Former school board member Nancy Stern addressed the board on several topics during the April 23 school board meeting in Fort Lee High School’s auditorium.
Among her concerns were the correct process of calling a special private work session, the appointment of staff members and district coordinators, and where the board and administration stand on the charter schools issue.
“Some board members have been very vocal. They are opposed to charter schools and yet there’s still no action,” said Stern, who addressed an article on the state’s first comprehensive charter school set to open in Newark.
According to Stern, classes will be available online and the charter school is beginning to enroll students from across the state for next fall.
"Even as questions persist as to how exactly the new breed of school will operate and get funded, it’s supposed to start in Newark and expand to other districts within the state at an estimated cost of $13,000 per student,” Stern added.
But before she could finish asking the board to support Senator Loretta Weinberg’s 1418 bill and take a stand against charter schools, she was informed by school board attorney representative Bruce Padula, from Cleary, Giacobbe, Alfieri, Jacobs, that she had 30 seconds to finish her questions and statements.
“I will give credit to the mayor and council because although they have a three-minute rule, they’ll allow people to talk,” Stern said. “In all due respect, after being interrupted and saying, ‘Thirty seconds left’, or not letting there be a dialogue, is really..."
“Your time is up,” Padula interjected.
Although Board President Art Levine voiced his opposition against charter schools, what followed was a shift in dialogue from items on the agenda, to an outcry to be heard.
“This three-minute rule I find ridiculous and personally an embarrassment to the district,” said Fort Lee resident David Sarnoff. “To not be able to have a dialogue – I’ve conferred with people in other towns and they don’t believe me.”
“With respect to the charter schools, being vocal and words are great, and I appreciate them, but actions are more to me,” Sarnoff added. “I would love to see a resolution passed, putting it in writing, having the board take a stand and notifying the state as where their position is.”
One resident attended the meeting to learn why a superintendent search was being conducted when the majority of the people she spoke to approve of Steven Engravalle, the interim superintendent.
“But in doing so, I come to a meeting where I see someone who was asking questions that I found to be pertinent, as I was learning from the questions, being cutoff because of this three-minute rule,” said Fort Lee resident Vincenza Spina. “I find it incredibly arrogant that we spend our money to fund this school [district], and this board can’t give these people more than three minutes.”
Spina, as well as other residents who followed, disagreed with another board rule forbidding the transfer of time left over when someone stops speaking before their three minutes are up.
School Board President Art Levine defended the board’s three-minute rule saying the meetings need to be kept under control, and in many meetings, it is the same people approaching the board multiple times on the same issues.
“Ever since we’ve done it [three-minute rule], the meetings move faster, and they’re more efficient,” explained Levine. “I’m not running out the door. I’ll stay and answer questions till midnight. But it makes the meetings more manageable."
As for Stern's comparison to the public comment segment during the mayor and council meetings and the absence of time limits, Levine said the public is only allowed to speak on an item after the mayor and council has voted on it.
“The mayor and council votes on stuff and then you come up,” Levine added. “We don’t do that. Here’s it’s different. Here, we let people talk before it’s voted on.”
Levine said he would revisit the three-minute rule with the board.