Ridgewood School Board Faces Tensions Over Unauthorized Use of Facilities and Staff Tuition Policy

In a recent meeting of the Ridgewood School Board, contentious points arose over unauthorized use of school facilities and the policy permitting staff members to enroll their children tuition-free. Board members also debated the need for an external consultant for contract monitoring, faced concerns over cafeteria food pricing and quality, and expressed reservations about bid disparities for school renovations.

The meeting commenced with unanimous approval of resolutions appreciating interim superintendent, Dr. Leonard Fitz, and interim business administrator, Catherine Davenport, for their services. However, tension mounted as members discussed unauthorized facility usage by a non-profit basketball league and alleged illicit activities, such as alcohol consumption on school grounds. The league’s operators, Riley Finnegan and Tyler Sullivan, pleaded for the reconsideration of a cease and desist order they had received, underscoring the mental health benefits provided by the league, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The board did not appear sympathetic to their pleas.

The board also broached issues regarding the existing policy allowing staff to bring their children to the school tuition-free. A vigorous debate occurred when one member proposed altering the policy, triggering concerns over potential discrimination against certain staff members and selective enforcement of policies.

“Since you have been on the board and hiring staff members, has anybody declined the offer because of [this policy]?” queried one member, implying skepticism about the policy’s significance in the hiring process. Despite the disputes, the motion for requiring staff to pay tuition for their children failed, and the issue was deferred for further policy discussion.

Members also sparred over the proposed engagement of a consultant to oversee contract implementation, such as food service and maintenance. While some found the monitoring beneficial, others objected, suggesting professionals who negotiate these contracts could supervise their execution. “My vote is we don’t need a consultant to come in and make sure that things are happening,” one member argued.

The board tackled problems related to food pricing and faulty billing technology in the school cafeteria. Members agreed that issues like duplicate transactions and additional charges for free or reduced meals were unacceptable, leading to a resolution to reassess the student price list. Additionally, the board agreed to address a parent’s concern about the quality of the served food.

Discussion also centered around bid disparities for school renovations, notably the roofing project. The board approved the bid, but more scrutiny was deemed necessary for the solar panels and exhaust fans components.

As the meeting progressed, the board reflected on recent graduation ceremonies, lauding the resilience of the school community and the smooth organization of the events. “He always told us to target high, look at international level of schools, look at national level schools,” one member said, attributing this to the mentorship and guidance of outgoing superintendent Dr. Fitz.

Lastly, the meeting shed light on an issue concerning the frequency of school board elections. The current arrangement could potentially result in a majority board change in some years, causing concerns about stability. The board agreed to seek legal advice on the issue and consider potential policy changes.

As Ridgewood School Board faces these challenges, the public eye remains firmly on their decision-making process, illuminating the hurdles of public education administration in these critical times.

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