Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Board to Vote on Forum Speaker 's Pay

Tonight’s school board meeting will begin at 8 p.m. in the Plainfield High School library, not 7 p.m. as previously advertised and as listed on the new calendar available at City Hall.

The agenda contains many personnel items, including acceptance of the resignation of Plainfield High School Principal Frank Ingargiola and the appointment of Frank Asante as principal of Cedarbrook School.

The very last item, on page 49, solves a small mystery. It is a resolution for Dr. Lenworth Gunther to serve as moderator of a community forum. The forum actually took place April 24. Gunther will receive $1,500 for his service as moderator “to mediate the dialogue between the public and the panel.”

This is the forum that was announced to follow up on a state-mandated community forum on March 23 and a previous one on Feb. 10.

As Plaintalker previously reported, the forum was supposed to be held from 6 to 8 p.m. It started late and due to the format, the public did not get a chance to speak until 7:20 p.m. Gunther was engaging and entertaining as a speaker and also held a dialogue with each member of the public who spoke. The quality of his service as moderator is not at issue. The issue is why there was such haste to have the forum that Gunther was hired before a full board vote authorizing the expense.

Most of the audience that night consisted of staff members. There was a bit of blame cast on the community for not coming out in larger numbers. Had the public known that Gunther was speaking, his reputation might have brought out more people just to hear him.

So there were a few things wrong with this hastily-contrived forum. The format was unclear. The speaker was hired without prior approval, just the kind of thing that gets people upset with Abbott districts. And to some extent, the value of the speaker was squandered through lack of publicity.

Tonight’s business meeting is the first one since the April 17 election. Voters chose two incumbents, Martin Cox and Wilma Campbell, who were often on opposite sides of issues last year. Newcomer Christian Estevez, who was passed over for a City Council appointment earlier, also won a board seat.

Over the next three years, the board will have to deal with ongoing problems of school safety, possible funding losses, state scrutiny for performance in all district functions and lack of parental involvement. If in the last year any decisions were made ad hoc without knowledge of the full board, the board now can set a better tone.

The Plainfield district has suffered from an all-around lack of trust in recent years. The board’s conduct can either increase the level of trust or add to the cynicism.

--Bernice Paglia


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