Belleville Education Association members and supporters
packed the high school’s senior lounge Monday night to voice extreme
displeasure with school officials.
School employees and parents accused officials of bullying and unfairly retaliating against their critics in the school community. The $2 million security and surveillance upgrade were criticized in the public comment session, with speakers saying the money would have been more wisely spent upgrading outdated classroom technology.
The meeting was held in the senior lounge because of heating problems in the auditorium, school officials said. The smaller room was crammed with dozens of teachers’ union members from throughout the region following an afternoon alert by the NJEA urging Essex County educators to attend the meeting.
NJEA vice president Marie Blistan said the local teacher’s union had conducted a survey of district teachers, with nearly all respondents reportedly saying they worked in an atmosphere of intimidation and 66 percent attributing the intimidation to the board.
“Bullying is not acceptable here, in this state or in this nation,” Blistan said.
Belleville Board president John Rivera said the board didn’t know about the survey until that night and contested its methodology.
BEA President Mike Mignone called for an end to the Board’s alleged intimidation tactics.
“BEA members care deeply about the Belleville school district,” Mignone said in a statement released Monday. “That’s why we are so passionate about ensuring a quality education for our students and fair labor practices for our members.”
Speaking with Patch before the meeting, Mignone said Belleville teachers lack technology needed to teach federally mandated coursework.
“We don’t have the resources to teach common core,” Mignone said. Denise Policastro, NJEA Field Representative, said that some Belleville school computers were so outdated that they accepted floppy disks.
Several parents contrasted the antiquated equipment with the school’s recently enacted $2 million security upgrade, characterizing the camera and monitoring system as money poorly spent. The ID Cards and surveillance technology wouldn’t do anything to counter threats, critics at the meeting said.
“We don’t believe it added a lot of security to the schools,” Mignone said.
Belleville Superintendent of Schools Helene Feldman said the district was buying, repairing and renting computers needed for classroom use. She also said that the security upgrades were tied to general technological progress, as they entailed improvements to school infrastructure such as wiring.
Speakers accused Board members of retaliating against their critics in the school system through suspensions and abrupt changed in positions.
Rivera said the board could not comment on personnel matters.
Joseph Longo, who spearheaded the district’s security upgrades, was absent for the meeting.