On Monday, September 10, 2012, Fort Lee will begin the school year, albeit one week later than in a normal year. This delay in opening was necessary to accommodate construction to repair and upgrade the school buildings and to convert the BOE offices into new classrooms.
On September 10, 2012, there was a BOE meeting scheduled to be held at the Fort Lee High School to enable community members to address issues regarding the 2012-2013 school year.
On September 6, 2012, the Board cancelled this meeting, with no reasons given, leaving the community members scratching their heads wondering why!
Since this cancellation, several members of the community contacted me via phone and e-mail to express their outrage. My response to them was that I was equally outraged and that I would attempt to investigate the reasons behind this questionable decision.
This has been a summer of discontent and stressful times. Our superintendent, Steve Engravalle, has endured a terrible tragedy in his life and was obligated to take a prolonged personal leave. Arthur Levine, President of the Board, resigned. Two key longtime members of the BOE announced that they would not run for reelection. The construction project on the Fort Lee school system ran into SNAFUs. Several key members of our educational community resigned. Recent reports came out that the Fort Lee School rating in the State of New Jersey had dropped from 72nd in 2010 to 97th for 2012 (based on 2011 data).
And with all this chaos in the Fort Lee School System, the esteemed members of our Board of Education felt that there was no reason whatsoever to hold a critical meeting on the evening of the first day of the new school year. They felt comfortable in postponing this vital meeting until September 24, 2012, two weeks into the school year, leaving everyone hanging with no answers.
Let us make a list of some of the key issues that are creating great angst in the community:
(1) Robert Kravitz, newly appointed Middle School Principal, has tendered his resignation in order to accept a position as superintendent of the Englewood Cliffs school system. NO REPLACEMENT HAS YET BEEN ENGAGED. Mr. Kravitz is being held to his contractual sixty (60) days notice, even though it appears that he believed that this clause had been waived.
(2) James Albro, Asstistant Principal of Fort Lee High School, resigned to accept another position. This clearly puts more onus on Principal Priscilla Church and her remaining Vice Principal John Coviello to prepare for opening day.
(3) The construction project on converting the BOE offices to classrooms has apparently been delayed. The community has not been given a date of completion or when a CO (certificate of occupancy) from the Fort Lee building department might be expected. There is also the question as to what emergency measures will be taken to accommodate the students destined for these new classrooms.
(4) Information has come to my attention that there were issues in the repairs and upgrades at School #1, resulting in protruding pipes. I sincerely hope that this information is incorrect, but if it is factual, what responsibility should be placed on the architect and the construction company for these miscalculations in the project?
(5) No new BOE member has been appointed to replace Mr. Levine on the Board. It is my understanding that there are two viable candidates, one with previous BOE experience, but no decision has been made to date. By regulation, a decision must be made expeditiously, which probably will now prevent any community input as to whom would be the preferable appointee.
Based on these aforementioned unresolved problems, there is good reason for the community to have serious concerns that need to be addressed. So I again ask the question: what was the Board thinking when the decision to cancel this meeting was made?
Two Board members were gracious enough to speak to me directly on this subject. Peter Suh discussed it with me on Friday and conceded that there were serious issues and that it may have been in the best interests of the community for this meeting to take place.
On Saturday, Jimmy (Yusang) Park, BOE President, was gracious enough to give me a substantial amount of his personal time to discuss these matters. He explained that Mr. Engravalle has insufficient time upon his return to prepare an agenda for the meeting and that several BOE members may have had scheduling conflicts. He felt it would not be feasible at this time to reinstate the Monday meeting or to schedule it later this coming week.
Mr. Engravalle and Sharon Amato, Asstistant Superintendent, have encouraged community members to email questions to them regarding these matters. In my experience, I have always received expeditious responses to my questions. I encourage other community members do so to assuage this situation. But in this case, this solution is insufficient; there are just too many unresolved vital issues for the Fort Lee School Year 2012-2013.
My personal appraisal of this situation is that the September 10, 2012 Board of Education meeting was too important to even consider cancelling. Sharon Amato is a capable individual who could have and should have done her very best to work on the agenda for this meeting in Mr. Engravalle’s absence. Board members, scheduling conflicts or not, should have understood the anxiety in this community with a delayed school opening and numerous unresolved issues. An open meeting may not have resolved all the issues, but at least the community could have been given some insight into the BOE plan to address each issue, one-by-one.
Now we, as a community, are left in the dark until September 24, more than sufficient time for anger and hostility to reinvest itself into the next BOE meeting. Just when we had finally achieved some civility at BOE meetings, we have taken a major step backwards in this relationship.