Stafford Schools Superintendent, Board of Education Get an Earful From Critical Parents

Jun 28, 2017

While the Stafford Township Board of Education on June 22 made one of its first moves in following through on the recently approved referendum, the $245,100 bid awarded to Levy Construction to replace the exterior doors at the McKinley Avenue School wasn’t talked about much inside the Stafford Township Arts Center. Instead, much of the focus centered on what had occurred during the May 11 meeting, as several in the audience remained intent on continuing to remind the board, and specifically Superintendent George Chidiac, about their displeasure with several dozen teacher and staff transfers.

“I’m not going to stand here and respectfully request that you re-evaluate some of your recent decisions,” said Jennifer Manochio, who recently circulated a petition, which garnered some 176 signatures prior to the meeting, to have the board reconsider the transfers. “Let’s be honest. Parents, teachers, staff, taxpayers and union reps all stood in this very spot just a few short weeks ago and voiced their questions and concerns and poured out their heartfelt pleas for you to reconsider your decisions. You all sat up on that stage and listened, acted as though you were hearing what was being said and cared. Yet, when it came time to vote, not one single person hesitated or respected those individuals enough to take the time to reconsider.”

Citing last week’s story in The SandPaper featuring Chidiac’s explanation of the processes and factors that went into the decision to make those maneuvers, Manochio made an accusation that “this administration is being run by tactics of bullying and intimidating.”

“In (the June 21) article, Mr. Chidiac compared his position to that of an athletic coach,” she said, reading from a prepared statement. “This is not a game. You’re playing with our children’s education, their future. The victory that you have set your sights on does not have our children or our teachers as its focus. It’s time to put your ego aside and get back to doing the job  you were hired to do, the job you were entrusted to do.”

Another Manahawkin resident, Jennifer Skiendzielewski, who also fired off several accusations toward the superintendent – prompting board Vice President Richard Czajkowski at one point to tell Skiendzielewski that one of her charges was “inappropriate” – told the board that it wasn’t doing the job the taxpayers elected them to do.

“I won’t stand here and say that you’ve done nothing correct,” said Skiendzielewski, who referred to The SandPaper as “Stafford’s fake news” prior to addressing Chidiac directly. “However, unfortunately, your failures definitely outweigh your accomplishments. And when a coach or manager doesn’t perform, they get fired. It’s time this team gets a new coach to lead us.”

Chidiac’s response was simple: “Thank you.”

But when Skiendzielewski questioned the board whether it understood “that he answers to you and not the other way around,” board member Tammy Nicolini spoke up.

“Yes, we do,” she said. “When we make decisions, we don’t make them because Mr. Chidiac says to do it. He makes recommendations and we look at all possibilities. He presents things to us and makes recommendations, on whatever it may be at the time, and we ask questions. And I will say Mr. Chidiac does a good job of presenting that to us. Now, as was said, is everybody going to be happy? Absolutely not. But I support Mr. Chidiac. He has done many things that are positive for this school district and the children of these schools.”

Skiendzielewski made one final point before she yielded the microphone.

“Just because a teacher is permitted to be moved – just because he has the power to do that and all of you up there have the power to do it – that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.”

One particular maneuver during the May 11 meeting, which involved transferring then-second-grade teacher Michael Dunlea from the Ocean Acres School to the Intermediate School to teach sixth grade, generated a large outcry from those who signed the online petition, which allowed respondents to comment. At last week’s meeting, the board approved Dunlea’s resignation.

Interestingly, among four additional transfers approved by the board on June 22, one involved teacher Jennifer Martin, who in May was approved to be transferred from fifth grade to kindergarten and voiced her disapproval to the board. This time around, Martin was transferred again, from what officially was slated to be her new assignment at the Ronald L. Meinders Primary Learning Center to third grade at the McKinley School. Nobody raised any issues with regard to Martin’s latest switch.

Otherwise, the board not only approved the bid for the McKinley School doors, but also approved a bid proposal from Hertz, Nickerson, ProAcademy and WB Mason for the acquisition of new classroom furniture, not to exceed $429,244.70, as well as the hiring of 13 teachers to either replace some who retired from or left the district or to fill several new instructional posts.

Additionally, Manahawkin resident Joshua Smith made several requests to the board, one of which was to re-evaluate the district’s curriculum for gifted and talented students. Another was to provide agenda attachments to the public via the school district website.

“In a show of good faith, transparency and spirit of community, I’d like to urge the board to reconsider our policy and return to providing those attachments on the district website,” he said. “I know it’s not required by law, but I think it would go a long way for everyone to show the board’s openness and willingness to share. I’m just asking you to reconsider that going forward.”

— David Biggy

biggy@thesandpaper.net

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