Belleville schools superintendent Dr. Richard Tomko has issued a statement to the public in response to allegations made during last week’s Candidates Forum, hosted by the Belleville United Coalition.
The Superintendent told us that he addressed the accusations that directly involve the students and school operations in this letter, and that he would be happy to personally address any other topics after next week’s election is over.
While the Essex Watch has been given this statement for immediate publication, we are told that a copy of this letter will also be distributed to teachers, staff, and parents, and posted on the school district’s website later this week.
Here is Dr. Tomko’s letter:
Dear Belleville School District Community Member:
I am writing this correspondence to clarify several disturbing and false comments that have recently been made about my administration and me in public forum by political candidates, Mr. Thomas Grolimond and Mr. Nelson Barrera. I only write to you today in the spirit of proving my transparency since joining this incredible district nearly nine months ago. The progress we have made as a school district and the positive changes we continue to make moving forward must not be tainted by those individuals who attempt to garner favor by using our children and our children’s education for political advancement. The community deserves to know the truth about what is happening in our schools since our progress affects the future leaders of Belleville; the prosperity of this township; the worth of your property and businesses; and the overall pride we feel in the Blue and Gold that adorns the halls and we “bleed” so proudly as Buccaneers. I am not writing in support of any one candidate, and I am not writing to persuade your vote; rather, I am simply taking this opportunity to respond to these false accusations that directly affect children, since those individuals making the statements did not give me the opportunity to comment otherwise.
In public forum, both Grolimond and Barrera questioned the slow response of the administration in repairing two district boilers in an untimely manner. I believe it is no secret that residents know that most of our mechanical units in the 9 school buildings are of original issue and nearing “end-of-life” status. Regardless, it was not until late August of 2015 that inspectors condemned two boiler units for future operation without warning. It was our original intent to use them for another season until proposals could be made for repairs. Unfortunately, this did not occur. The administration immediately went into action to secure temporary conditions in order to keep our students and teachers safe and comfortable and each school opened for the remainder of the school year. This was not an easy task, but it was something that had to be accomplished. In turn, we are working with our architect of record to provide the community with all of the facilities repairs that need to be made to our buildings by the end of November.
During the forum, Grolimond emphatically denounced the PARCC testing, prompting parents to have students “opt-out” of testing. Although I also may not agree with many of the requirements of the state department of education with regard to standardized testing, it is the district’s responsibility to follow what has been established through the office of the commissioner and legislature. It was promised by lawmakers that low student attendance on the PARCC test would mean a decrease in state aid. For Belleville, that would mean additional programs and positions would have to be cut. Further, by the time the standardized testing dates were upon us, each school test site had an active lab that was utilized for PARCC purposes. This was reported in several newspapers and by me at several board meetings prior to testing. Also unwarranted were comments made by Grolimond that included a diminished vocational program and, with regard to advances in district technology, he stated, “you throw 3 laptops in a classroom, and then Tomko sits up there on his big high chair saying ‘we have technology now’…” This must be addressed since, during my open forums, technology and the loss of vocational classes in district was a major concern of the parents and Belleville community. Grolimond’s statement is completely false, evidenced by my noting publicly on many occasions that, in our 1st wave of technology upgrades, the district purchased 880 laptops for faculty and classroom utilization and each school received two mobile computer laboratories to compliment all other working labs in each building. We continue to advance technology as outlined in the strategic plan, as we make plans for building a STEM computer lab; assure efficient print centers are available in multiple sites in each building; and growing our software catalog to include applications to challenge the core standards and advance student technological literacy. What troubles me most about the statement was that these purchases and the systematic “rollout” of device hardware were made public on more than one occasion, and all of our teachers in district received a laptop to utilize in their planning and implementation of higher order lesson creation. As for vocational classes for students who may be interested in trades, we have opened woodworking as a possible elective but did not find an instructor to teach this semester. Our Culinary Arts, Cosmetology, Mass Media Communications, and art departments are not only providing a strong prerequisite program for students looking to enter the workforce straight from Belleville High School, but they also perform a service for organizations and members of the community by preparing desserts for public functions, offering hair and makeup appointments for a nominal fee, and hosting the only public cable access channel for community related programming in the entire township. We are also collaborating almost daily with the county vocational schools for assistance with other trades our students may wish to explore as an option for graduation.
Finally, in open forum Grolimond references the 2013-2014 finance report as “the biggest thing we failed,” implying that our state monitor and I were somehow responsible for the district’s performance on the report and a deficit in excess of $3.8 million. Even though the financial report referenced was prior to our arrival, the district has made incredible strides since that time to correct nearly all audit findings and secure advancement in aid via an action plan to eliminate a recorded deficit. Currently, we have delivered a sound budget to the community that evidences the purchase of a new district-wide K-5 Mathematics textbook series; reinstallation of the World Language Program; and a strong technological vision that continues to grow over the next several budget cycles to truly bring our schools into 21st Century learning.
It is rather obvious that several members of the Belleville community are still skeptical of the changes that are being made due to the “past.” That’s fine – change is a slow, arduous process. It is also obvious that several community members are being misled by others either intentionally for specific gain of your support or because that individual is uninformed. It is my promise to you as Belleville’s Chief Education Officer that I will continue to provide you with all of the right information so you can always make an informed decision – both good and bad. We must ensure that our current students and their families stop carrying the burden of the mistakes Belleville has made in the past.
Richard D. Tomko, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools
Belleville Public Schools District