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BOE Supports Transparency, Prohibiting Public Comment on Facebook Page

Board reviews variety of measures during meeting.

The moved ahead Tuesday night with a proposal to increase transparency while announcing plans to block public comment on a proposed Facebook site.

The board’s split behavior focused on a decision to study a proposal to rebid professional services contracts every few years and the unveiling of the first draft of the district’s long awaited Facebook page. BOE member David Finn had said he proposed the contract policy in light of the against suspended BOE Business Administrator Bob Berman.

“From a transparency standpoint there are a lot of perceptions in town about what the board does,” Finn said in an interview after the meeting regarding the decision.

Berman was charged by the state attorney general in March with accepting $13,000 in windows and doors from the Metropolitan Metal Window Company in return for recommending that the BOE designate the company as the school district’s contractor of record. Berman has pleaded not guilty and is due to appear in court again on May 18.

Finn’s proposal, seconded by BOE member Mitch Slater, directs the board’s policy committee to explore a policy requiring rebidding for the contracts, which cover everything from legal services to the district’s architect. Berman was charged alongside Mountainside architect Ken Disko, who was accused of orchestrating the bid rigging deal. The BOE dismissed Disko as architect following the charges.

The contracts are typically renewed annually unless the school district decides to look into making a change, according to interim BOE Business Administrator Vincent Yaniro. The board voted to renew the contracts Tuesday night.

Yaniro said he does know of districts that rebid the contracts every five to six years as a routine basis, similar to Finn’s proposal. In response to a question from BOE member Ginny Leiz, Yaniro said rebidding the contracts would to draft new RFPs and do due diligence on the bidders.

Less than 15 minutes after the transparency discussion, Leiz presented the Facebook proposal that had been approved by the policy committee she chairs. She said the proposal, which was drafted by Schools Superintendent Margaret Dolan and her staff, after the board mandated Dolan to of her annual review process, would make the page a one-way communication tool.

“We had concerns about public comment and the ability to interact with public comment,” Leiz said. “We wanted to limit the interaction of comments and public discourse. The Facebook page would be a mechanism to push information to the public.”

Leiz said the school system staff would develop a pilot page over the summer and limit the friends to the policy committee’s four members. The pilot period would allow school district spokeswoman Lorre Korecky, the page’s temporary administrator, to post information and have the committee see if the information is relevant. Leiz said the committee wants the page to contain primary sources including “authentic or professional writings” for the public and serve as a way to direct traffic back to the school system’s website.

Leiz said the committee also discussed the benefits of a fan page or a profile page, weighing the profile page having a limit of 5000 friends and which pages would allow for public comments to be disabled.

Newly sworn-in board member Mark Friedman, who works in online marketing, took issue with the proposal to prohibit public comments on the Facebook page, saying he would like the district to explore the possibility of redoing the website for one way communication.

“If we have the right website that is the push. The idea with Facebook is a push and a pull,” Friedman said. “To me it’s the comments that drive Facebook.”

BOE member Mitch Slater, who first proposed the Facebook page, said he had had some concerns over the comments section, but agreed with Friedman over the need for two-way communication. Slater said he spoke with the administrator of the Princeton Board of Education’s Facebook page, who said that they allow comments and have 375 fans. Slater said the Princeton employee is willing to speak with the policy committee and school staff.

Slater addressed the concerns of the district reaching the 5000 limit by noting the Princeton fan number and the numbers of other districts that fall under 5000.

Newly sworn-in BOE member Rosanne Kurstedt also addressed the website, saying she agreed with Friedman and have more information on the site. Dolan explained that the website is constantly reviewed and was redesigned last year.

BOE President Julia Walker said that the main concern is the moderating of comments on a Facebook page, saying it would be “overwhelming” for the staff to review comments and delete ones that are unacceptable.

Following a pilot period, Dolan and Korecky would likely run the Facebook page. Korecky runs a one-person public relations office but was assisted by a high school student in drafting the social media program, which also includes the potential of utilizing Twitter. The Twitter policy was not discussed during the meeting.

Walker also suggested having the pilot page be followed by the entire board, instead of the policy committee. During her proposal, Walker realized she would need to create a Facebook account in order to be a part of the program. Walker is the only BOE member not to have an account on the social networking site. Leiz said the expanded pilot could be explored.

