|Belleville EA President Mike Mignone questioned the school board's investment in a high-tech surveillance system while instructional technology remains outdated.
Belleville Education Association members, parents, and area residents appear to have touched a nerve when they questioned the board’s purchase of state-of-the-art surveillance technology. Parents and staff said instructional technology would have been a wiser investment to meet the demands of the Common Core State Standards.
BEA President Mike Mignone found himself the subject of tenure charges shortly after he raised concerns about the district’s purchasing priorities.
“Instead of investing in the tools and technology that would benefit our students’ education, you chose to spend an exorbitant amount on the needless bells and whistles attached to this system,” Mignone told the board at its January meeting. Parents, residents, and representatives from other unions joined hundreds of BEA members at the packed meeting in a united show of concern for district spending priorities and support for school district staff.
The surveillance apparatus will enable district security to monitor activity throughout the school, including any classroom at any time. Students and staff will be issued radio frequency identification cards that can trace their whereabouts in and out of school. The board notes that such cards would aid in finding a lost kindergartner. Staff members are concerned about their privacy while carrying the card to and from work. The board approved a nearly $2 million contract with Clarity Systems Consulting Group for the product.
Mignone said that this is not an argument about school safety and student security.
“No one cares more about the health and well-being of Belleville’s students than we do,” Mignone told the board. “That’s why we are deeply disappointed that our repeated requests to understand and discuss the process under which you came to award this huge district expense have gone unheeded.”
Surveys reveal atmosphere of intimidation
BEA contends that district intimidation tactics do not start and end with its actions against the association president. An association climate survey revealed that nearly 100 percent of the respondents felt that there is intimidation in the workplace at Belleville schools. Two-thirds of respondents traced that intimidation to the board of education. The survey was completed by 260 of BEA’s 430 members.
The board questioned the association’s numbers.
“I urge you to stop trying to minimize and devalue my members’ feelings and instead ask yourselves what can be done to correct this problem,” Mignone told the board.
NJEA Vice President Marie Blistan was also at the meeting.
“Actions by this board demonstrate that BEA members are being mistreated, vilified, and denigrated,” Blistan said in her remarks. “Take a close look at why this perception exists and sit down with association leadership to right these wrongs.”
Despite the obstacles, BEA and the community are moving ahead.
The association and a coalition of parents, community residents, and business owners have created Belleville United to cast a spotlight on the board’s actions.
BEA’s union counterparts in Essex County are standing with the teachers and support staff in Belleville and are coming to board of education meetings. Notably, the AFT-affiliated Newark Teachers Union passed a resolution to stand in solidarity with the NJEA-affiliated BEA.
“We will not be silenced,” Mignone said. “We will exercise our First Amendment rights and advocate on behalf of ourselves, our students, and this community.”