Board of Education Honors Leaving Members While Contract Disputes Continue

Board of Education Honors Leaving Members While Contract Disputes Continue

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Lisa Wolff and Leigh Ann Peterson

The Hopewell Valley Board of Education honored its two departing members, Lisa Wolff and Leigh Ann Peterson, and responded to comments from teachers on contract negotiations at their first December meeting.

Wolff and Peterson received a fond farewell from Board members and superintendent Dr. Thomas Smith, who said that Peterson “is leaving the District in a better place than we found it” and that Wolf has “had a profound impact” in her 10 years of service.

“When we remember somebody like Lisa Wolff, we remember someone who cares,” Smith said. “Under her leadership, input from the community was not only encouraged, but their suggestions were acted upon.”

Wolff received dedications from a number of public officials and community members, including Hopewell Township mayor and Hopewell Valley Education Foundation president Kevin Kuchinski, Hopewell Valley deputy mayor Julie Blake, and former Board of Education member Bruce Gunther.

Additionally, Wolff received thanks from Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Lamont Repollet via video as well as a proclamation from New Jersey State Senator Shirley Turner.

The Board also received testimony from teachers, who continued to show in force, as their contract negotiations begin to enter another year.

Paul Tkacs, a social studies teacher at Central High, criticized the numbers presented in a recent article in the Hopewell Valley News. The article quoted that Hopewell Valley teachers may teach up to 225 minutes per day, while other schools, such as Princeton High, Lawrence High, and Hightstown High teachers may teach up to 280 to 300 minutes. Tkacs said that these numbers are “conveniently misconstrued” to present a narrative that the teachers are “underworked and overpaid.”

Lesley Salvato, a teacher at Stony Brook Elementary, criticized the board’s integrity, honesty, and lack of urgency, with the meeting with a factfinder, an unbiased third party appointed by the state if mediation fails, in January.

“What we do as educators speaks loudly,” Salvato said. “It’s embarrassing and disappointing that you don’t have that same integrity.”

Board President Alyce Murray responded, stating that going to a factfinder was not a decision from either side. “I don’t ever want anyone to question our integrity,” Murray said.

Murray additionally promised that the Board will look at the discrepancy in how minutes are counted compared to other districts.

Wolff responded to criticism as well, stating that according to the Department of Education website median teacher pay in Hopewell Valley is ranked 39 of 680 districts in New Jersey and that they have some of the highest paid teachers.”*

“I have no reason to think, if we’re bargaining in good faith, that we won’t come to an equitable solution again,” Wolff said. “There’s nothing in it for anyone on this Board to defer getting a settlement.”

The Board also highlighted a number of personnel changes, including appointing Jane-Ellen Lennon as the principal at Tollgate Elementary after serving as interim principal, David Sherwin as the supervisor of K-12 language arts, and Shawn Dennis as the supervisor of maintenance.

*Quote edited 9:20am 12/13/18.

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