BOE Candidates Forum: Questions & Answers

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The Verona Conference of SCAs held its forum for the three candidates running for two seats on the Board of Education in November. Pam Priscoe, who is running for re-election, and challengers Chris Wacha and Ron Mueller answered 18 questions over the course of the 90-minute forum, drawn from questions submitted by the public in advance to the SCAs. The event was held at Verona High School and also livestreamed; fewer than two dozen people attended the forum in person. 

You can watch the full meeting here. You can also go directly to the individual questions below, linked to their spot in the overall video. Some questions were edited for length and clarity:

  1. What do you consider to be the most pressing priority for our district in the coming 12 months?
  2. How familiar are you with the strategic plan and what areas of focus are most important to keep moving the district forward?
  3. What are the first three things you would endeavor to change about the operations of the board?
  4. What ideas do you have for concrete initiatives that can be put into place immediately to combat racism and discrimination in our schools?
  5. Last year, a teacher sought to discuss the George Floyd killing with his classes and parents complained. How do we allow for a frank discussion around racism and injustice in our schools?
  6. Will you commit to writing or approving policy that sets diversity hiring objectives for all school administrators and teaching staff?
  7. Please describe how you facilitated and or fostered diversity in hiring.
  8. Please list the key challenge facing each level of education in Verona: elementary, middle school and high school.
  9. As a board member, would you consider connecting with C.H.I.L.D. and, if so, how do you think that relationship could help the special education community?
  10. Do you feel the Board of Education’s self-assessment rating is accurate?
  11. What are the top three qualities of a strong superintendent to lead our district moving forward?
  12. How will you ensure that not only will qualified diverse candidates be considered for superintendent, but that the process will be fair, equitable and conducted without bias towards maintaining the status quo?
  13. What is your position on the Verona public school system entering into and receiving funding from the National School Lunch Program?
  14. Do you think school board meetings should be livestreamed and with remote participation?
  15. What is your opinion on the current structure of Board meetings, specifically the lack of a virtual Q&A option and the recently reduced time for public comment?
  16. Last year there was a vote of no confidence in the superintendent, which demonstrated that the staff have significant concerns about the operations of the district. What will you do as a board member to rebuild that relationship?
  17. Please discuss your understanding of the Sunshine Law, please include your understanding of the policy reasons behind the law?
  18. Over the next four years, the town will bring nearly 330 apartment units online, and this growth will impact the number of children that attend our schools. Where do you see potential capacity constraints and what ideas do you have to handle the new students as well as making them feel welcome in Verona?

In answering the final question, Mueller said that the Verona school district’s reserves had fallen, which is not correct. In the 2019-2020 year, the most recent year for for which an audit of the capital reserve is available, Verona’s reserves stood at $1 million. Verona’s interim business administrator and its new full-time administrator are now auditing the 2020-2021 year, which will give an update on the reserve.

At a BOE meeting in October 2020, Dr. Christopher Tamburro, president of the Verona Education Association, said that the teacher and staff union had “unanimously” approved a vote of no confidence in Superintendent Dr. Rui Dionisio. But the vote was only unanimous among those who had participated in the VEA meeting on it, which was 155 people and not the full union membership of 287. The VEA vote was also not unique: Teachers unions in other districts statewide held similar actions. At the October 2020 meeting, both the BOE and the administrative union offered unanimous support for the superintendent

MyVeronaNJ.com conducted its own interviews with the candidates and you can read those interviews here. The election is Tuesday, November 2.

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected].

2 COMMENTS

  1. What is the purpose of the last two paragraphs in this article. It seems to editorialize what could have been straight reporting.

  2. MyVeronaNJ.com has done fact checks and clarifications on candidate remarks in this BOE race and many other BOE and Town Council elections. We have put such notes on the interviews given by all three candidates in this year’s race, which you can access through the main interview page here.

    Reserves are essential to a healthy school budget, but it has been extremely difficult to have them in recent years because of former Gov. Chris Christie’s sharp reduction in state aid to schools and a cap on budget increases that barely accounted for inflation. Voters should know that Superintendent Dr. Rui Dionisio and the current Board of Education have managed to amply restore Verona’s reserves as they make their decisions on this election.

    The vote of no confidence question needed context because it could be read as something that happened because of unique discord here between the superintendent and teachers. In fact, there were similar votes by teachers unions in many other districts across the state. It is also important to know that, while the Verona union’s vote was initially presented as unanimous, it was not. Many teachers and staff, then and now, support the work done by the Board and the superintendent to get the schools through the pandemic. The Board seated by this election will choose the next superintendent of schools, who will establish a new relationship with the union.

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