Tuesday, October 27, 2009

School Board Needs More Witnesses

Plaintalker once was able to cover school issues closely, as many archived posts will attest.

More recently, the format of school board meetings as well as the location has proven inimical to ongoing coverage either by reporters or bloggers, although Dr. Steve Gallon III has always responded to Plaintalker's specific Q&A requests.

The current controversy over certification of two staff members has forced reporters and the interested public to endure five-hour meetings to glean details. Some people have called for investigations or wholesale replacement of the school board, but the simpler solution would be to make school board meetings easier to attend for those who want to keep track of how things are going.

Plaintalker's recent ploy has been to examine agendas and follow up on certain specific issues, but a lot of information comes out at meetings that cannot be anticipated just by looking at a document. Unfortunately, this blogger has had to make a choice and the outcome has been to focus on city government and hope that others will be able to take up the slack on the Board of Education.

For those who are interested, the blog archive through mid-2008 does document events leading up to the current situation - the collapse of the Howard superintendency, the interim leadership, the superintendent search and the massive job realignments of Spring 2008. But the need for full reporting can be seen in the case of the report made by the state Department of Education's Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance and also the introduction of the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum. Even some board members themselves did not register the implications of the OFAC report on the meeting where Peter Carter was hired as interim superintendent, and certainly the public at large needed help understanding the implications of the NJQSAC report that found the Plainfield district lacking in several major aspects of its operations.

I feel bad that I cannot currently strectch myself thin enough to cover both the school and city beats for the blog. Early on, Barbara Todd Kerr and I tried to find someone who could adequately cover the school district for the blog, but no such individual could be found.

Since Barbara herself stepped away from the blog, it has been all mine to do with as best I could. Opening the comment function has added more voices, if not more fact-gathering, but I have had to decide where to put my time and energy and it is City Hall and redevelopment.

A lot of information and opinion has come out on the nj.com Plainfield forum. In fact, that forum has become almost exclusively focused on education issues. What is sometimes lacking is the context that reporting might add. Still, for now, that's the best exposure of district issues. The district web site by its nature cannot provide journalistic coverage.

It is true that the student performances draw crowds to board meetings and certainly if the board needs to go into closed session, that is their prerogative. But that means the public and the press only gets to hear votes on resolutions late into the meeting. Often they are block approvals by committee, but still they are the official actions that cannot be guaranteed by seeming consenus at work-and-study sessions.

If anyone has the endurance to deal with the current way of doing board business, it's a great opportunity to claim a niche for objective blogging. The public at large needs to know more about the school district than the occasional headline-grabbing potential scandal.

--Bernice Paglia


Blogger Maria Pellum, Plainfield Resident said...

Thanks Bernice for saying this. The presentations at the BOE Business Meetings are nice but they do make the meetings so long it is hard for anyone to endure this on monthly basis.

As for the Work and Study meetings, they start at 8 PM which it is also not exactly "public hours".

The BOE and Dr. Gallon have heard this complain before, but maybe now reading it from you they will finally do something about it.

But what is clear with all this mess is that voters need to make BOE members accountable for their actions and decisions, for far too long the BOE has gotten away with everything. The buck stops at them.

Thanks again.

6:35 AM  
Blogger RASRAHMATAZ said...

Then the public should get involved!!! We choose what and how -- just as you have decided to do city hall...so don't get mad if folks simply run with the headlines...sometimes that is all we have time for but it doesn't make our commentary any less valuable or honest or relevant.

12:30 PM  
Blogger Bernice said...

I was talking about the occasional print media headlines, not blog posts. Did I sound mad? I was just sayin'.

12:52 PM  
Blogger RASRAHMATAZ said...

Nah -- you didn't sound "mad"...as in angry... It's all good my Sistah Blogger!

1:06 PM  
Blogger RASRAHMATAZ said...

Hey and knowing "what little I know" about your sense of humor.. I don't mean "MAD" as in crazy either. I was referring to Mad as in "griping/having an issue with"...

2:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The public seemed to well informed about the district over the last year. Eric Jones the communication person for the district indicated that the district had a record number of positive headlines last year. I remember reading many of the articles and felt that the district was moving in the right direction and my tax dollars were being used wisely. I still feel that way despite the headline grabbing circus that had a clown like Jerry Green with a top hat acting as ring master. Despite the positive things that has been done, it seemed as if people were still hoping this guy failed. What does that say about us?

5:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree. What some Plainfielders are seeming to struggle with ala the Assemblyman is a young, intelligent and articulate Black man. Notice I did not say perfect. Dr. Gallon is just a man. What I have seen though is that has not fallen victim to the local power structure run by the Jerry Green. This young guy seems to be his own man so far. With all of the mess that the City is in and with the violence, crime and taxes we have to deal with, how can anyone entertain a call for an invetigation by Jerry Green. As for the two female staffers, I saw no record that they were Gallon's 24 hour bodyguards. Jerry, where was the outrage then?

9:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with 9:48 p.m. This is a clear case of politics and the power structure's attempt to wear the superintendent down with what seems to be in the scheme of poor test scores, high taxes and decreasing funding from the state a small issue. Where was the outrage when the Assemblyman outed the children with his vote to get rid of Abbott or sold out the community with his behind the scene dealings with Muhlenburg? And I like the part about the bodyguards Lol!

9:02 AM  

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