To the Board of Education:
I am writing about the recently released board of education emails due to the OPRA request by Planet Princeton. While I am offended by some of the emails by current board members and administrators, I am extremely concerned with the lack of respect and transparency towards some board members. The attempts to prevent board members from having access to board information are unethical and undermine the trust voters have in the Princeton Board of Education.
Board leadership has tried to restrict some board members from sending emails to administrators, and administrators have been instructed by board leadership to not respond to emails written by myself and others. This is unacceptable. When information is hidden from board members, or when the superintendent questions what can be shared with certain board members, we are not being given the respect our elected positions deserve.
It is insulting that when I asked about mold abatement funding from the summer of 2018, the superintendent asked the business administrator “What would be safe to share with Debbie?” (9.16.19) The superintendent reports to the board. When I or any other board member asks for information, it should not be vetted by him or our administrators. All board members deserve an honest, complete and timely response.
After reviewing all 4,000-plus pages of records released from the OPRA request, I am deeply concerned about the board president and other board members unilaterally deciding to spend so much school district funds for attorneys to proceed against a particular board member. That spend should have had a full board vote.
The emails also show an attempt to intimidate members of the board. An example is when School Board President Beth Behrend forwarded Dan Dart’s (9.13.19) email separately to each board member, however only on emails to myself and school board member Bill Hare were Superintendent Cochrane and the board attorney copied (9.16.19). Why is this? Is it because I am part of what they consider a “faction” (email 9.17.19)? Was the inclusion of the lawyer to intimidate me?
Most shocking of all is that the emails show that the board leadership and certain board members did not separate board duties and politics. They were actively discussing and perhaps trying to influence the recent board elections (9.17.19). The new business administrator, less than two months on the job, stated: “I do not want to present anything until after the election” and “I do not want any of my information politicized” (10.17.19). Manipulating board business because of an upcoming election is shameful, and perhaps illegal. I am not placing the blame on the business administrator or other district staff. If the board leadership directs staff to hide information because of an election, that is shameful and perhaps illegal.
We are heading down a path toward restricted communications between board members and the community, decreased transparency, and conducting ourselves in ways that are not in keeping with our code of ethics. We must think carefully about how we proceed to preserve the integrity and reputation of the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education.
Ms. Bronfeld is a member of the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education. The voters of Princeton reelected her to another three-year term on the board in November.