After years of being a policy in name only, the Roselle Park Board Of Education (BOE) announced that they would begin applying a time limit for the public comment portions of their meetings. The announcement was made by BOE President Chris Miller at the start of the December 1st BOE meeting.
He stated, “There’s a policy, 9322, and that’s concerning the public portion comment section and we are going to enforce that. Basically, what that means is, you have three minutes to make a comment and when that three-minute time period is coming to an end I will just let you know your time is almost up and then your comment section will be over for that section. If you want to speak again, there’s always that second public portion that you can participate in as well which also will have a three-minute limit.”
The referring section 9322, under “Public Participation” of the BOE Policy Manual, contains the following language:
The presiding officer may inform a speaker that his allotted time is coming to an end and subsequently terminate his speaking privilege at the end of his three minutes. The presiding officer may also request an individual leave or request assistance from law enforcement officials of a disorderly person when that person’s conduct substantially interferes with the orderly process of the meeting, or call a recess for an adjournment to another time when the lack of public decorum so interferes with the orderly conduct of the meeting as to warrant such action.
Although no other reason was given at the December 1st meeting, an interaction between the Board and resident activist Jacob Magiera during the second public comment portion of the November 17th BOE meeting provides some background on the Board’s decision.
At that meeting, although the second public comment portion was open to any topic Mr. Magiera asked a series of questions including one on an agenda item. He stated that in order to not take time from students who were being recognized that evening right after the first public comment portion (reserved for agenda items only) he chose to ask the question during the second participation section.
Mr. Magiera asked about the cost listed in agenda item #4 regarding transportation and why there was payment for one-way transportation. He was notified by Mrs. Sue Guercio, the Board Administrator, that the cost covers transportation back from Westlake School in Westfield since the Roselle Park School District provides transportation to the school in the morning through its own bus. The cost covers the contracted service to transport the student home.
He then asked Board member Troy Gerten if he could repeat a point that was mentioned earlier in the meeting regarding the financial committee. Mr. Magiera asked because, unlike the municipal public meetings, the BOE does not provide any hearing aid system to accommodate those – like Mr. Magiera – with hearing disabilities. Mr. Gerten stated that he wanted to find out if the financial committee had met because, using past experience, some preliminary work can be started in November or December so that way when a new committee meets, there is some background available to them so time cannot be used trying to catch up before starting on a new budget.
Mr. Magiera then specifically asked about the outlook for the coming school year’s finances. Board member James Damm stated that there is no specific information as yet since the purpose of the finance committee is to determine that. Mr. Damm, who is the current chair of the 2015 Finance Committee, stated that he mentioned the committee since he, himself, will not be on it next year due to the fact that he did not run for re-election. Mr. Magiera asked if public would be allowed to go to committee meetings and he was told no but the public would be invited to budget presentations in the spring once the committee has gone over the district’s finances.
Next, Mr. Magiera asked if there was any resolution on a request by Sherman School fifth graders who publicly requested that the BOE consider allowing a full change of classes for all fifth graders in the district (article link). Superintendent Pedro Garrido stated that principals spoke with the students but that, due to the way the curriculum is currently set, there would be no changing of classes for fifth graders.
The borough attorney, Jennifer Osborne, was asked if any closed session items were resolved and she replied ‘no’. Mr. Magiera then asked about the absence of Anthony Sciarrillo, the other attorney from Lindabury, McCormick & Estabrook, the Board’s law firm, who was at the November 3rd BOE meeting.
It was then, after seven and a half minutes of speaking, that BOE member Loren Harms, visibly annoyed, said, “Mr. President, we have a three-minute time limit and we’re just getting into dialogue here and we have another meeting after this.”
President Miller concurred and thanked Mr. Magiera for his comments.
In a previous article, when addressing the Municipal Land Use Board’s proposal to do away with the public comment portion entirely in its meetings, Roselle Park News had revealed that the BOE had a time limit policy regarding their public comment portion (article link).
In other Board business, BOE President Miller stated that there will be no meeting on December 15th due to no pressing matters at the time that need to be addressed before the end of the year. Speaking for the Board, he bid farewell to outgoing members Scott Bruckenstein and James Damm. Both members did not seek re-election and will not be on the Board come January. Troy Gerten will return for another term and he will be joined by Kevin Cancino and Sundjata Sekou when they are sworn in for a three-year term at the first meeting of the Board in 2016. Mr. Damm was not present at the December 1st meeting due to a previous commitment but Mr. Bruckenstein stated about his time on the Board, “I had a great three years. I feel bad that I couldn’t do it again. I loved working with everybody on the board. I was proud to be somebody that was there when we hired [School Superintendent] Pedro [Garrido]. That was one of the proudest things I did while on the board.”
The next BOE meeting is scheduled for January 5, 2016.