BLOOMFIELD, NJ — A group of seasoned board members reorganized into the Bloomfield Board of Education on Thursday, Jan. 2, and were quickly hailed by re-elected president Jill Fischman as an veteran group that will require no training. A reorganization meeting deals chiefly with the swearing-in of newly elected members and annual appointments.
Although the meeting was attended by fewer than a dozen people, the power of even a few votes was most assuredly on everyone’s mind when business administrator Vicky Guo reported on the election.
The Election Day results of Nov. 5 had initially culminated in a tie between two candidates, who together had garnered more than 3,500 votes. An Essex County Board of Elections recount followed on Nov. 25, with seven votes determining victory for incumbent Benjamin Morse over challenger Emily Smith.
The other Bloomfield BOE candidates elected were Fischman, an incumbent, and former board member Daniel Anderson. They joined Michael Heller, Ellen Rogers, Ralph Walker, Shane Berger, Thomas Heaney and Jessica Salinas on the board. At the meeting, Walker was unanimously elected vice-president. Fischman’s margin of victory over Morse for president was 6-3.
During what was a largely procedural meeting, Heller asked Guo a question regarding the election results that had persisted since the recount: Had the district received an explanation as to why fewer votes had been recounted than posted on Election Day? According to the county website, on Election Day, Morse and Smith had 221 and 242 uncertified mail-in votes, respectively, while the recounted mail-ins had 196 for Morse and 209 for Smith. Guo said she had not received an explanation. Attempts by the Independent Press to contact Linda Von Nessi, clerk of the Essex County Board of Elections, were unsuccessful.
At the meeting, Morse and Salinas were designated delegate and alternate, respectively, for the New Jersey School Boards Association; Salinas and Heller were designated delegate and alternative, respectively, for the Essex County School Boards Association; Walker was designated the liaison to the Bloomfield Educational Foundation; and Rogers was once again designated the Essex County Educational Services Commission delegate. This is her fifth year in the role.
“Is it unreasonable to have somebody else do it?” Berger asked Rogers.
Fischman asked Berger if anyone else had volunteered for the position, to which he said, “No.”
Berger was supported by Heller in requesting that a second board meeting take place in April. There haven’t been two board meetings in April since 2017.
Fischman presented former board member Lillian Mancheno with a service plaque and welcomed back Anderson.
“This is the first year I’ve been here that we don’t have to train anyone,” she said.
Fischman said that high on her list of priorities for 2020 would be a review of the high school curriculum, continuing facility improvements and hiring new teachers. Heller said it would be beneficial if board members had a general education session on how potential teachers are attracted to the district. Fischman said human resource director Nicholas Dotoli would host a workshop on the subject.
Dotoli said that with Anderson’s return to the board, he anticipated an expansion of the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood learning, which emphasizes a teaching style that is child-centered in a setting that supports self-expression and a child’s relationship to other children. As a board member, Anderson was a strong advocate of this pedagogy. Dotoli also said he anticipated an expansion of student guidance and that he wanted to create a module for finding school district employment.
“Career fairs are a fiction,” he said. “Now we have a better starting salary to attract and retain new teachers.”
In an email to The Independent Press, Dotoli said the recently approved teachers’ contract will increase starting salaries from $46,250 in the 2018-2019 school year to $47,313 in 2019-2020.
Referencing recent news coverage, Walker asked the board to make a public statement against anti-Semitism. Fischman said any request had to be made in a way that allowed it to be addressed by the appropriate BOE committee.
Following the meeting, Fischman said no one on the board was a rookie.
“Everybody knows the deal,” she said. “And we’re only four hours away from becoming a certified school board.”
With four additional hours of workshop training on how to improve efficiency, the Bloomfield BOE would be certified by the New Jersey School Board Association.
“There are very few districts that have certified boards,” Fischman said. “It would be showing the community we’re taking this seriously.”