ROSELLE, NJ — Lifelong borough resident Jonathon “Shawon” Spearman has said his connections to the community will be his greatest strength as the newest member of the Board of Education, which he characterized as “a mess.”
Spearman was appointed to the board by an 8-0 vote at its Nov. 19 meeting. After being sworn in by business administrator Anthony Juskiewicz, he ascended the steps onto the stage at Abraham Clark High School and took his place on the dais.
Afterward, Spearman, the 42-year-old owner and operator of The Hair Lounge on Chestnut Street, laughed about how he was inadvertently overlooked during some of the roll calls during the meeting.
He fills the position left vacant when the board voted 5-4 to remove Archange Antoine on Aug. 27, after he missed five meetings between May and June. Antoine’s appeal to be returned to the board was denied by Judge Margaret M. Monaco in September. Antoine had been on the board since 2011, which made him the longest-serving member at the time.
Both Spearman and fellow candidate Rupert Pond were asked the same four questions by board Vice President Donna Eleazer at the meeting.
When asked what is the “No. 1 priority” facing the board, Spearman said, “perception.”
“I don’t believe the people in town believe in the Board of Education,” he said. “You guys are unfairly judged. I only recently learned that through talking to different members of the board privately. I feel like you are very criticized for things that are sometimes beyond your control.
“I believe that the people of the town, they don’t know that. I don’t believe they know the obstacles you guys deal with. And, I believe in the position I stand in, knowing all the people I know, I can help express that to people. There’s a lot of misinformation out there. There really is. I believe that is something I can help with the board is getting the right information out to the right people so that they know what’s actually going on, what challenges you guys are facing.”
When it was mentioned that the board has been rocked this year by resignations, suspensions, firings, investigations and an independent audit into its spending, Spearman said, “Can I just say it’s a mess. That’s one of the reasons why I decided to go and try to step in and hopefully help with the confusion that is going on. It’s definitely a mess.”
Some of the upheaval over the past year includes:
• This year district has had three superintendent of schools and two assistant superintendents this year, and Spearman became the second person to be appointed to fill a vacancy on the board.
• The board’s former business administrator, Jason Jones, and his former assistant, Jade Wilson, were dismissed in the spring.
• An April 26, 2017 audit of the spending by the school district by accounting firm Donohue, Gironda, Doria & Tomkins appears to show that district funds were used to purchase two vehicles, Apple watches and other items without the approval of the board or superintendent.
• As previously reported, LocalSource obtained a copy of a letter board attorney Allan Roth sent to the state Board of Education’s Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance in March. According to the letter, Corbett discovered purchase orders had been placed on school board agendas months after payments were made. Corbett’s signature was forged on those purchases, it said. The Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance, at the request of Roth, has begun an investigation into the Roselle School District. And according to Roth, the Union County Prosecutor’s Office requested a copy of the audit.
• Board President Patricia Fabrizio, who is white, was told by board member Keyanna Jones, who is black, that her “white privilege does not extend to this end of the table” at the Aug. 16 board meeting. Fabrizio said after the meeting that it was the latest episode of being “racially assaulted” by fellow board members.
• The contract with the district’s 400 teachers and support staff such as security guards, nurses and secretaries expired July 1, 2017. The board has a mediation session scheduled for Dec. 19 with the Roselle Education Association.
According to Keyanna Jones, Spearman’s roots in Roselle were one reason the board members appointed him.
“One of the things that was important to me, and couple of the other members expressed the fact, was that once he became interested in the open position, he actually came to talk to us, to ask us about how much time it takes, how much we disagree, how much we’re able to get things done,” she said during a Nov. 26 phone interview. “He kind of did his research on the whole thing.
“Aside from that, a lot of us have encountered him in different volunteer positions in the community and that really counts for a lot to me. If I see you working in community before you ever decide to become an elected official, then that means more to me than someone who just shows up simply because they want to be elected.”
Spearman, who said he has mastered the art of conversation and communicates with many different types of people through his work as a hair stylist, hopes to be a unifying influence on the board.
When asked during a Nov. 25 phone interview what his greatest personal characteristic was, he said, “Probably bringing people together.”
He added, “I know a lot of teachers. I deal with just on a personal level, a lot of teachers and faculty members in town. I’m actually from Roselle. I actually grew up in Roselle. … So, I happen to see a lot of people every day on occasions. I talk to a lot of people. I think there’s a lot of confusion. The board and possibly other faculty members, I don’t believe that they talk.”