The four incumbents defending their seats in November were irked by a question that asserted leadership at the school board was at a “standstill” in transitioning the district out of state takeover at the first debate last week.
Incumbents Manny Martinez and Vincent Arrington objected to the question and pushed back against it.
“I rebuke that portion of the question completely and entirely,” said Martinez last Thursday at the debate at La Neve’s in Haledon. “There’s no vacuum of leadership.”
Martinez said the school board picked a new superintendent and successfully negotiated a five-year contract with the teachers’ union.
“We have clear milestones and deliverables in that plan that has to be executed within two years,” added Arrington referring to the two-year transition plan. “We’re not at a standstill on the transition plan.”
School board president Oshin Castillo tried to rebut the question. She was told only two rebuttals were allowed.
Superintendent Eileen Shafer’s administration presented the two-year plan at community forums over the summer. She also presented the final state approved plan to the school board last month. Her administration will present the plan again at a City Council meeting soon.
Martinez said past and current school board members played a key role in regaining local control from the state.
“People worked long and hard for this,” said Martinez. He said some have been implying the state has returned control after 27 years due to “happenstance” which is “completely false.”
Former school board member Corey Teague disputed Martinez’s assertions.
“This was political. This was a political move,” said Teague. “We were getting it back anyways. To imply the board had anything to do with it is wrong.”
The incumbents faced subtle criticism from some candidates. For example, challenger Mosleh Uddin cited the district’s failure to provide speech therapy to students as one of his reasons for running for a seat.
“We have over 2,000 kids that missed speech therapy which is unacceptable,” said Uddin.
Castillo later responded to the district’s failure when answering a question about special education.
“All of the students that were behind in any services received it this summer,” said Castillo. She said the state has been monitoring the district’s special education program.
Part of the district’s shortcoming in special education has to do with misdiagnosing students, said newcomer Melissa Baralt.
“A lot of kids are misdiagnosed,” said Baralt. She said the district needs qualified people to correctly classify students.
The first debate was attended by all 17 candidates. Davon Roberts dropped out of the race. Next debate is scheduled for Oct. 15.