Jablonski Removed From BOE/CTEA Negotiations in Fireworks Filled Meeting

“I’m saddened that our Board finds ourselves in the midst of another action that erodes the public faith in our ability to make decisions, void of politics or personal vendetta.” – Jablonski

Amy Jablonski on WBNC News | November 2017

CHESTERFIELD, NJ – Another Chesterfield Board of Education Meeting, another month without a contract for Chesterfield Elementary School teachers. This past week, a board member was removed from the subcommittee tasked with negotiating the contract.

Amy Jablonski, elected to the board in November of 2017, was removed from the subcommittee that works with the Chesterfield Township Education Association on teachers contracts. Now, the committee consists of Board President Jignesh Shah and Board Member Christina Hoggan.

Though negotiations take place in closed-door meetings, about 30 people were in attendance for Wednesday’s public meeting, many wearing their CTEA polo to show support.

After the Board’s normal business, Jablonski read from a statement that we will type up in full later tonight, quoting in its entirety, an email from Board President Jignesh Shah. “I’m concerned that our differences may impede our progress in reaching a settlement with the Association,” Shah wrote Jablonski. “I believe we are close to an agreement with the Association and after almost two years of being involved in this process, I want to do everything possible to see this through to a settlement as soon as possible.”

Jablonski continued: “The action taken by Mr. Shah last week represents the continuation of a pattern of dismissing the overt language of our policies and the spirit of our Board of Education bylaws. Time and time again, he has used his position as Board President to silence dissenters by gavel, to influence personnel decisions based on his personal opinion of faculty, to potentially impede negotiations by releasing protected information in public forums, and in this case, by changing the negotiations team at a ‘critical time’.”

Shah has replaced Jablonski with Christina Hoggan, according to the agenda for tonight’s meeting. The Board’s lawyer spoke up and insisted any further discussion of the negotiation subcommittee to take place in Executive Session.

The meeting continued after a break with public comments, all of which encouraged the board to finalize the negotiations and chastised them for the “Political nonsense” and “games..being played.” Kelly Johnson, a resident said that it “was disgraceful what just happened here.”

Members of the CTEA have been without a contract since June of 2017. The next scheduled closed-door meetings between the CTEA and the BOE Subcommittee are next Monday and October 14th.

Below: Jablonski’s full comments during tonight’s meeting.

“Last week, I received the following email from Mr. Shah, the Chesterfield Board of Education President: ‘Hi, Amy. As we approach this critical time in the negotiations process, I’m concerned that our differences may impede our progress in reaching a settlement with the Association. On behalf of the Board, and in the best interest of the district, I am replacing you on the Board’s negotiations team with another Board Member. I believe we are close to an agreement with the Association and after almost two years of being involved in this process, I want to do everything possible to see this through to a settlement as soon as possible. Thank you, Jignesh.’

“This correspondence was surprising and unwelcome. As an educator, parent, taxpayer, and Board Member, I’ve always sought to make decisions transparently, informed by the interest of all of our community’s stakeholders. In that spirit, I have several concerns about this action which warrants discussion tonight in public session. While I do not dispute that our Board of Education bylaws allow the Board President to assign committees, to my knowledge, removal of members of those committees, mid-year, without discussion, is not aligned with past practice. Our Board of Education faces a crisis of confidence, both in our group and with our teachers and community. Unilateral action without discussion further erodes that trust.

“Mr. Shah states in his correspondence with me that he was acting ‘On behalf of the Board.’ Does this action represent the opinions of a majority of the Board? If Mr. Shah intended to make this decision with input from Board of Education members, a conversation to that effect should exist amongst the Board as a whole and in public session. This is especially critical with regard to negotiations since our agreement with the CTEA stipulates that specific negotiation information may not be released to conflicted members, of whom we have two on our Board of Education. Discussion in public session ensures the compliance of Board members on this critical piece on the negotiations process.

“If Mr. Shah has made this decision unilaterally and without the consent of the Board, yet he writes that he is doing so ‘On behalf of the Board,’ this constitutes an ethical breach, both within our group, and the New Jersey School Board Member Code of Ethics.

“The action taken by Mr. Shah last week represents the continuation of a pattern of dismissing the overt language of our policies and the spirit of our Board of Education bylaws. Time and time again, he has used his position as Board President to silence dissenters by gavel, to influence personnel decisions based on his personal opinion of faculty, to potentially impede negotiations by releasing protected information in public forums, and in this case, by changing the negotiations team at a ‘critical time’ when he believes we are ‘close to an agreement with the Association,’ thus exposing our district to a costly, unfair labor-practices suit, which could be brought by our teacher’s association.

“I’m saddened that our Board finds ourselves in the midst of another action that erodes the public faith in our ability to make decisions, void of politics or personal vendetta. The power of our governing body rests in the rule of law. In our case, it rests in the rule of bylaw. However, adherence to those powers should not be confused with inspiring confidence or effectiveness. This action certainly falls under the purview of the power of our Board President. However, for our body to be one that is highly effective, trust amongst our members, and in our community rit large, must be rebuilt. And this begins with a commitment amongst all our board members, president included, to transparent public discourse and a respect for the unique perspectives brought by each of the members of our body. Thank you.”

Amy JablonskiChesterfield Township Board of Education Member

Ben Wolverton can be reached at bwolverton@wbncnews.com