Sometimes, the most significant happenings go unheralded. Such was the case in the Upper Darby High School Board Room last Tuesday night.
Immediately preceding the June 28th Committee Meetings, the School Board convened a special meeting to fill the School Board Director seat left vacant by Brian Dietzler’s resignation, which was effective May 24th. Board members nominated two candidates who had previously submitted applications and were interviewed during a public meeting on June 23rd. District policy governing this matter requires the appointment to be made by a majority, but with only eight members on the board, there was a chance of a deadlock. The roll call vote resulted in a tie. Four votes were cast for Ed Brown (Heather Boyd, Rachel Mitchell, Manjit Singh, and Earl Toole, who voted by conference call), and four votes were cast for Vince Gordon (Maureen Carey, Judy Gentile, Lee Jordan, and Ken Rucci).
When consulted for guidance about the results, School Board Solicitor Frank Catania noted that if a period of 30 days passes without an appointment by the School Board, a group of at least 10 residents of any of the municipalities served by the School District can petition the Court of Common Pleas to ask the Court to make an appointment. However, he also noted that the School Board could continue deliberations, and that there was not clear case law to govern the court’s involvement. It seemed the school board would choose to publicly reconvene, as required by the State’s Sunshine Law, to deliberate. At this time, there has been no determination as to when this public meeting may be held.
The agendas for the June Committee meetings were lighter than they have been in recent months. In fact, there was only one item on the Finance and Operations committee agenda: Records Management Plan. A proposal concerning new guidelines was discussed at the December 2015 Committee meeting. Training for secretarial staff and some administrators on the new Plan is scheduled to begin in July, with Board approval.
Suppressing Public Comment
Though the Education and Pupil Services agenda contained five items, the most significant portion of this committee meeting happened when the public was not allowed to comment on a matter relating directly to one of the agenda items: ESSA, or Every Student Succeeds Act. ESSA reauthorizes the nation’s education law, and replaces the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. It is noteworthy that ESSA re-emphasizes, through Title IV, Part A, the importance of whole-child education, and the importance of high quality extra-curricular programs. Locally, an example of an exemplary extra-curricular program has been the High School Drumline, which is slated for removal following a unilateral teacher decision backed by administration. Although a new percussion ensemble is planned to encourage players of varying skill levels, the question remains unanswered as to why a successful elite program would be eliminated rather than supplemented with the proposed new group. At the meeting, members of the public wishing to comment on this topic were told there was no tie-in for their comments to the agenda, even though they noted it related to the ESSA agenda item.
A Time to Speak Up
As a reminder, there has been a significant change over the past two years concerning public feedback to the School Board. Although the public can still comment at monthly School Board meetings, questions are only permitted during the monthly Committee Meetings and must be deemed by the School Board as pertinent to an item on the Committee Meeting agenda. When this change was implemented, the public had been directed that as long as there was a tie-in between an agenda item and the public comment or question, it would be permitted. However, at the June meeting, public comment regarding the future of the Drumline was effectively quashed by administration. The supporters were invited to remain after the meeting to discuss their concerns, but their conversation with Principal Ed Roth, Superintendent Dunlap, Assistant Superintendent McGarry, and the Board is not part of the public record. Comments about Drumline, or any school district issue, can be directed to the School Board as a whole, and copied to the Superintendent, via one convenient email: firstname.lastname@example.org