whitehall students over to Radix and the high school,” she said. “Whether this is true or not, Dr. Perry, I spoke to you last meeting and begged you to be transparent and communicate with this community. Holly Glen teachers have not had a meeting with you, you’ve had no parent meetings. I’ve tried to be polite and respectful because I am an employee of this district but my family always comes first. You cross my family, my job is nothing to me over them. I will push, I don’t care if you put me in the darkest corner of this district I will not shut up when it comes to them. I’m asking you again, as an emotional member of this community who lives my life for this district – talk to this community.”
Resident Natasha Williams echoed Czmas sentiments about transparency.
“When we had the last superintendent we had issues with communication and people getting back to us in reference to our questions,” she said. “It seems like the same thing is going on. As I said earlier, I asked about volleyball for the middle school months ago. I was told someone would call or email me. It never happened. Tonight you said you can’t answer our questions. I just want to say to the community, if you guys turn out to all the meetings like we did tonight, they have no choice but to talk. They can’t be quiet at all the meetings. If everybody that’s here tonight does this every single time, they’ll have to talk. As a community we need to show up. We need to make a difference so they respond to us.”
The meeting concluded with board member Therese Bonmati addressing the audience in an effort to enlighten attendees on why the board acts the way it does.
“At the board meeting a month before I was sworn in December 2017, I was pulled aside by a then-board member and told something to the effect that my opinion of the board would change once i was sworn in and was made aware of their side of many situations. At that December meeting, I had a lot of things to say to the board of education and I didn’t understand what it meant,” she described. “I understand now that there’s so much I know but cannot share. Not even with my husband. There are many people in the community talking about the issues concerning the board and employees of the board, however those people only know one side of those situations.”
Bonmati added the board cannot talk about certain issues because it is bound by law and ethics – if members were to talk about confidential issues they could be brought up on ethics charges, and those who are school employees could lose their jobs.
“Our hands are tied and our mouths are bound, literally,” she said.
Next in her statement, Bonmati addressed rumors she hears as a member of the community.
“There are rumors that there are political forces at play trying to control the board. I hear this all the time. These rumors are nothing more than conjecture, I cannot believe something just because a lot of people are saying it,” she continued. “I make the choices I make because I think they’re the best choices. I may be wrong, I may be fooled, I may regret choices I make later down the road, but I’m making my decisions with the facts I have in front of me. Facts I can’t share. I have to trust the process. It is set up so we as a board are not influenced by outside forces. When I see something is wrong, I say something. We don’t always have to agree and our disagreements do not mean that we have to be enemies.”
The next board of education meeting is scheduled for June 27 at 7 p.m. at Williamstown High School. This meeting is open to the public.