PLEASANTVILLE — Despite a Rice notice to instructional aide Tim Jones that possible disciplinary action against him would be discussed at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, and a large turnout in Jones’ favor, the board declined to broach the subject.
Pleasantville School Business Administrator Elisha Thompkins announced at the meeting that discussion on Jones was “not on for today.” Thompkins said Wednesday that Jones’ Rice notice was one of 17 that went out to employees on “various matters.”
“And public comment was inappropriate,” he said, referring to various people, including Jones, who made public comments about Jones during the early part of the meeting.
Jones, 58, who has been employed by the district since 2009, has been caring for the same student who uses a wheelchair since he started working there.
According to a letter provided to The Press of Atlantic City, Jones was notified in late November by Thompkins that Superintendent Charles Alston would be discussing his “performance-related issue” with the school board at its December meeting. The letter offered Jones the opportunity to have the issue discussed in closed session or in public.
Jones replied to Thompkins via email Dec. 4 asking for clarification on the performance-related issue, according to an email forwarded to The Press.
In that email, he also asked that his case be heard in open session.
Rice notices are sent to public employees when the governing body intends to discuss that individual’s employment, according to the New Jersey School Boards Association. The term “Rice notice” stems from the 1977 case of Rice v. Union County Regional High School Board of Education, in which the court found that individual employees being discussed could waive their right to privacy and have the board discuss the matter in open session.
Jones claimed the issue was related to him not being near his student at all times.
“I have not had one complaint from anyone regarding this issue of me shadowing him,” Jones said. “I’m always here.”
The student, Stephon Gant, and his mother, Stephanie Bruno, came out Tuesday in support of Jones.
“Stephon is a 14-year-old teenager. He’s starting to assert his independence,” Bruno said.
She said because Stephon can’t do a lot independently, she appreciates Jones giving him the space to talk with his friends when he can.
Stephon said he has never felt unsafe or unsupported when Jones would allow him space to socialize.
“If I need something, I can call him,” Stephon said. “He’s always been there for me.”
“He goes over and beyond for him, so I don’t really understand it,” Bruno added.
On Wednesday, Thompkins said the board is not obligated to have Jones participate in any discussion about his employment. He said he is unsure if there will be future discussion.
“That’s a decision by the superintendent whether or not we will discuss any matter on any personnel issue for the January board meeting,” Thompkins said.
Bid requests tabled
In other business, the school board tabled a resolution to solicit bids for custodial and maintenance services for the 2018-19 school year after members of the Pleasantville Education Association questioned whether it was an attempt at privatization.
“Are you planning on doing away with our custodial and maintenance department?” asked Jean Hovey, vice president at-large of the PEA.
The resolution, part of the finance consent agenda, authorized the board to solicit competitive contracts for “custodial maintenance grounds maintenance.” Hovey said per the PEA contact, the union must be notified before any such action is taken, and that no notice was given.
Before the vote on the consent agenda, board member Lawrence “Tony” Davenport asked for clarity on why the district was soliciting bids.
“Are we looking to privatize or not?” Davenport asked.
Board members Ethel Seymore and Sharnell Morgan also questioned the intent of the resolution.
Thompkins said the move was an attempt to look at possible cost savings but did not rule out future privatization.
“We look at costs on everything. There is a difference in going out to bid and awarding a bid,” he said. “I’m not saying down the road it’s not possible.”
Davenport said he sees more places to save money in the administration than in the custodial staff, whom he said are mostly all members of the community.
The board voted to pull the agenda item for discussion in executive session, but because the item was not eligible for discussion in executive session, Thompkins said he informed the board that it could not be discussed. After executive session, the resolution was held for discussion at another time.