During the public comments portion of the meeting, resident Steve Gold lectured the board on transparency issues. Gold said he has found little way to express comments to the board on issues.

“One of the problems with the board is there are little vehicles for we as taxpayers to reach you,” he said, proposing individual email addresses for each board member being published on the website. Currently the public has the option of emailing a generic email address for the entire board.

Gold also touched on the board’s agreement with the Westfield Education Association regarding a 3.9-percent pay increase for teachers annually for three years. Describing the contract as “the elephant in the room” regarding the budget, Gold tied the issue back to his transparency message.

“I don’t know who did it,” he said of the contract. “There is no transparency.”

The board sat silent during Gold’s remarks. Walker did approach him following the meeting with her email address.

Walker did note in the meeting the main part of the goal that had been set for Dolan.

“The goal is to get more information out there,” Walker said.

South Westfielder May 05, 2011 at 03:18 PM
When I refer to "branding", I am talking about it in a corporate sense, like a way an organization brands its communication, advertising, marketing, announcements, public relations and now its social media pages. I have no complete way of getting around the censorship accusation, because whenever content is filtered, monitored for appropriateness and the like, it is technically a form of censorship, but so too is filtering vulgar words. If you support letting it rip, then let it all go and watch this site denegrate into the toilet. I would be disappointed if this BOE Facebook page, turned into a free-for-all comment dumping site where comments like some of the ones that appear here can be displayed.
South Westfielder May 05, 2011 at 03:20 PM
A.John, you have more faith than I do that people will know the difference betwen trash and fact. We're in an MTV, National Enquirer world now.
Mitch Slater May 05, 2011 at 06:56 PM
Allow me to jump in on one point- The conversations I have been having with other School Boards that have dipped their feet in the Facebook world has shown me that their experience has been very positive-not a "free for all" and in fact- has had very few fans considering the enrollment in their towns. Their sites are not "branding" and don't come close to replicating their websites- It is truly more of a public communications piece with administrators that are performing news feed functions on education related stories. I appreciate all of your feedback as we go along the process- It is very helpful indeed to hear all of your thoughts and concerns. That is what two-way communication is all about.
Richard Sauerwein May 05, 2011 at 08:09 PM
Southside Transplant I said let it rip with a qualification for the screening for vulgar words. You made a valid point that screening anything is still a form of censorship but even the Supreme Court allowed for exceptions to our First Amendment. In 1919 Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously wrote in an opinion involving a First Amendment case that falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater is not protected speech. Screening of vulgar words would be a minimal way to maintain some degree of civility on the Facebook site – but not arguments, facts (right or wrong), or opinions (right or wrong). I have to tell you that your comment to A. John continues to reflect your elitist tendencies typical of those that support governmental censorship. Clearly your comment indicates that you have little faith that us ordinary people would be able to tell the difference between trash and fact. But in so doing, your support of the idea implies that you believe and accept that there are superior intellects who have this ability on the BOE who you think can be trusted to protect us from trash and allow us to see what is only the truth. Do you think you would have such superior intellectual powers? Do you see how dangerous this is? Wow! Even if the censorship is done with the best of intentions this is dangerous. Whose truth is the true truth? This concept goes way beyond the Westfield BOE setting up a Facebook site to all situations of governmental censorship.
South Westfielder May 05, 2011 at 08:53 PM
Richard, you don't know me well enough to make judgments about what I feel. I have yet to see anyone, even those on the BOE who support this who demonstrates he/she has the knowledge about the power of social media, how it can be abused and the damage it can cause. If I cannot trust BOE members to disseminate information properly, then that goes for all the members of the current BOE - all of them. Mitch, while I am cynical about the effectiveness of a BOE Facebook page, I hope you're correct when it becomes a reality. I also hope that you look at more than how other BOE's are doing it and also extend it to researching how organizations, like the one you work for go about it. I think if you speak to those who are responsible for designing, implementing and maintaining any social media page, the comments and warnings I am providing here will make sense. I am not "elitist" - I am responsible. Even from the exchanges here about this topic, you can see how messaging can be twisted or misunderstood - electronic media is not perfect and its major flaw is that without face-to-face interaction, messaging can be miscontrued. I am very close to how Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and other forms of social media are used in my company and how content is monitored and screened. My organization is a knowledge based and progressive one, so we are very creative with regards to social media. Proceed if you must, but don't underestimate the importance of careful planning.
