The union for teachers and staff in Verona’s public schools, the Verona Education Association, has issued a statement about the process it followed to make its first-ever endorsement of candidates in a Verona Town Council race. You can read the statement in full here.
On Sunday, April 18, the union endorsed three candidates, one of which is its long-time president, Dr. Christopher Tamburro. After news of that endorsement was published on MyVeronaNJ, Michael Nochimson, a candidate who was not endorsed, contacted MyVeronaNJ to say that he had not received the VEA’s survey and his wife Kim Nochimson, a kindergarten teacher for many years at Forest and Laning Avenue schools, posted on Facebook that she had not been aware that her union was going to be endorsing candidates.
MyVeronaNJ asked Christine Sepcie, who heads the VEA’s Legislative Action Committee, for the email address used to contact Nochimson, whether teachers had voted on the endorsements and whether Dr. Tamburro had recused himself from the endorsement vote.
“Chris Tamburro was not on the Selection Committee and therefore did not vote and the email address that I used for Mr. Nochimson was confirmed today as one that was used for other correspondences with the town that Mr. Nochimson received within weeks of when my emails were sent out,” Sepcie said by email yesterday. “If he stopped using that email account, I would think that it would still be checked at least every few days… I’m sorry if he thinks he did not receive it. The only thing I can think of is perhaps he didn’t recognize my email address and deleted it without reading. I am positive that I sent him both the initial one and a reminder.” Sepcie is a Verona High School teacher and the email had been sent from her personal email, not a school or VEA address.
The process statement released yesterday says that on March 1, the VEA’s Representative Council had participated in a presentation by the state teachers association, the NJEA, about how to conduct an endorsement screening in a nonpartisan municipal election. The VEA said the Representative Council includes members from all school buildings and job functions and its meetings are open to all VEA members.The Representative Council formed a screening committee on March 8 and Sepcie said that, on March 18, the committee’s chair sent an email to all VEA members inviting them to serve on the committee.
The questionnaire, which the VEA said was modeled on those used by NJEA affiliates in other towns, was sent to all five candidates on March 28, and a reminder was sent on April 6. In the questionnaire, candidates were asked what they think Verona schools do well and how they can improve, even though the Town Council does not manage the school district. The candidates were asked about township and school district budgeting “especially in regard to PILOT programs.” Under the payment-in-lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement established on several large developments here, revenue collected from them is not shared with the Verona Board of Education. The VEA also questioned the candidates about their views on the collective bargaining process, even though the town manager, not the Town Council, handles that for municipal employees.
Candidates had to provide their responses to the VEA by April 7. The VEA said that candidates were also offered the opportunity to have a virtual meeting with the screening committee and only Cynthia Holland did so. She and Jason Hyndman were the other two candidates endorsed by the VEA.
You can read the VEA’s full statement on its endorsement process here.