ROSELLE, NJ — Not enough school board members were present to hold a scheduled meeting on Jan. 29, creating uncertainty about the board’s next meeting and prompting shouts among residents in attendance.
Only four school board members were present, one short needed for a quorum. The agenda called for the appointment of a new school board secretary, approval the board’s meeting schedule for the entire year and several field trips.
School board members Keyanna Jones, Jonathan Davis, Archange Antoine and Angela Wimbush attended the scheduled meeting. The other members were not present due to illness, work or family emergencies, the school board attorney told Local Source in a phone interview.
“The board did not vote at the (reorganization) meeting to set their calendar of meetings,” said school board attorney Allan Roth after members of the public yelled out questions. “They only voted for this one particular meeting. And because there’s no quorum, right now I don’t have a date” for the next meeting.
Nearly all measures at the previous Jan. 8 reorganization were not approved either. The resignation of board member Arthur Rice initially caused an even 4-4 split on most measures, including picks for board president and vice president.
In the result of such a split, Interim Executive County Superintendent Juan Torres was to determine the school board president and vice president.
However, school board members told LocalSource that someone purportedly contested the legality of the oath of office for one board member at the reorganization meeting. It’s unclear who determined that the votes for board president and vice president were retroactively considered 4-3.
Jones, who was recently elected to serve her first term on the board, was sworn in by her partner, Rev. Barry Walker, at the Jan. 8 meeting. A person — who Jones declined to identify — notified the county superintendent that a reverend was not authorized to administer the oath of office.
A chaotic scene broke out among residents where the the four board members convened on Jan. 29 since there was no official meeting, and therefore no forum for the public to comment. Responding to residents who were shouting out questions, Roth said that Patricia Fabrizio and Donna Eleazer were president and vice president of the board, respectively.
“That seems to be the question still at work, but as far as I understand, from the county superintendent, Patricia Fabrizio is president and Ms. Eleazer is vice president,” he said during the meeting, adding that the information came “in an email.”
In a subsequent phone interview on Feb. 2, Roth clarified that the interim county superintendent couldn’t make a decision due to the swearing-in issue.
When reached for comment, a state spokesman for the county superintendent on Feb. 1 said “the outcome was determined by the board following the board attorney’s advice.”
“Ultimately, the board attorney gave an opinion that there was no tie vote,” said state Department of Education spokesman Michael Yaple. “If there is no tie vote, the county superintendent would not name the board president.” When?
Earlier, he placed the issue back in the hands of the local board of education.
“We understand this is a local matter that may be ongoing, so it wouldn’t be appropriate for us to comment publicly,” Yaple said.
Roth told LocalSource he filed a legal brief — which wouldn’t be a public document due to attorney-client privilege — that explained processes to board members. He declined to comment when asked if his legal brief declared who would be president and vice president, again citing attorney-client privilege. Meanwhile, the nearly paralyzed school board still needs to decide who will fill the vacant seat after Rice’s resignation. State statute says that if the board does not fill the seat within 65 days, the county superintendent will need to decide.
Several parents and students attended the Jan. 29 gathering since the the agenda called for the recognition of Students of the Month. Roselle schools’ superintendent Richard Corbett announced to the audience that there wasn’t going to be a meeting due to a lack of a quorum.
“However, we will do what is really important for our district, and that is recognizing the students of the month,” he said at the meeting.
No other action was taken on the agenda, which included a resolution to accept the school board secretary’s resignation and the appointment of a new one. The agenda also listed measures, including the readoption of the curriculum, the appointment of teachers for the After Bell Program at the elementary school and the acceptance of grant money.
“The board just needs to be able to meet, to be able to have our [reorganization], put some leadership into place, get these committees up and running and support our administrators,” board member Antoine said after the Jan. 29 gathering. “And really start to move this district in the direction it needs to be moved in.”