Mitch Slater May 05, 2011 at 09:31 PM
Mr. Southside- Excellent points and I hope you will consider reaching out to me "old school" and share your knowledge and experience in social media- I certainly agree about careful planning and learning from other citizens like you is a win-win for everyone. Being responsible, as always, is the best way to go.
Richard Sauerwein May 05, 2011 at 09:51 PM
Southside Transplant - You do not seem to appreciate that I am concerned about governmental censorship. Corporations can lie and screen anything they want. Most people with any sense will realize it is biased. It is different when it comes to the government. Think about the dangers of the governmental censorship you seem to support if it is not done with the best of intentions. I appreciate that social medias are quite powerful and are subject to abuse but I also appreciate that most people are smart enough to figure out the truth provided they have access to a balanced debate on the issues. It seems to me, you favor the idea of some greater being having the responsibility to put their thumb on the scale of a free exchange of ideas which can result in an unbalanced debate. It even sounds like at your company, you may be one of the greater beings that is in control of the messaging – which may account for your perspective. What I do not want is for the site to have centralized command and control messaging – that should be the difference between public and private social medias in my opinion.
South Westfielder May 23, 2011 at 08:36 PM
Not sure if anyone found this on-line, but here is something that might be of interest to those developing the Westfield BOE page. Here is something Littleton, CO does. https://sites.google.com/a/lpsk12.org/boe-social-media/resources
Gary McCready May 25, 2011 at 07:13 PM
In the same spirit, you can also check out this list of to-do's for a school facebook page (the kind that allows comments): http://nextcommunications.blogspot.com/2009/10/facebook-fan-page-rules-for-school.html However, this resulted in a page that was rife with things, well, that would be examples of why you would not want a school Facebook page with comments. You'll have to take my word on that, as this post explains (it was shut down a few weeks back): http://nextcommunications.blogspot.com/2011/05/closing-school-districts-facebook-page.html Overall, a good blog to read for those interested...
Gary McCready May 25, 2011 at 07:19 PM
"What is there to be afraid of?" One of many parent-lawyers in town suing the district regarding what was posted on "District's" facebook page. See my post further on down with a excellent blog entry on this issue.
Mitch Slater May 25, 2011 at 07:31 PM
As well stated in an earlier comment by Mr. Blake it should all be about" Open Dialogue" -which is exactly the model that the New Jersey School Board Association is advocating for Social Media for School Districts- as you can see here by 2 recent webinars run with New Milford High School and at a Superintendent Forum held yesterday in Atlantic City. http://njsba.adobeconnect.com/p13932108/ http://njsba.adobeconnect.com/p10132295/
Betsy Williams May 26, 2011 at 04:34 AM
Thanks, Gary, for the link to the very informative blog about the problems with having comments on a FaceBook page. I also checked out the Princeton School District's FB page since our BOE members used it as an example. It doesn't provide the opportunity to add comments. II'm curious whether they previously allowed comments and then changed, or whether they never had them.
Fact Checker May 26, 2011 at 11:39 AM
Easy there Betsy- I see comments on the Princeton Facebook Page! Check you facts next time !! http://www.facebook.com/mslater#!/pages/Princeton-Regional-Schools-Board-of-Education/109501319075663 Monday at 4:26pm · LikeUnlike · · Share 6 people like this. * o Susan Castellano Evans Yes! What's the next step in final passage? Monday at 5:33pm · Like
Thomas Lorenzo July 08, 2011 at 11:50 AM
I agree we need more "open" dialogue between the BOE and the community. A Facebook page would allow the community to join the dialogue. It should not be a one way monologue. Thanks!
Hugh Rosen July 08, 2011 at 01:34 PM
Excellent point Mr. Lorenzo. With over 750 Million users( including non profits and Schools) all over America Facebook, with open discussion of course,,makes perfect sense.
Sally McBride July 08, 2011 at 02:08 PM
I just look at the people that are posting here, and I am glad they block them. If you want a facebook page where you can put comments, make your own. Last thing we need is someone highjacking the page to complain about their kids going to a different middle school or why there should not be a traffic light in front of their house
Thomas Lorenzo July 08, 2011 at 02:40 PM
