Teachers, secretaries, school counselors and parents from the Matawan Aberdeen Regional School District filed into the Board of Education meeting Monday night, upset over the proposed staff array changes for the 2012-13 school year.
All seventy seats in the meeting room at One Crest Way were filled, and many in attendance were left to lean against the wall in the back and sides of the room as they waited for their opportunity to speak out.
One by one they approached the podium. For nearly two hours they implored the administration and the board to reconsider the staff array changes, which they felt did not have the best interests of the children in mind and would hurt the district financially.
"To begin with, 38% of the classroom teachers at have either been moved to another building or moved to another grade level within the building. I for one cannot understand how this much movement is beneficial to the children, since the teachers in the elementary school spent the last year being trained how to implement the Readers Workshop program. The district spent thousands of dollars hiring a trainer, buying materials and getting substitutes to cover teachers when they were attending training sessions," said Casey Barilka, a teacher at Lloyd Road School.
"In this school year alone, I've completed 63 hours of professional development for fourth grade. Thirty-three of those hours are for Readers Workshop. The kindergarten teacher who is swapping positions with me has had none," said Linda Forgie, a fourth grade teacher at Lloyd Road for the last eight years.
Linda McGuinness, who has worked in the main office of Lloyd Road School since September of 1994, currently serves as the secretary to the principal. McGuinness said she was surprised to find out she was being transferred to the main office at the high school.
"I have received outstanding evaluations every year from Mrs. O'Keefe (the former Lloyd Road principal) and have received an excellent evaluation from Mr. Laugelli (current principal) this year. Imagine my surprise when Mr. Laugelli informed me on Friday that I was being transferred to the high school. When I inquired why, I was told several secretaries were being moved and I was one of them. He also indicated that this could possibly change, and the need for continuity would be beneficial to the new administration," McGuinness said.
"When I checked the staffing array, it seems that I am the only secretary being moved with the exception of one who will be taking my place. I have done everything Mr. Laugelli has asked me this year and more. I can only come to the conclusion that this is punitive. I do not wish to go into the reasons why because this meeting is public," she said.
Forgie and McGuinness are not alone in being involuntarily transferred from Lloyd Road School. According to the teachers who spoke out Monday night, the proposed staff array changes include at least 12 involuntary transfers. Multiple teachers would be switching grades, including swapping fifth grade teachers with kindergarten teachers. The Lloyd Road media specialist would be transferred to Cliffwood School while the Lloyd Road position would be vacant. The guidance counselor covering Lloyd Road School four days a week and Strathmore School one day a week would be swapped with the guidance counselor covering Cliffwood School. Aside from these changes, the school will see a new principal and in the fall.
McGuinness was also not alone in feeling that the changes were retaliatory or punitive in nature.
"This principal (Luigi Laugelli) has initiated the most transfers in the district. Every one of the transfers in our school has affected every other school in our district as a ripple effect. I urge you to table the staffing array and take a closer look at the reasons behind the transfers. I believe that this staffing array that was made up by our former principal is vindictive," said Barbara Wolf, a teacher at Lloyd Road.
However, according to Superintendent David Healy, the transfer decisions were made by a group of administrators and said the accusations were false.
"Absolutely not. Absolutely not. It wasn't done in a vacuum; it wasn't done by one individual. There were a number of people in the room. There was never a discussion about retaliation or criticisms or payback," Healy said after the meeting. "Just because you taught fifth grade, doesn't mean you can't go teach first grade."
Parents were frustrated to learn their children may enter an upper elementary school with a new principal, new assistant principal, new secretary, new counselor and several new teachers.
"We were here two months ago with . We're here once again, with our daughter, who like any child with a school change is experiencing some trepidation. Who's going to be the steady hand to guide that child? She's looking for it; I'm looking for it," said Karen McFadden, a parent with a daughter at Lloyd Road and a son at Matawan Aberdeen Middle School.
"We now are talking about taking all of the core leadership out of that school. The principal, a new vice principal, the secretary, the guidance counselor, and 38% of teachers. Does this make sense to anybody in the room? Does this make sense to the board?" said McFadden.
Parents seemed even more frustrated that the administration was unable to provide specific numbers in regards to how much money would be lost by moving already trained teachers.
"You mean to tell me you're going to vote on this with absolutely no numbers. You cannot tell us what you spent on training all these teachers, and yet as a tax payer you are going to use our money and take a vote? How are you going to do that, without the facts? How much money did you spend training all of these teachers?" said Jen Dukes, a parent.
The board remained silent in response to her questions.
After the meeting, Healy disagreed that moving the teachers would make their training a waste of resources.
"Trainings have been taking place over the last few years. Just because we have teachers trained in certain grade levels doesn't mean we can't move teachers to different grade levels and they can't be successful. They absolutely should be successful and they can be," Healy said.
Shortly before 10 p.m., Board of Education President Charles Kenny interrupted the public comment session of the meeting to call an executive session of the board to discuss "personnel matters."
"I'm going to make a motion to proceed into executive session to discuss confidential matters. We will be mindful that you're sitting here and mindful of the time we take. But rest assured that the subject is confidential personnel matters that are very important to you," Kenny said.
The meeting reconvened at 10:10 p.m. and Kenny announced that the board had decided to postpone voting on the staff array changes until they could be further reviewed.
Waiting to vote on the staff array changes violates an agreement with the Matawan Regional Teacher's Association (MRTA) to notify teachers of changes at least one day before the school year ends, Kenny explained. However, MRTA President Carl Kosmyna was present at the meeting and agreed to allow the board to delay the vote.
"Under my authority I will grant a waiver of that article to notify the staff by the end of the day on this Thursday, with the understanding that the board will take action on Monday the twenty-fifth and notify staff on the twenty-sixth of their assignments," Kosmyna said. Kenny agreed, and noted that a copy of the staff array would be available before the the next meeting.
The board of education is expected to vote on the issue at their next regular action meeting, scheduled for June 25 at 7 p.m.