PEA Reviews Candidates
The union boasts 1,200 members, including teachers and support staff, 400 of whom live and vote in Plainfield. Forum organizer Connie Jenkins-Buwa put the candidates on notice by saying, “We take this very, very seriously. The way that we vote will tell you how we feel,” adding the union will “expect something of you” if endorsed.
The field of candidates includes seven vying for three three-year seats and three seeking an unexpired two-year term. Incumbents Rasheed Abdul-Haqq, Patricia Barksdale, Lisa Logan-Leach and appointee Joseph Ruffin Sr. are running for re-election. Challengers for three-year terms are Mahogany Hendricks, Joanne Hollis and Brenda Gilbert.
Candidates for the unexpired term are Katherine Peterson, Tammy Westbrook and Terrence Williams.
Attendance at the meeting ranged from 50 to about 75.
In opening statements, Abdul-Haqq noted his longtime civic involvement and called for a process “that respects all stakeholders.”
Barksdale recounted an experience of coming home from a trip to find her basement flooded and related her relentless bailing out of the water to her determination to roll up her sleeves in challenging times.
Gilbert noted she spent 12 years as a district employee, saying to union members, “I’ve sat where you sat.” Gilbert said she felt she had the skills to say, “What can I do for you?”
Hendricks said she was “not raised to run” but was raised to “stay and fight,” and would bring an analytical approach to board decisions.
Hollis noted that five of her nine grandchildren are in the Plainfield system and called herself “a good listener” to district concerns.
Lisa Logan-Leach, seeking her third term on the board, cited her “strong record “of holding the schools superintendent accountable, even if she is the sole vote for “doing what is right.”
Katherine Peterson, a Plainfield High school graduate and retired principal, cited problems such as school safety and staffing issues.
“I know where you are all coming from in the field of education,” she reassured union members. “I love Plainfield and I have a passion for education,” she said.
Joseph Ruffin Sr., an appointee for an unexpired two year term, cited his experience in education outside Plainfield, but promised an “independent yet collaborative “approach to dealing with the union.
Tammy Westbrook declared herself as a 15-year resident and 10-year veteran teacher someone who understood the “tremendous challenges to get the work done” by union members. She said she wants to improve the “32 percent graduation rate” in the district.
Terrence Williams, a former Maxson Middle School teacher now working in Newark, based his interest in serving on his 17 years in education.
Questions to the candidates included how they would improve parental involvement, interact with Schools Superintendent Steve Gallon III, formulate their board decisions, address violence in the system and deal with a shrinking budget. Before the question-and-answer period, PEA member Jeff Truitt asked those running for a three-year seat to raise their hands, then asked those running for the two-year unexpired term to do so.
“We need to make a distinction,” he said, repeating the fact that 400 members live in Plainfield. “Whoever we endorse, most likely they will become the next board members.”
But as Maria Pellum pointed out on her blog recently, anyone receiving PEA endorsement would be barred from sitting in on contract negotiations for one year, under state ethics rules. After Gilbert repeated the caveat, Ruffin told the PEA, “I cannot seek your endorsement.”
Ruffin, appointed in January to fill the vacancy created when board member Vickey Sheppard resigned, said he was serving on the contract negotiations team. A union negotiator in his profession as a researcher, Ruffin was asked to serve also because he had no conflicts of interest such as relatives or business ties in the district.
Candidates will face the public at two upcoming forums. On March 30, Parents Empowering Parents will hold a forum from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Washington Community School. Statements by candidates are also being posted on the PEP web site.
The League of Women Voters of Plainfield will hold its forum at 7 p.m. April 16 in the Plainfield Public Library meeting room. The league will also publish candidates’ statements in the Courier News before the April 21 election.