Editor's Note: Ralph Vellon is a father of two children at School No. 5 and a candidate in this year's Board of Education election who has repeatedly clashed with the Board over the past year. These are his opinions.
Patrick Henry was once attributed to having written, “liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.” My presence at the Board of Education (BOE) meetings is a matter of business. The education of our children and the proper use of our tax dollars ($60 million) is serious business. I’m not there trying to make friends. I’m there for the business of the children, parents and tax payers.
This is what happens when politics and politicians control the school system. First they make the rules; i.e. that any citizen wishing to speak at a public board meeting must sign in beforehand, and then they follow those rules ONLY when it suits them to do so. (Editor's Note: Bylaw 0167 in the board's Bylaws and Policies manual regarding public participation in board meetings requires signing in before the meeting begins and does not permit public participation to those who did not do so.)
And, when an astute citizen, like me, takes them to task for not following their own rules, that political control comes into play and they use the police to enforce their will, and to shut you up. They called the police and have you removed. (Read article here.) This essentially resulted in a violation of my First Amendment constitutional right to free speech. By the way, an arrest from a public meeting is only lawful if you are “physically disrupting” the meeting. This was clearly not the case. This is the basis for yet another law suit based on poor legal advice by the BOE attorney. Clearly, this rule was implemented to try to intimidate citizens who would otherwise speak their mind, and who would be willing to simply state their name and get up to speak, but might be more reluctant to sign their names, and get up to speak their mind thinking there might be some retribution or retaliation against them or their school children.
Here you have a BOE that tried to sell a school property (School No. 1), essentially owned by us, the taxpayers, and sought a one million dollar minimum bid. They almost sold it but there were some concerns reported in the press about a bidder, supposedly related to a sitting board member, having somehow become aware of other bid amounts and bid only $1,000 above another bidder’s bid. Fortunately, for the taxpayers, the reporting of it in the press caused those bids to be rejected. Then, here you have a BOE, who because of the ‘political coziness’ between them and some of our township officials, decide not to sell the School on the open market, where the proceeds of the sale (perhaps $900,000 or more) would have benefited the school district and the taxpayers by the proceeds being used to offset other educational needs within the school district, and they essentially gave the building away to their political crony friends on the township council for the magnificent sum of one dollar. Oh, yes it will eventually be a property that will be subject to taxes on the tax rolls, but the $900,000 to $1 million value of the whole city block on which School No. 1 stands, has been lost to the educational system and the taxpayers forever. This money could have saved the auto-mechanic program, the wood shop program, and the transportation buses for field trips, avoided the down sizing of central registration and the librarian program. This was a waste of our tax dollars and a disregard for the future of our children.
This board’s flamboyant behavior continues when they choose not to follow the basic function of a board of education. That basic function, as predicated by the New Jersey School Boards Association, which is, NOT for the School Board to run the schools, but to see that the schools are run well (by the school administrators). When they, and their controlled Administrators allegedly violate the Code of Ethics for School Board Members and Superintendent’s of School Districts, which obligates them to put the best qualified teacher in a classroom, but, instead they put "political patrons and affiliates" in our children’s classrooms, our children suffer the consequences. The first obligation of the Superintendent of Schools is to see that he recommends to the Board of Education the best available teacher or administrator applicant for any position within the district, and it is the responsibility of the Board of Education to oversee the fact that the best applicant gets the position. There is no place for nepotism and political job patronage in a school district. It’s just too bad that message has not been heard by the Belleville Board of Education and its hand-picked Superintendent. That’s not education that is just bad politics in action.
Be aware of these issues. Public utility costs could be reduced by putting the contract out to bid; however it’s alleged that deals are being made behind the scenes to one of their contacts. This will cost tax payer dollars. The video recordings of the BOE meetings which are broadcasted for the community are in jeopardy. BOE is in the process or have completed their actions to stop what’s been available for years. If so, the public will be denied access to the meetings by TV. Public meeting at 8:00 PM is difficult for parents who have to get their children ready for school. The broadcast is important. The changes to the 9210 Parent Organization Policy has brought several parent organizations on the brink of dissolving. Collectively PTA, PTO and HSA parent volunteer groups raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the school district. These monies are directly spent on activities at the schools which the BOE can not fund, but the BOE is hindering their fund raising activities. Without Consolidated (the district wide group) the annual BOE candidate’s debate is in jeopardy. They do not want to face me in a debate. Allegedly this was one outcome the BOE wanted. The $600,000 which the state provided in additional aid in July 2011 to the district for our children remains a big SECRET. These monies could have saved a variety of programs. BOE has taken no action. These monies belong to our children. These are our tax dollars. The new “District Project Manager” consultant job given to one of their political buddies can bill us $260,000 a year. Why do we need a project manager? What is he doing? What is this BOE doing? These individuals need to be called to task. This is why I’m there fighting against them and their supporters. We need leadership that cares. Are they nice people doing bad things? If you call them to task you become a target for retribution and retaliation by whatever means are available to them.
But, the biggest surprise of all to the citizens of Belleville, and especially to the parents of school age children, is to learn that after alleged repeated violations of the Code of Ethics by School Board Members, and their appointees, that if those violations are not brought to the attention of the state authorities within a six month period from the date of the violation, the LAW treats those violations of law, as though the violations never occurred. So, is that what we are to tell our children and parents who have come to the school district to get the best education they can, and they find a "political crony" in the front of their classroom instead of the best qualified teacher available? These are a few of the serious issues that face our BOE and why I have taken such a “hard line” when speaking at the BOE meetings. This is serious business and I’m serious about doing what ever I can to expose it, to fight it, to help save tax dollars, to help our parents, but mostly to ensure a better education for our children.