Ms. McBride, Perhaps you should follow you own advice on complaining.
Thomas Lorenzo July 08, 2011 at 02:42 PM
Ms. McBride, Sorry I did not finish. Mr. Slater is trying to make things better! Can anyone say the same of you?
TK July 08, 2011 at 04:11 PM
Haha Lorenzo. Way to restart this thread just to make fun of someone!
Thomas Lorenzo July 08, 2011 at 06:30 PM
TK, That sounds like your agenda, spoken anonymously (i.e. - not so boldly).
South Westfielder July 08, 2011 at 06:41 PM
Thomas, the fact that anyone posts with an anonymous screen name does not lessen the validity of the message. Take the message he is giving you - that your comments "sound" condescending, and at someone's expense. For someone who is so anti-bullying, you have a lesson yet to learn yourself. Watch yourself on Channel 36 and you will hear what others hear when you speak. Your verbal swipes at some on the Board are subtle, sarcastic, insulting and passive aggressive. You sound like a bully yourself. Now that I know anyone can post a comment using the very same name I use, I would never consider using my real name.
Southside Transplant July 08, 2011 at 06:49 PM
I am sorry my alter ego called Mr. Lorenzo a bully. That was uncalled for considering he has volunteered his time and effort to help. I would rather call him a role model. But thats just me.
South Westfielder July 08, 2011 at 08:33 PM
"Southside", you have given me a huge clue as to who you are and I cannot believe someone in your position would sink so low. I know who you are and I will call you out in time.
Thomas Lorenzo July 08, 2011 at 09:42 PM
Whatever your name is, You are entitled to your opinion, but, your refusal to come forward does negate your argument. For all I know you can be anyone and who knows what your agenda really is. Like you I have an opinion and what I say is hard to hear for some, but, someone must say it. Are you going to stand up for these children? I invite you to do so at the next BOE meeting. I will be there. If you know anything about bullying you would know it requires a imbalance of power, not a power struggle. I do not have any power, just the truth to back up my statements and the courage to stand up and give my name. In typical bully fashion it is easy to attack and blame the victim (or the person who speaks out on their behalf), which is what you appear to be doing. If you want to finish the discussion you should step forward, but, I know you won't.
TK July 08, 2011 at 10:11 PM
Go click on Lorenzo's name and look at all his posts. I get it, he says bullying is a major concern. However all of his posts are negative in some way, shape or form. In addition, after a topic has been done being commenting on, he has tried to re-start three topics in the last week. Then he throws his negatives comments back in there. Am I being negative? Sure, but at least I'm not going to pretend that I'm not.
Thomas Lorenzo July 08, 2011 at 10:32 PM
TK, Maybe you missed my intention, as I am not intentionally trying to be negative. I am just trying to bring this issue to the surface, as It comes up and is dismissed and then gets pushed to the side by nonsense. There are many positive comments I could make, but, the focus needs to be on what needs to be improved not on what we already do well. As President Roosevelt said "you may think I am giving you hell, but, I am just telling the truth". So, you can call what I say negative as but I do not pretend it is positive or hide behind anonymity.
TK July 08, 2011 at 10:35 PM
So posting on a website visited by a few hundred people is bringing this issue to its surface. If you want to change something, go to a real meeting. You will accomplish nothing on this site besides getting back and forth banter.
Thomas Lorenzo July 08, 2011 at 10:39 PM
TK, Right, whatever you say.
TK July 08, 2011 at 10:55 PM
The Truth
South Westfielder July 09, 2011 at 12:05 AM
Mr. Lorenzo, I hope that you have no plans to run for the Board or any other office in the future, because if you automatically negate someone's comments or opinions because they are anonymous, then you would not represent any group well. As for agendas, even you have one, Mr. Lorenzo. It is clear from listening to you passive aggressively pressure and throw veiled verbal digs at certain Board members and insisting the Board drill down to the minutia over definitions in the last televised meeting made it clear that this fight against bullying is perhaps too personal of an issue for you. You cannot think about the topic intellectually or objectively. The fact that you keep insisting that by merely adding the education of the bullied on what they can do for themselves and giving them coping skills is blaming them is further indication that there is only one point of view for you - yours. In your opinion now, I become the bully. What about this makes you so brave? There is something about the topic for you that the rest of us don't know (nor do we need to). My only point is everyone has an agenda - even you. Should that personal fight against bullying negate your opinion? No. Yours represents only one side of the complex issues surrounding wthat makes a bully a bully, why some children are targeted, what some children do to attract negative attention to themselves and how we can change negative behaviors.

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