Three members sworn in at Princeton Board of Education reorganization meeting

The first Princeton Public Schools Board of Education meeting of the new year.

Betsy Baglio, Daniel Dart, and Brian McDonald were sworn in to serve three-year terms on the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education on Thursday night. Baglio is serving her second term on the board. Dart and McDonald are new members.

In the weeks leading up to the meeting, board members worked out behind the scenes who would be president of the board and who would be vice president by securing promises of support. The board almost always votes unanimously. At the meeting, Beth Behrend was nominated by board member Michele Tuck Ponder to be the school board president, and Greg Stankiewicz was nominated by board member Jessica Deutsch to be the vice president.

But this week two other board members put their names forward to be nominated for president and vice president. Baglio nominated board member Bill Hare to be president, and Hare nominated board member Deb Bronfeld to be vice president.

When Baglio nominated Hare Thursday night, she referred to an email he sent to the board and said Hare is a consensus builder and a good listener who knows how to think outside the box.

Hare read a letter from Bronfeld, who could not attend the meeting because she is overseas. Bronfeld cited her experience on several school board committees over the last two years and said she wants to focus on finding cost savings in the school district budget. She said she also wants to push for more cost savings by sharing services with the town and wants to explore the possibility of sharing some services with Princeton University.

Speeches were not made on behalf of Behrend and Stankiewicz.

Behrend, who is beginning her second year on the board, received seven votes on the 10-member board and will serve as president this year. Behrend, Ponder, Deutsch, McDonald, Dart, Stankiewicz and Cranbury representative Evelyn Spann voted for Behrend.

Stankiewicz, who is beginning his third year on the board, received six votes to become vice president. Behrend, Ponder, Deutsch, McDonald, Stankiewicz and Cranbury representative Evelyn Spann voted for Stankiewicz.

After the vote, Behrend gave a brief speech and said the board will implement the bond referendum projects this year and plan collaboratively for the district for decades to come. In the December special election, voters approved $29 million for security upgrades and other school facilities projects. The original proposed bond referendum was $129 million. The community was divided about the referendum, and the board cut $100 million from the original proposal, but the board has been planning to work on another referendum proposal for the other projects this year.

School board members debated whether board meetings should be moved to Monday nights so there are less conflicts with other school district activities. Municipal public meetings are also held on Monday nights though. The board could revisit the issue later.

There was confusion at the meeting when McDonald asked for an item to be removed from the consent agenda. It was unclear which item McDonald was referring to because the numbering of items on the printed agendas and online school board agendas did not match. McDonald asked that an item regarding professional services contracts be removed from the consent agenda.

“I’m asking that we move this separately because it strikes me as different than the other items,” McDonald said. “We are approving or confirming relationships with a lot of professional service providers. I don’t know about many of the firms. I don’t feel comfortable approving it.”

Business Administrator Stephanie Kennedy said all of the firms listed are already doing work for the district. The board is required to reaffirm the contracts because it is a new board, she said. The board voted to approve the contracts. McDonald and Ponder abstained.

The school board will hold a retreat beginning at 8 a.m. this Saturday, Jan. 5, at the Valley Road school administration building. Such retreats must be open meetings, and the public is allowed to attend. The board can only go into closed session to discuss issues that are allowed to be discussed in private under the state’s Sunshine Law, such as personnel issues.

Princeton resident Rod Montgomery addresses the school board during public comment. The front and back of his shirt read “tax payer”.