Too early or too late?

The Board of Education squabbles over resolution timing

Heated discussion flared between socially distant board members behind plexiglass.
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Heated discussion flared between socially distant board members behind plexiglass.

The Bayonne Board of Education voted down a resolution at its Dec. 10 meeting authored by Trustee Ava Finnerty regarding proposed changes to policy dictating board meeting conduct. Throughout the year, she has been calling for an earlier deadline regarding when resolutions can be added to a meeting’s agenda.

Preventing last-minute resolutions

Finnerty wants a rule that resolutions or other items must be added to an agenda ten days before a board meeting. She called the proposed policy change “a matter of transparency” and said it was written consultation with the New Jersey School Board Association.

Currently, resolutions and other items must be added to an agenda around four days before a board meeting, the day of a committee meeting. During committee meetings, the board reviews the resolutions.

However, Finnerty argues that sometimes resolutions are added to an agenda after a committee meeting. She admitted that most of the time the resolutions or items added to an agenda last-minute are minor and usually informational. But Finnerty said sometimes the resolutions that are added to an agenda the day of a meeting have a lasting impact.

“We are elected officials, and we act not on our own behalf, but on the behalf of not only our students and our teachers but our community,” Finnerty said. “For us to be responsible and make good decisions, we have to be informed. And sometimes we need to do some research on our own.”

Finnerty said she often doesn’t have time to look at those last-minute resolutions before the meeting. Sometimes, she said that she does not find out about some resolutions until the meeting itself. Finnerty claimed that three resolutions on the agenda at the Dec. 10 meeting were added the day of the meeting.

“Being presented with a resolution 15 minutes before the start of a meeting is not really a very good policy,” Finnerty said. “The policy that I’m proposing is common throughout the state and just gives an opportunity for us to intelligently make informed decisions.”

Though passionate in support of her resolution, Finnerty was not opposed to compromise, saying that five days prior would also be acceptable. She said that Superintendent of Schools John Niesz could override the resolution if needed for other items.

Help or hindrance?

Not everyone was on board.

President Maria Valado said the board had reviewed the resolution with its legal team and determined the board cannot change policy to require a two-thirds majority vote to approve agenda items. Currently, only a simple majority is required but Finnerty’s resolution sought to change that. Legal counsel told Valado that was not feasible because it would not only affect the current board but future elected boards.

Valado added that prohibiting the board from adding resolutions less than 10 days before a meeting was not appropriate for a district of Bayonne’s size.

According to Valado, the current deadline for new items and resolutions is four days before a board meeting. This coincides with committee day, when the board reviews resolutions as a committee. She asserted Finnerty’s compromise deadline of five days before a meeting would be nonsensical because it would be only one day earlier than the current deadline.

Valado noted that among the items added to the agenda the day of the Dec. 10 meeting was a resolution accepting an additional $200,000 in CARES Act funding. She said that some things come up the day of the meeting, which couldn’t be added to the agenda under Finnerty’s proposed changes.

“I’ve never voted on a resolution I haven’t had sufficient time to read or ask questions on,” Valado said. Valado said she could easily call one of the superintendents to have them explain a resolution, even if added the same day as a meeting.

Finnerty countered by noting that Niesz can add anything to the agenda after the deadline with written explanation.

No deal

Trustee Jan Patrick Egan offered to assist Finnerty in rewriting the resolution in January so that it would “work with the school board administration, instead of against it.” However, Finnerty was adamant about voting on the resolution at the meeting, stating that she has been trying to bring it for a vote before the board since July.

But Valado moved to table the resolution due to the number of issues brought by her and other board members. Finnerty, visibly frustrated, noted that this would be the third time the resolution was tabled.

Valado then decided to then bring the resolution for a vote. The board voted against the resolution 5-2, with Finnerty and Trustee Denis Wilbeck voting in the affirmative.

Trustee Michael Alonso was not present and did not vote. This was the first meeting since Alonso’s loss in the November election and was his final meeting as a trustee.

Trustee Joseph Broderick resigned at the Dec. 10 meeting and did not vote. At the meeting, the board voted to fill his seat with Pam Sclafene, Vice President of Marketing at BCB Community Bank.

Afterwards, the board voted to approve a resolution upholding the status quo regarding board meeting conduct. Finnerty was the only trustee to vote against it.

The next board meeting will be Jan. 5 at 5:30 p.m. For more information, go to bboed.org.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.