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Board Highlights

These highlights are an unofficial  summary  of actions taken and topics discussed during the public session of the Princeton Public Schools  Board  of Education on January 5, 2021. They are intended to provide timely information to our community, but they do not represent an official accounting of the meeting. Official minutes will be approved by the  Board  at its next meeting. 

In an effort to keep the PPS community informed about the work of the Board of Education, a summary of every Board meeting is sent out following each meeting. The public is invited to participate in Board meetings via Zoom, and we hope these updates are helpful if you are unable to observe.You can watch the full board meeting on the district’s YouTube channel.   

The Princeton Public Schools Board of Education held its yearly Reorganization Meeting on Tuesday, January 5, 2021.

Swearing In Ceremony (Video 6:55)

Two returning board members—Beth Behrend and Michele Tuck-Ponder—and one new member—Jean Durbin—were sworn in by Brett Gorman, Esq., of Parker McCay. All three took two oaths:

I [Name] do solemnly swearthat I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of New Jersey, and that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same and to the goals established in the United States and this state under the authority of the people, so help me God

I [Name] do solemnly swear that I possess the qualifications prescribed by law for the office of member of a board of education and that I will faithfully, impartially, and justly perform all the duties of that office according to the best of my ability, so help me God.

Jean Durbin is expected to join the equity, policy, and finance committees.

Election of Board President (Video 15:00)

Dafna Kendal nominated Beth Behrend, citing the importance of “staying focused on moving forward in the best interest of the students.” Brian McDonald seconded the motion, which passed with eight “yes” votes and two abstentions.

Election of Board Vice President (Video 17:30)

Michele Tuck-Ponder nominated Dafna Kendal, with whom, she noted, she initially had “a bumpy relationship’” but said she has grown to have “tremendous respect” for Kendal’s unflagging commitment to equity and hard work, describing her as “a stellar colleague who cares deeply for the children in this district.”Debbie Bronfeld seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.

Behrend and Kendal thanked their colleagues for their confidence in them. Behrend quoted Nelson Mandela, saying “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” and added that she looked forward to working with everyone to create powerful change.

Behrend welcomed Peter Katz to another year the representative from the Cranbury Send-and-Receive.

Code of Ethics (Video 23:54)

The board members reviewed the Code of Ethics, with members taking turns reading each item aloud. Attorney Brett Gorman provided clarification and context as necessary. It was determined that the PPS code has two items more than the official state code, which were probably added in February, 2018. The members are legally obligated only to affirm the ten official state items when signing the oath. A footnote will be added to indicate which items pertain to the district only.

CODE OF ETHICS

RESOLVED, that the members of the Princeton Board of Education recognize that they hold authority not as individuals but as members of the board. In order to make a clear public statement of its philosophy of service to the students of the district, the board adopts this code of ethics.

I will uphold and enforce all laws, state board rules and regulations, and court orders pertaining to schools. Desired changes should be brought about only through legal and ethical procedures;

I will make decisions in terms of the educational welfare of children and will seek to develop and maintain public schools which meet the individual needs of all children regardless of their ability, race, creed, sex or social standing;
I will confine my board action to policymaking, planning and appraisal and I will help to frame policies and plans only after the board has consulted those who will be affected by them;

I will behave toward my fellow board members with the respect due their office--demonstrating courtesy, decorum and fair play at all public meetings and in all public statements;

I will refrain from inappropriate conduct in public meetings and in making public statements, refraining from any disparagement of my fellow board members or others on a personal, social, racial or religious basis; [not part of the state code]

I will carry out my responsibility, not to administer the schools, but, together with my fellow board members, to see that they are well run; [not part of the state code]

I will recognize that authority rests with the board of education and will make no personal promises nor take any private action which may compromise the board;

I will refuse to surrender my independent judgment to special interest or partisan political groups or to use the schools for personal gain or for the gain of friends;

I will hold confidential all matters pertaining to the schools which, if disclosed, would needlessly injure individuals or the schools. But in all other matters, I will provide accurate information and, in concert with my fellow board members, interpret to the staff the aspirations of the community for its schools;
I will vote to appoint the best qualified personnel available after consideration of the recommendation of the superintendent;

I will support and protect school personnel in proper performance of their duties;

I will refer all complaints to the superintendent and will act on such complaints at public meetings only after failure of an administrative solution.


