Abstention On BOE Resolutions Leads To Discussion On Communication To The Board

Board Of Education (BOE) member Troy Gerten’s abstention on Resolutions 27 through 29 at the April 4th BOE meeting brought about a discussion about communication to board members.

“You made a comment there that you’re going to keep the public informed,” stated Mr. Gerten during the discussion of the business resolutions, “At this point, I would sit here and say if you could keep your board members informed.”

This was the second time Mr. Gerten abstained on resolutions for projects regarding STEAM classrooms – which is the Science-Technology-Engineering-Art-Mathematics – and the lighting at the Roselle Park High School (RPHS) athletic complex. Last year, the lights were taken down after one fell during a storm in April and a subsequent professional review of all the lights resulted in all of them being taken down.

Mr. Gerten continued, “I want to sit here and reiterate to my fellow board members that section 1 and section 2 says the board hereby approves the educational specifications prepared . . . The next section says the schematic plans prepared. I’ve asked the facilities chair if they’ve seen the plans – either educational or schematic – he has not. I, as a board member, have not. If it’s shared in committee, that’s great. The three committees that were mentioned. I don’t sit on those committees so I don’t know how as a board member I would see what our plan is so I just want to be careful as we say we’re going to keep the public informed. I think there’s a responsibility to keep the board informed. Especially when the task here is to approve a resolution to go forward on these three projects.”

BOE President Chris Miller responded, “I believe the plans are in the office. Correct Mr. Garrido?”

School Superintendent Pedro Garrido replied, “Mr. Gerten, I had a lengthy conversation with the facilities chair, Mr. Harms, this morning and that is the plan: to meet in committees, share the plans with you. We do have them in the office. We have an ad hoc committee as well scheduled for two weeks from now. Our plan is to explore – as Mr. Miller said – and continue just to have a discussion. To see if we want to move forward with the STEAM labs, with the field lights, and have an open discussion with the public as well once the committees have been informed.”

Mr. Gerten asked if it would be going to all committees, Mr. Garrido answered that it would go before four committees: finance, facilities, curriculum, and technology. Board member Loren Harms entered the conversation by saying he wanted to have, at least, two committees meet before there was the meeting with the ad hoc committee which would only serve in an advisory capacity. He added, “The board has to make a decision, and I’m 100% with you that the board as a whole does not know what the cost is on any of these projects . . . My main concern is the board understands where we’re going with this. What the cost is. The whole board, not just one little committee.”

President Miller remarked that the plan was to have the facilities committee meet as soon as possible to go over the total cost and perhaps do a site visit at another school. Then that information would be distributed to the entire board. Mr. Miller added, “I think that’s very important because, yes, we need to know the total cost and the total benefits and possible pitfalls as well.”

Mr. Harms stated, “We have to know what the total cost is to make the decision whether we’re going to go with it or not going to go with it so we can stop some of the architectural monies being spent. That’s my main concern, too. If we’re not going to do it and we’re just going to keep this going, all this architect’s going to do is just keep on doing things and he’s going to charge us for it. And that’s money wasted and that’s what I don’t to [happen].”

“I’m concerned with the charges from the architect as well,” said Mr. Miller. The board president then requested that Mr. Garrido confirm that the district is not incurring further costs at this point.

“That was going to be my question,” remarked BOE member Rodric Bowman, “Between the potential approval of these three resolutions and the time that the board actually needs to go over cost, feasibility, what-have-you, are there any costs being incurred?”

Mr. Harms provided an example, “When we met with the architect at the last facilities meeting, he said that he was [continuing] to work on a bond referendum. That’s costing us money. So I’m looking at if it’s costing us money [and] we’re not going to do it why would we have him keep on doing it? That’s all I’m asking. That’s what I’m saying, the cost keeps on going . . . And again, we debate it here and everybody wants to be quiet about this. I can’t. I just can’t keep on spending money that I don’t know that we’re going to go through [with] because I don’t think the whole board knows exactly what this is going to cost us. And yes, I want to educate our children, I want to give them the best they possibly can, yes. But also, I have to know that the community can afford to do this.”

Mr. Garrido commented, “Mr. Harms, I will send the cost of the STEAM labs to you tomorrow . . . I shared them with the facilities committee about three weeks ago, a month ago. They are exactly what you said, they’re $300,000 for each classroom. I will definitely research to find out the furniture and the equipment that is necessary and I will research that as well before I with the facilities committee next time.”

“And that’s why the conversation is continuing,” said Mr. Miller, “Mr. Garrido, if we could look at the architect fee schedule and see if that meter is still running and see what the short-term [and] long-term cost is from that and also looking at the overall cost . . . I think once we get those numbers then we will be in a better place to go forward and inform the board and also make the decisions. It’s not about us keeping quiet it’s about keeping the conversation going and finding these numbers.”

Mr. Bowman asked for clarification, “We already voted on this last board meeting but these are the revised [resolutions]. My recollection of [why] we voted on these initially is that we had to stop the clock and submit these resolutions to get approval to move forward. Do we have to vote on these tonight or is the clock already stopped? Or is there a deadline on the revised resolutions?”

“I believe that in order to get the DOE to act as quickly as possible – as we have asked the architects – we need to get this paperwork as soon as possible,” replied Mr. Garrido.

Business Administrator Sue Guercio stated that the revision in the resolution was given by the New Jersey Department Of Education. The actual change was that the projects were incorrectly designated as ‘other capital’ projects instead of ‘debt service aid. There was no explanation as to how such an oversight occurred.

The following is the only change in all three resolutions:

February 28th resolutions:

This project is designated as a “Other Capital” project and the Board is not seeking state funding.

April 4th resolutions:

This project is designated “Debt Service Aid” and will be seeking state funding.

After the discussion was concluded, all board members present voted and approved the three revised resolutions with only Mr. Gerten remaining as an abstention.