The petition circulating among Union City residents calling for a referendum for an elected Board of Education has obviously irked Board of Education President Carlos Perez and Vice President Felina Del Nodal.
Since 1992, the city's Board of Education has been appointed by the city's mayor rather than elected by the people.
Del Nodal and her fellow board members illustrated, at a meeting Aug. 30, exactly the reason why a five-person committee of parents and residents got together to file the petition to return to an elected board.
"You want an elected board," said Perez, gavel in hand, interrupting recent Union Hill High School graduate Chris Kanik, who was asking a question about principal transfers. "Keep your politics out of here."
But the move for an elected board will be on hold for a while.
After collecting more than 3,000 signatures, the petition committee and Mayor Brian Stack reached an agreement to allow parents input into who is going to be appointed to the school board. So for now, they won't be pushing for an elected board.
Union City Mayor Brian Stack said at the Sept. 4 Board of Commissioners meeting that he has agreed to form an eight-person committee to assist him in appointing the next member of the board. The committee will consist of four members chosen by the parents and four members chosen by the mayor.
"One thing I welcome is parent and community involvement in municipal and school board government," said Stack at the Board of Commissioners meeting Sept. 4.
Members of the Board of Education serve five-year terms, with one term expiring each year. The next Board of Education member will be appointed in May of 2002.
Wafaa Mikhail, the chairperson of the five-person committee that filed the petition, said that the signatures will not go away.
Mikhail said that if this agreement does not work out, she will serve the petitions and either hold a special election or put the referendum on the regular ballot in May 2002.
The right to speak
At the most recent board meeting, sarcastic responses were typical of the tone. Recent Union Hill graduate Joseph Moreno asked about the lack of books in the high school's library due to the media center that was set up in the library.
"Mr. Highton, he says there are no books in the library," interrupted Vice President of the Union City Board of Education Felina DelNodal, arms outstretched, in a sarcastic and unbelieving tone, looking at Superintendent of Schools Thomas Highton. "Could that be true?"
"Actually, he is probably right," answered Highton, to DelNodal's surprise.
By 7:40 p.m., just 40 minutes after the meeting began, Perez was cradling his gavel and asking for a motion to adjourn. The meeting ended a little before 9 p.m.
The comments of another parent, Villma Cannas, the president of the Emerson High School Parent Teacher Association, were dismissed after she was called "too negative" by both Highton and Perez.
"Three or four meetings later, your problem is still not resolved," said Julia Rodriguez after the meeting. She has addressed the Board of Education many times. "They do not care about the kids."
Rodriguez and the four other members of the committee feel that an elected board would alleviate the problems that the parents are facing with the current Board of Education.
While the Open Public Meetings Act does not give the public the right to speak at public meetings, as was pointed out by the Board of Education's legal representative, the act does state that the policy should allow the public some time.
"I am in favor of anything that increases the public's opportunity to take part in municipal government," said Sen. Byron Baer last week. Baer sponsored the Sunshine Laws that require the public proper notice of open meetings, last revised in 2000.
However, Assembly Bill No. 1629, which passed the Senate in December 1999, will make it mandatory for all municipal bodies of government to provide a set time in the meeting for public hearing. This bill was introduced into the Assembly this year.