Since I voted yes
As a school board member, I vote on hundreds of different items on a monthly basis. Those votes range from hiring or suspending employees to approving contracts for iPads or elevator repair. I read everything I get and ask questions to get further clarity. On most votes, it seems that I am on the same side as the public and on every vote the side of student success.
No vote has been so divisive and complex as the vote for the Norcross/KIPP Renaissance School. I voted “no” on the original resolution to support that school and “yes” on the second vote. That came to a surprise to some and confirmed rumors before that vote that I would “flip”.
I am very comfortable with both votes based on the information I had at the time. By January, there will be a contract presented to the Camden school board. At that time, the details and product of negotiations will be presented. The substance will confirm what was negotiated, which is now legally premature to discuss.
I wasn’t offered, nor did i solicit favors, money, or a position based on my KIPP vote or any other decision I’ve made as a school board member. Furthermore if I was offered any of the above, I would not accept. To do so would be unethical, illegal, and would diminish any other work that is going on. It is sad that people would spread and believe lies that represent ways outside of my character. I am in no greater favor with “The Machine” today than I was one month, one year, or ten years ago. As a public official my fights within government are not public, and should not be unless that is the last resort.
An important lesson that I learned from the aftermath of the vote is that I should have been clearer about the possibility that I would vote yes. I knew that KIPP would be at the board meeting days prior. I knew that if they explained things about their proposal and made certain concessions there was a possibility I would support the proposal knowing that the proposal was the only feasible option for a school in the Lanning Square neighborhood.
People will question my wisdom, but I hope will not question my motives or ethics. A no vote on the KIPP school would have appeased certain important groups and individuals in the public that I respect and agree with, but would also open up the district to a contentious and adversarial board, increase the likelihood of a state takeover, and leave that land on Broadway empty for years. The governor, Commissioner of Education, Director of the School Development Authority, 5th district state delegation, Freeholders, Mayor, and some board members were willing to do whatever they had to get it passed. I decided to vote on the side of those 300 Camden children that will enter the school in November 2014.
I am aware that many that read this will remain angry and confused about this vote. I ask that you remember that there are plenty of issues that we can agree need to be addressed in our schools, the administration, and the city. Right now, as the chairman of the Policy Committee, we are looking into updating the Code of Conduct to change the way we discipline students using a model known as restorative justice. We just modernized our wellness policy, putting an emphasis on healthy eating in schools. The hiring and negotiations process will soon change into one that is more fair and inclusive. The board will soon interview and hire a superintendent. The policy committee just reviewed and recommended changes to special education.
With that, I ask that you hold me accountable; trust my judgement, and continue to be a participating stakeholder in the mentioned endeavors with the intent of providing the children of Camden a better education system.
Thank you, please contact me at 856-295-2955 if you want to discuss the contents of this or anything else.