JACKSON – New board members were sworn in but familiar problems were voiced as pandemic conditions and bus transportation issues dominated this year’s reorganization meeting.
School Superintendent Nicole Pormilli said normally, the superintendent doesn’t issue a report during a reorganization meeting but she felt she needed to, regarding the move to bring back virtual learning during the first week of the school year.
She said doing so was a tough decision by the administration but it was necessary noting that “after the holiday break the number of school staff impacted by the latest surge of the COVID-19 pandemic either through quarantining or exposure to it, was at 170.” That number later jumped to 212 and it became a matter of safety in transporting students to schools as well.
The reorganization meeting included the swearing in of Giuseppe Palmeri, Tina Kass and Erica Osmond for three-year terms and Alison Barocas for a one-year term. Each will serve on the Board for the first time having defeated three incumbents who were running for re-election. John Bunetsky chose not to run for re-election so his seat was also up for grabs.
Board Business Administrator/Board Secretary Michelle Richards swore in the new members and the next point of business was to select a Board President and Board Vice President.
Board member Michael Walsh was nominated and later approved to serve as this year’s Board of Education president. Tara Rivera was later nominated and by majority vote, approved to serve as Board Vice President. The two switched position from last year.
Attorney Marc Zitomer provided an executive summary of the state’s Ethics Acts of dos and don’ts for new and existing Board of Education members.
Transportation issues dominated the public comment period during the session with parents Devorah Grushkin, Esti Friedman, Suri Robinson and Rachel Warman each calling for more lead time to arrange for alternative bussing arrangements for their children who are attending private schools for out of district children.
Parent Grushkin said she has four children that are sent to a private school in Lakewood. She spoke about the transportation of her kids that was discontinued from the district.
Friedman, who previously lived in Lakewood, said she was also having a problem with transportation to her daughters’ private school.
Robinson joined the other mothers in requesting the Board provide notice of transportation earlier. “We need an actual commitment of being notified early in the year so we would know whether we need private busing or driving to the school itself. Is there a way to get a commitment earlier? The August 1 date is too late. Can we get an actual date change?”
Warman spoke next and told Board members that she had children of different ages requiring different school schedule times. “I am respectfully requesting we have notice by April at the latest.”
Superintendent Pormilli responded to those concerns explaining the decision of aid in lieu as opposed to providing transportation within the school district involved a multi-step process before making that decision.
State law dictates that districts must either provide transportation to kids living in town to private schools, or pay the household $1,000 aid in lieu of providing transportation.
“During that process this past year we had a driver shortage which did not help us at all and there is a national shortage,” Pormilli added. The state requires forms for aid in lieu in March and they must be sent to the State by August. “We do have a commitment to be better and we will continue to strive to do that as best we can. We hope for improvement.”
Board member Scott Sargent asked to serve on the transportation committee this year to fill in for departing Board member Tzvi Herman who resigned last month prior to the expiration of his term on January 1.
“I think we can get it done for April 1. They cannot secure busing for their students if we wait for August 1. I know what the law is but August 1 is just not going to cut it for Jackson Township. We probably need – from my observation – to farm the busing out. The aid in lieu is just not working in my opinion,” Sargent said.
He added, “I think these van drivers are very difficult to monitor. I would also say that the bus district itself and the issues we’ve had in the past are past… I have faith in Ms. Pormilli and our bus director. Once it is farmed out then we can talk to the people who hold the contract.”
Pormilli asked what Sargent meant for ‘farm out’ was to go out to bid. She said that would take at least two months. “April would be a little tight. It is a timeline process not a people problem. I think it is good that you volunteered to be on that committee and we can talk about the timelines.”
Sargent said, “so are you saying May 15? Is that correct?”
“Pormilli responded, “May would be the more realistic date than April. We certainly are looking to bring timelines up as fast we can.”
The issue will be revisited during the Board’s next meeting.
“This is the first of many (meetings) to come. There will be a lot of learning going on by this board in the next month or two,” Walsh said.