JACKSON – Board of Education members held their first live meeting in months recently at the Jackson Memorial High School Fine Arts Center. The session began with addressing an unresolved issue from their reorganization meeting: who would lead them.
During their first meeting of the year, held early in January, a vote taken to select a board president and vice board president both ended in a stalemate vote of three to three.
This meeting went differently. Board member Tara Rivera, who had been nominated by new Board member Tzvi Herman and supported by Board member Scott Sargent now gaining an affirmative vote from member Gus Acevedo, who was not present for the reorganization meeting.
Board member Michael Walsh who also vied for board president, a position he held last year, was approved as vice president.
No one put forward another nomination for president following Herman’s nomination of Rivera.
School District Business Administrator Michelle Richardson ran the early portion of the meeting with the assistance of school district attorney Marc Zitomer who verified administrative protocols during the meeting, until the gavel was turned over to Rivera as president.
Walsh abstained during the vote for board president while Board member John Burnetsky voted no. Rivera won with four votes including her own. Walsh was nominated for vice president by Burnetsky. He was the only candidate nominated and was unanimously approved to fill that role.
Not present for the night’s meeting was Thomas Colucci whose resignation appeared on the agenda. Board members said he would be missed and reluctantly accepted his resignation.
Walsh noted that Colucci was in the hospital and battling the coronavirus. “Keep him in your prayers.”
Colucci previously told The Jackson Times that he recently retired from United Airlines as a pilot. He said his work schedule in a new job would unfortunately not allow him to be able to commit to board meetings.
“It has been an honor to serve on the board, however, I knew with my new schedule I would not be able to attend board meetings consistently and I wanted to be fair to the students, staff and taxpayers of Jackson, so I decided to step aside,” Colucci said.
Colucci said he will cherish his time on the board, on which he served seven years. “It is a privilege to have had a part in supporting kids and their education. I will miss it.”’
“He served the board and this community well and we wish him nothing but the best,” Rivera said.
Those residents interested in filling the vacancy of Colucci’s seat should contact the Board of Education office or visit the district website to apply.
COVID-19 And Finances
Pandemic issues continued to dominate the agenda of the school board. Student representative Tiffany Duffy of Jackson Memorial High School reported that “unfortunately the ultimate decision was that it was in our best interest to cancel the prom this year due to the uncertainty of the coronavirus limitations and our financial deadlines.”
She added that students and their advisors were looking at safe alternatives that would be off campus. She also reported that sports teams were preparing for their spring season.
Acevedo asked the representative what it was like to go into “real classes” and what the student environment is. “How would you describe it?”
“I would say it is different this year but everyone involved is trying to make it as normal as possible. It is getting as close to normal as we’re getting, I think everyone is doing a really good job in handling it,” she responded.
“That is what I wanted to hear,” Acevedo said.
Jackson Liberty High School’s representative Jade Bramwell said winter sports were continuing with ice hockey, bowling and basketball. “Due to the pandemic our drama production was moved to April. We are continuing to move forward. The National Honor Society is working on service projects for the year. We are continuing to look for opportunities to connect with the community.”
Superintendent Nicole Pormilli noted that each year the school district reviews its annual auditor’s report. During the meeting auditor John Swisher, of the firm Suplee, Clooney & Company of Westfield, presented his findings saying the 2020 audit that was performed “would normally be presented in December but the due date to the state for these reports was moved back due to the pandemic.”
“The new due date is February 5. That report is required by the New Jersey Department of Education, “Swisher said. He noted that the NJDOE looks at each school district’s financial procedures, financial planning, records keeping, food service contracts and if there were any issues that recommendations would be made.
“I’m happy to say there are no recommendations and that has been the case for the last two years in a row,” Swisher said. “Your expenditures are down.”
The school district however will be facing its biggest state aid funding reduction during the 2021-22 school year with a decrease of $4.3 million due to the S-2 state aid funding formula.
“It will be significant and it will be painful. We knew this was coming,” Pormilli said.
The school district has seen a decline in state aid funding since the 2018-19 year when it lost $1.3 million and then $2.3 million the year after.
During the 2020-21 school year it saw a $3.5 million reduction.
“The Board is showing no signs of being in distress. Are we going to be punished for being effective?” Acevedo asked.
“Your surplus is up a little. Your population is down a little bit based on student count and other elements. You are not too tight in your budget. The rule is that with a surplus you have to use in your budget in keeping with 2% of your operating expenses. You don’t want to large a surplus,” Swisher warned the Board.
He added, “Jackson has done a very good job with balancing its budget. This year’s spending plan will be starting soon with discussions during the Board’s February 15 meeting where a proposal will be made concerning curriculum and technology and athletics and transportation.
“These will be proposed budgets at our March 17 Board meeting we will have a budget that the public can see and during our April 28 meeting we will be having our public hearing for the proposed budget,” Pormilli said.
Pormilli added that throughout the budget process information will be posted to the school district’s website. “It is very transparent; you will be able to see everything that we are doing.”