School Board Meeting Ignites Dispute Over Before and After School Care Program

In a recent Ridgewood School Board meeting, tempers flared as the process and handling of the Request for Proposals (RFP) for a before and after school care contract sparked a passionate debate. Multiple stakeholders, including the President and CEO of the Ridgewood Y, expressed dissatisfaction with the procedure, with claims suggesting a rushed timeline, unfair advantage to the existing vendor, AlphaBest Education, and a lack of public participation. The core of the opposition to AlphaBest is that it has had long waitlists that does not allow parents to enroll their students in the program.

The discontentment extended beyond the alleged procedural mishaps to an impasse that resulted in the absence of a program for students. Mary McAuley, a parent and member of the committee that reviewed the bids, put forth her grievances with the board’s failure to approve the committee’s recommendation. McAuley emphasized the “real consequences” of this inaction on the community and pushed the board to uphold the integrity of established processes.

However, it wasn’t just the process that drew criticism, but also the conduct of board members themselves. Ms. Weber, a speaker at the meeting, chastised board President Mr. Lembo for his actions in a previous meeting. According to Weber, Lembo had called a special meeting to approve the contract but then voted against it citing insufficient background material. Weber countered that Lambo should have abstained to allow a decisive result.

Amid the fracas, a fresh perspective emerged from the newly appointed superintendent, Mr. Schwarz. While acknowledging the issues surrounding the RFP process, he expressed gratitude for the welcome he’d received from the community, board, and officials. He introduced a resolution to follow a bid award for the before and after care program determined by the previous purchasing agent. Advising that the only option, if discontented with the process, would be to reject all bids and start afresh. Schwarz recommended awarding the bid to AlphaBest, securing before and after care for the coming year and setting in motion a rebid process earlier in the future.

The public comment portion saw four individuals voicing their opinions. Resident Laura McKenna expressed surprise at the resistance by two male members of the school board to the recommendations made by three women on the board, raising questions about gender imbalance. Ms. Loving challenged the board voting procedures, criticizing the board president for voting without reading the materials, which she found “frankly embarrassing.”

In the end, Judy Nay, CEO of AlphaBest Education, joined the meeting, assuring the board that they would receive the requested information regarding waitlist numbers, a curriculum demonstration, and a clarification on revenue contribution.

Despite the heated discussions, the board ultimately moved forward with AlphaBest as the vendor for the coming year. Three board members voted for AlphaBest while two (Mr. Lembo and Mr. Dani) abstained. The new superintendent noted that this contract is only a one-year contract and that it is up to board when to begin the re-bid process for the following year.

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