Union Board of Education member resigns; replacement is sought

UNION, NJ  – Richard Galante abruptly resigned from his seat on the school board recently, saying little more than he was too busy to serve because of his many charitable and civic obligations.

Galante, in the last year of his second three-year term, did not provide the school district with more than a few hours notice prior to the June 15 school board meeting. In fact, according to school board President David Arminio, board secretary Jim Damato did not receive Galante’s letter until 10:30 a.m., the morning of the evening meeting.

Arminio said he personally did not even receive a copy of letter and had to call Damato to find out what the missive said.
While questions continue to circulate about the reasoning behind Galante’s sudden resignation from the board, sources close to the issue maintained his daughter was seeking a position as a teacher in the school district, which meant she could not be appointed as long as her father was a school board member.

In an interview with LocalSource Monday, Arminio confirmed that on the June 15 school board agenda, the same day Galante resigned, there was a resolution pending to hire Galante’s daughter for a teaching position, but the resolution was taken off at the 11th hour.

Arminio said the resolution was pulled from the agenda because the board “needed to have a closer look at the specifics of the items in the resolution.”

Galante also has other family members working in the school district. While Arminio was not aware of whom these family members were specifically, he did confirm that Galante’s wife is supervisor of social studies for grades 6 through 12.
The day after Galante’s resignation, his picture was off the website and a posting was up notifying the public there was a vacancy on the school board.

“Due to the resignation of Richard Galante from the Township of Union Board of Education effective June 15, 2015, applications are now being accepted from individuals wishing to become members of the board of education. This appointment shall be effective upon approval of the board and expire Dec. 31, 2015,” the notice said, suggesting all parties interested in the seat submit their application to Damato on or before July 2 at noon.

Any resident of Union interested in serving on the school board, including filling an unexpired term of a board member, must be a U.S. citizen; resident of the school district for at least one year; a registered voter in the district and not disqualified from voting; and not have been convicted of a crime or offense.

Legally, according to state statute, the school board has 60 days to fill the vacancy, but Arminio said he plans on moving this process along as quickly as possible.

“The last date for applicants to file is noon Thursday and I hope to appoint someone by the July 21 meeting,” said the school board president.

Although the usual procedure for selection of a candidate to present to the school board for approval is to hold interviews privately, one resident has challenged that method.

Susan Lipstein, an outspoken education advocate, also president of the Township of Union Education Foundation, a non-profit organization that has funded over 90 grants and donated over $135,000 locally since 2002, suggested the school board conduct the interviews in a public forum.

Lipstein sent a letter to the school board, clearly explaining the reasoning behind her request.
“It is perfectly legal to do so and has been done in the past,” she said in her email, reminding the board that they “have a commitment to transparency” and opening up the interviews to the public would be a way to honor that commitment.

“I believe there is nothing to be gained by closing the interviews to the public and everything to be gained by opening them,” the foundation president said.

Lipstein previously applied for an unexpired term two years ago, but did not receive the board’s nod. While Lipstein has not confirmed one way or another if she will be applying for Galante’s unexpired term, the composition of the board has changed in two years, with significantly more effort focused on transparency.

Arminio said he was “still mulling over,” whether to have the interviews in a public forum, explaining that if he agreed to do so, there would have to be rules for the public to abide by.

“My concern is that that if we do the interviews in public that residents maintain their composure and not shout out comments during the procedure,” the school board president said, adding if he decides to hold the interviews in a public forum, it would be the first time this was done in the school district.

As of Monday at noon, Arminio said, only one resident, Giuliano Farina, an Elizabeth school teacher, had submitted an application to fill the unexpired term.

Farina recently ran unsuccessfully in the primary race seeking voter approval to run in November for an assembly seat. Farina lost to Jamel Holley and Annette Quijano, who will both be on the ballot in November. Galante’s resignation also poses another problem for the school board – replacing him on committee’s he was charged with representing. Specifically, Galante was a delegate on the Operations Committee, Union County School Boards Association, liaison to the Union Township Committee and also a representative on the New Jersey School Boards Association.

Once the ad hoc committee appointed by Arminio presents a candidate to the school board, there must be at least four votes in favor of the candidate in order for the applicant to be appointed to the unexpired seat.