Saturday, January 10, 2009

BOE Race Opens

To all those who grumble about city schools, here's your chance to help make a change.

Four slots on the nine-member board will be up for grabs on April 21. Nomination forms are now available through the district's web site and prospective candidates have until March 2 to make up their minds and return the forms to Business Administrator Gary Ottmann. Click here to access the web site.

Three three-year terms and one two-year unexpired term will be on the ballot.

Last year, despite a lot of talk about the schools, only two people filed to challenge three incumbents. Voters returned the incumbents for three more years as Dr. Steve Gallon III emerged the winner of a national search for a new schools superintendent. Gallon was hired in February and took charge July 1.

Gallon has a four-year contract and those who win seats on the board in April will have a say on how well he is doing in carrying out a comprehensive overhaul of the system. Gallon's multi-year strategic plan to improve the schools is also posted on the district web site.

Incumbents Rasheed Abdul-Haqq, Lisa Logan-Leach and Patricia Barksdale will have to declare by March 2 whether they will seek re-election.

The advantage of incumbents is that they are seasoned and trained in their roles in a time when boards are under greater scrutiny. Plainfield was one of the first districts to face a new form of monitoring called the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum, or NJQSAC, in 2007. Plainfield was found lacking in four of five major performance areas, including receiving a score of only 11 for governance when 81 was considered adequate. The board worked with consultants from the New Jersey School Boards Association to correct the problems and was cleared in January 2008.

Anyone who has not served on a school board before must consider the time commitment for mandatory state training as well as numerous district meetings and committee work. The role is strictly regulated and some board decisions, such as contracts for top administrators, must also be approved by state-appointed county superintendents.

The relatively long lead time for filing should give both prospective candidates and incumbents enough time to weigh the decision to run and to get feedback from family and friends. Over the next three years, the district will be facing increased pressure to raise student performance and cut costs. To the public, it is the board and superintendent, not the the 1,000 or so district staff members, who must take the heat for any missteps in meeting the challenges.

With all that said, the chance to serve and foster the education of more than 6,000 children is a very worthwhile opportunity. Plaintalker looks forward to a lively campaign and high voter interest in April.

--Bernice Paglia


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