Ann E. Friedman/Herald
Trustee attendance at Lawrence Board of Education meetings has been lacking, while the presence of Hewlett-Woodmere board members, above, is much more consistent.
Elected by fellow community members to represent their interests, school district Board of Education trustees have a responsibility to not only immerse themselves in the issues, but also attend scheduled board meetings.
Through the 2013-14 school year, which began on July 1, the Lawrence and Hewlett-Woodmere boards of education have held multiple meetings. Out of eight meetings for Lawrence there has been only two that the full board attended. In addition, one scheduled meeting on Oct. 7 — the calendar was approved by the board — was cancelled as a quorum — the minimum amount of people needed to hold a meeting could not be convened. Hewlett-Woodmere has had 12 meetings and only three times has there not been full attendance by the trustees.
Both boards include seven trustees; a quorum for both is four members. Lawrence’s board is comprised of President David Sussman, Vice President Abel Feldhamer and trustees Asher Mansdorf, Murray Forman, Uri Kauffman, Michael Hatten and Tova Plaut. Scott McInnes is Hewlett-Woodmere’s president, Cheryl May is the vice president and trustees include Stephen Witt, Harold Kislik, Jonathan Altus, Melissa Gates and Mitchell Greebel.
“Do we have an attendance policy? Yes we do,” said Sussman, noting it is three consecutive unexcused absences and the board if it chooses could begin the removal process. “It is very hard to remove an elected person anywhere,” the longtime trustee adding that sometimes trustees cannot make every meeting for a variety of reasons. He said there were a number of Thursday morning meetings last school year he didn’t attend. Last school year Sussman was a trustee not president of the board. This year, he has been at every board meeting and was at the Number Two School, along with Superintendent Gary Schall, after the Oct. 7 meeting was cancelled to greet any residents that showed up.
Lawrence’s policy follows the State Education Department’s written statute. “I can tell you that a board vacancy based on ‘refusal to serve’ may be declared if the record clearly shows that a board member has failed to attend three successive meetings without a valid excuse,” Jonathan Burman, a department spokesman said, adding that the statute doesn’t include a provision for nor is there any recent commissioner rulings on boards of education independently establishing a more stringent policy.
Longtime Hewlett-Woodmere Trustee Stephen Witt said that Hewlett-Woodmere does not have a written attendance policy. “Never a need,” Witt said, “we never have had an attendance problem,” adding that there were several special meetings and executive sessions this past summer and attendance was always high.