Further Signs of a Fractured Relationship Between the LTEA Leadership and Lawrence Board of Education

Lawrence Township Education Association (LTEA), the union that represents district teachers and guidance counselors, does not typically endorse, or oppose, Board of Education (BOE) candidates, according to LTEA President, Michele D’Angelo, but did so recently. On November 2nd, LTEA leadership distributed a paper to its members stating that the union would not be endorsing Patricia “Pepper” Evans. Ms. Evans, the incumbent, seeks reelection and one of three available seats in the upcoming election. She currently serves on the board’s Finance and Facilities Committee, Curriculum, Instruction, Assessment & Professional Development (C.I.A.P.D.) Committee, and the Negotiations Committee.When Ms. D’Angelo was asked why LTEA wasn’t supporting Ms. Evans she said, “Generally we let the process take its course. But, (Ms. Evans) made a number of negative verbal and written comments to LTEA members about the vote of no confidence against the Superintendent as well as about LTEA’s leadership. She’s also made comments about future negotiations to members. Her lack of discretion is not something we can support.”

In a recent article published by MercerMe, Ms. Evans said that part of her platform concerns seeking “greater board transparency in negotiations with the Lawrence Township Education Association (LTEA)”. Additionally, she has made it public that she supports Superintendent Dr. Crystal Edwards.

“Strained,” is the adjective Michele D’Angelo used to describe LTEA’s relationship with the board since beginning her presidency 3 ½ years ago. According to Ms. D’Angelo, “There were some problems in the district surrounding substitute teachers, special education, facilities used by students, and curriculum, that the union wasn’t able to negotiate. It came to a head and the members called for a vote of no confidence in the Superintendent. We took the vote (86% voted in favor), outlined members’ concerns in a letter, and sent it to the board. We gave it to them hoping that they would sit down with us and work them out. I was written up as insubordinate. It didn’t have to go this way. We were simply giving information, not asking for the Superintendent to be fired.The issues we raised impact the lives of our students every day. The board has so far shown no interest in discussing the letter or the vote with us. We are looking for some collaboration with the board that is real. We’d like to be on teams and committees with them so we can give our input,” said Ms. D’Angelo.

Kevin Van Hise, President of the Board of Education, released this statement: “The board did receive a letter from the LTEA asserting that it had taken a vote of no confidence. It also included several vague, unsupported allegations related to concerns with the district. I, and the board, continue to have full and complete confidence in, and support for Dr. Edwards as the leader of the district. As to the allegations set forth in the letter, the board authorized an in-depth investigation into the issues raised in order to determine if there was merit to any of the claims asserted. The LTEA was made aware of the investigation into the allegations set forth in their letter.”

“The board attorney, Kevin Van Hise, and some of the administrators, went over each issue raised with every person who signed the letter,” said Ms. Evans. “The allegations were all deemed unfounded by all who participated in the investigation. I don’t know why they would single me out. I have served three years on the board and feel my relationship with the faculty has been positive. I’ve said publicly that I feel my two children have received a remarkable education in Lawrence. Prior to serving on the school board, I spent a decade volunteering my time connecting resources to education on the LTEF. Quite frankly, I don’t know anyone who has volunteered more time to support excellence in education in this township, which I did while raising two daughters on my own. If I had to speculate as to why LTEA leadership isn’t endorsing me, I would say it is because I am asking for transparency in the negotiations. I think no one is served, least of all the hard-working teachers, when information is disseminated as LTEA leadership sees fit. If there is nothing to hide, why not keep faculty and taxpayers apprised of the progress of the contract talks.”

News idea for Lawrence Township? Email Angela Jacobs (angela@mercerme.com).

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