The board shall see that all members of the board receive training in understanding and adhering to this code of ethics and shall discuss it annually at a regularly scheduled public meeting. Each member shall sign documentation that he/she has received a copy of it and has read and understood it.

Superintendent’s Report (Video 47:44)

Dr. Barry Galasso discussed winter sports, and the recommendation of Dr. Helmrich that student-athletes from the Princeton High School wear masks at all times.This has created challenges in finding opponents, since no other school district, including “our traditional competition” requires athletes to wear masks at all times, rather than just pre- and post-game and while on the bench. Athletic Director Brian Dzbenski is working to find opponents who follow a universal masking protocol, both to keep the students safe and to give them an opportunity to play their sports. Dr Galasso cited the excellent advice provided by the medical team throughout the pandemic, noting that is has helped keep the district free of any significant Covid transmissions. “We don’t think it’s a big ask; it’s something our medical people think is important to keep our kids safe, keep our faculty and staff safe, and keep the schools open for in-person instruction.”

Debbie Bronfeld wondered if any programs might be developed for the middle school—perhaps a running group. Dr. Galasso responded that Dzbenski is looking into developing some kind of program for those younger students, including holding a meeting with parents to discuss options. He noted that Dzbenski is “meticulous in ensuring that coaches follow all protocols.”

Dr. Galasso also seeks authorization to allow district nurses—who “have been phenomenal”—to work with the Princeton Health Department outside of their regular working hours to assist in giving vaccines. This will require them to receive training from the health department, and to be indemnified through coverage via a county and/or state insurance policy, since the district policy would not cover this activity. “We want to be sure to protect our personnel,” he said, adding that he believed that deploying the district’s nurses would expedite vaccinations and help keep the schools open in addition to benefitting the community in general. Details and logistics are yet to be determined.

Dr. Galasso also seeks authorization to increase the hourly rate for custodians, currently $11, to $15. New Jersey’s minimum wage has gone up to $12 so an increase is necessary, but it is difficult to find reliable people to work for that rate, and more help is needed to ensure the schools are kept clean. Conversations with community members indicate that it would be possible to get part-time workers for $15 who could be called in on an as-needed basis for considerably less expense that contracting with a janitorial service.

Consent Items (Video 1:03:33)

The board voted on a number of items:
Annual Meeting Schedule
Policy Manual and Bylaws
Student Code of Conduct
Newspapers for Legal Advertisements
Legal Advertisements for Hiring of Staff
Designation of Depositories
Student Activity Funds
Petty Cash
Authorization to Make Transfers
Authorization to Pay Bills
Solicitation of Bids
Authorization to Procure Goods and Services Through State Contracts and Consortiums
Professional Services: General Business
Bid and Quote Threshold Organization
District Organization
Hiring In Between Board Meetings

There was discussion around the Student Code of Conduct which included a section that was not part of the official policy manual but rather an addition—titled Our Vision Statement of Values— that the students had requested be included. Michele Tuck-Ponder and Jean Durbin felt it was important to include it, since it is a student request that articulates their aspirations for the schools. Other members agreed, and the policy committee will review it and add it to the official policy if appropriate.

The consent agenda was passed.

Public Comment (Video 1:16:30)

Maria Juega expressed her gratitude to Dr.Galasso for his recommendation to increase custodian salaries, and urged that the salaries of similarly low paid employees be reconsidered and reviewed, particularly those of teaching aides, who she said she believes to be the lowest paid workers in the district. “Their contributions and crucial roles have become increasingly evident in these past months,” she said.

Conclusion (Video 1:19:10)

Behrend noted that the two student representatives were in attendance and asked if they had a report they’d like to make.They did not, but will speak at the next Board meeting.

Behrend asked if there was interest in having another three-hour session with Bucks County Intermediate Unit at a cost of $2,500, primarily to gain their advice and guidance regarding committee structure and roles. Members felt that the IU has helped them to make progress toward district goals, and agreed that another session would be beneficial. Finding time to do it is difficult, given the superintendent search and the year’s various challenges; a weekend session may be considered. The standing committee structure will remain the same for now.

The meeting was adjourned.


 

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