Galloway Township Superintendent of Schools Dr. Annette Giaquinto and Business Administrator Tim Kelley said all along that the reason they were calling together a group of community members, parents and school and government representatives was to exchange information.
The Superintendent’s Advisory Team’s initial meeting was Tuesday night, Feb. 7 in the library, and both sides seemed to walk away having learned something from the exchange of ideas.
“I learned a lot,” Four Seasons resident Valerie George said following the meeting. “I have not had much interaction with this school system, and I was impressed with the facilities.”
George works in the Egg Harbor Township School District, and understands the general public is not aware of conditions in the school districts.
“Communication in the community is the most important thing a school can do,” George said. “ … The more I see the state cutting, the harder it makes it to educate. You have to get involved.”
George attended with Serena Rateb. Both also work at in Smithville. They were among about 30 members from different aspects of the community who attended Tuesday night’s meeting, called for by the district following two defeated school budgets and a failed referendum. It's a streak Board of Education President Ernest Huggard said has never happened before.
The referendum, which concerned roof replacement at , and elementary schools, fire alarm replacement for Smithville, Roland Rogers and , and drainage system and parking lot improvements for Arthur Rann, was defeated by in December.
It goes back out for a vote on March 13.
Giaquinto said she and other board members began to hear reasons residents voted against the budget after the referendum was defeated. This group was assembled to help the district tackle those problems from the start, including the question of why fire alarms were included in the December vote.
“The perception is that the fire alarm system is fine and that you’re just being greedy,” one parent told Giaquinto. “The perception is that you need a new roof and you might as well ask for a new fire alarm system, too.”
Giaquinto said the reason the fire alarm system was included is because it is aging, and the district wants to make sure they are replaced before they begin to malfunction.
“We looked at all the things that were health and safety issues and made sure we put them first,” Giaquinto said. “We only asked for the things that were necessary because they were safety issues. We know we did that, but probably no one else in this room knows we did that, and that’s something we have to address.”
Community member and new Zoning Board member Jim McElwee questioned why the district asked to replace three roofs at once rather than space them out over time.
While Giaquinto said there were a number of other projects that needed to be dealt with, and there wasn’t one succinct reason all the roofs had to be dealt with at once, Huggard pointed to the fact that two old school buildings that were no longer being used had to be torn down.
“We had to tear down two (old school) buildings, one of which had asbestos, which had to be treated a different way,” Huggard said. “That cost $350,000. We are trying to sell those properties, and we were trying to sell them when the buildings were still there.”
With just over a month before the referendum goes back before voters, Giaquinto and Kelley took suggestions from those in attendance about how to better inform the public about the referendum, including making sure more residents know it’s happening and presenting the clearest information possible.
Suggestions ranged from better utilization of social media –the school district has a Twitter account, but not a Facebook page—to personalizing the cost of the project to each taxpayer to visiting Nurseries.
One parent suggested moving the advisory team’s meetings outside of a school environment, like the one it was in Tuesday night.
“Have you thought about having the meetings in different areas, in community centers and places like that, so other people can come and listen?” she asked.
There was a feeling this would help introduce the children of the school district to a new group of residents.
“Reeds Road has an amazing band and an amazing chorus, but people who are going in to vote are not seeing the faces,” one parent said. “We need to get the kids out there to show their talents, to show what they can do.”
Giaquinto acknowledged there are Galloway students who graduate from –which she pointed out is not part of the Galloway School District—who have gone on to graduate from Ivy League colleges. She also noted former Galloway Middle School Class President Myron Rolle, a Rhodes Scholar who played college football at Florida State and signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers last week.
“It’s great that he was able to do that, but who will be the next Myron Rolle?” one business owner asked. “People don’t want to hear about 10 years ago, they want to hear about right now.”
Including a slideshow presentation from Giaquinto and Kelley that lasted roughly 40 minutes, the first meeting of the Superintendent’s Advisory Team lasted about an hour and a half, and also gave Giaquinto and Kelley the chance to explain some of the benefits of moving the school board elections to November, to coincide with municipal, state and national elections.
These benefits included the opportunity to save money and draw a larger voter turnout.
Turnout was something that pleased Giaquinto Tuesday night.
“I set the number at 30, and I got 30 responses,” said Giaquinto, who then added she received more inquiries beyond that. “I’m not going to turn anyone away. If the group gets too big, nothing gets done, but if you want to bring a friend (to future meetings), I would certainly encourage you to.”
The next meeting will likely take place within the next two or three weeks, although no date has been set.
Giaquinto assured all members in attendance that this team would continue to meet regularly beyond the March 13 referendum.
Highlights of Tuesday's meeting will be available at the Galloway Township School District's website.