School bus

The pressing issue at Thursday night’s Board of Education meeting was labor. The board recently tabled two resolutions that would temporarily outsource certain job functions. The resolutions will be delayed until more specifics of the jobs are provided. This comes as the district renegotiates contracts with four different unions.

Members of local unions voiced their concerns about the proposition of outsourcing labor.

Mary Cruz, a clerk with the district, said that “the work being performed through the adoption of” the two resolutions for temporarily outsourcing labor could be completed by current employees. Their additional pay could be subsidized by the money currently allocated for outsourcing, and new hires do not know the district’s programs and procedures as well as current employees.

Beverly Senior, an education support professional with ESA, advocated for equitable contracts for the district’s clerical staff. The tabled resolution would provide a temporary workforce, but “we need permanent solutions to our district’s challenges,” said Senior.

“Hire more tradesmen in this district. Stop hiring your friends. Stop hiring your neighbors. Start hiring qualified people that we have in this district,” said Frank Zahlten of AFSCME Local 2262, a union representing municipal workers.

Trustee Christopher Tisdale shared some of these concerns about outsourcing, asking the district to “give support staff full consideration and fairness” in filling these positions.

Superintendent Norma Fernandez said that the outsourcing is part of some of the ongoing contract negotiations, is only for temporary work, and will not replace current employees.

Discrimination investigation findings

Accusations of discrimination in hiring and promotion practices persist amongst several district employees, some of whom have filed civil lawsuits. Various employees made their concerns public at the board’s public meeting in April.

One long-time janitorial employee, Kerry Ford, claimed that the same people are routinely chosen to clean schools before the start of the school year. Ford said that Black people have been treated worse than others and are always the ones speaking out about their experiences. “We deserve opportunity just like everyone else.”

The district provided an update on an investigation that was conducted by outside labor counsel into the claims of racism and favoritism in hiring and promotion practices.

The investigators attempted to speak with employees who made complaints to the board. Some of those had already filed lawsuits against the board so were only able to discuss what was in the lawsuit. Others indicated they did not wish to review their claims with outside counsel.

“As a result, there is no further investigation being done on the April 27th board meeting comments,” said Robert K. Pruchnick, general counsel for the board.

Superintendent Fernandez announced that she would instate an acting executive assistant to the superintendent for the Office of Equity and Community Engagement to review claims and concerns of discrimination.

Facilities and ESIP updates

Dr. Dennis Frohnapfel, acting school business administrator, announced that the district secured a AA- bond rating, which was “better than anticipated.” The district plans to sell bonds to raise funds for the Energy Savings Improvement Plan the board approved in June.

Work on the project is expected to commence in October 2023 after the bond sales are complete and all relevant resolutions pass the board.

Dr. Frohnapfel provided updates on ongoing facilities improvements across the district, including cafeterias painted, new LED lighting installed, and gym floors refinished. The estimated cost of all facilities projects is $15,000,000, with monthly updates to come.

Monique K. Andrews, who is running for a board seat in November’s election, was glad that Snyder High School was on the list of facilities updates. She credits her advocacy for the district’s awareness of concerns at Snyder. “Y’all didn’t go to the school and investigate what was happening at Snyder.”

Potential no-confidence vote

Trustee Afaf Muhammad further elaborated on her statements from Monday’s caucus meeting about calling a no-confidence vote against Vice President Noemi Velazquez.

Muhammad said that she felt personally disrespected by Vice President Velazquez and believes that “the trust has been broken” between the two. “I don’t think that you should be in that role of leadership when you cannot just, like, you know, communicate with everyone,” said Muhammad. “You isolate.”

Velazquez responded to these claims, “If being rude precludes for a vote of no-confidence, then actually we should vote against each other. Each and every one of us.”

C.A.S.P.E.R. and Morning S.T.A.R.S. price increase

The costs of after-school C.A.S.P.E.R. and before-school Morning S.T.A.R.S. programs are going up this school year. According to the district, this is the first price increase in several years and is to hire and retain high-quality staff members.

Parent Francesca Lawson found out about the substantial price increase via a WhatsApp group chat for parents. Lawson supports paying appropriate wages but requests more communication from the district and transparency with the budget.

“Right now, we don’t have any trust in you, and we don’t have any clear communication,” said Lawson.

Trustee Gina Verdibello agreed that the C.A.S.P.E.R. and Morning S.T.A.R.S. programs had gone up by too much. If the prices have not been increased in years, she said, an incremental price increase would be more appropriate.

Ryan Kilkenny was born and raised in New York. He graduated with a BS from Tulane University and a JD from Rutgers Law School. Ryan worked as an attorney for almost two years before switching careers and...