ACEPAC presents petition to ABOE and calls for improved communication

Editor's note: What follows was presented to the Amity Board of Education (ABOE) at its Jan. 14 meeting. The Bulletin would welcome a regular column by the ABOE.

Good evening, my name is Kate O'Brien, I live in Orange. I am co-chairperson of ACEPAC, Amity Community for Education Political Action Committee. ACEPAC is a tri-town non-partisan organization whose mission is to gather and disseminate information on educational issues in order to bring quality back to our educational system.

ACEPAC formed in December 2000 following the failed facilities expansion referendum. We felt our community was at a critical juncture, and that the direction taken would determine the quality of our public education system for years to come. The underlying facts are undeniable- Amity facilities are woefully inadequate for the number of students currently enrolled and expected to arrive in the system in the next few years.

During the 1st three quarters of 2001, ACEPAC devoted a lot of time to research and public education in support of passing a facilities expansion referendum hopefully in the fall of 2001.

Unfortunately, the budget crisis in September 2001 completely overshadowed the critical facilities expansion issue, and it became clear that we needed to mobilize in a different direction. We developed a list of questions for the ABOE and asked them to let our community know the answers. We attended meetings, made countless phone calls, wrote editorials, letters, e-mails, and finally came to the conclusion that the failure of the $2.25 million referendum would be disastrous, and that there would certainly be no facilities expansion without passing this first referendum.

With the support of many volunteers and members, we mounted a massive effort to pass this referendum on Dec. 11, 2001. The results of a professional opinion poll clearly indicated that the referendum might not pass and that people were angry. It also showed that passage was more likely if the Superintendent and/or ABOE members resigned, or if voters had a way to communicate their anger and frustration with the ABOE via a petition. ACEPAC decided to circulate a petition to censure the ABOE, in order to provide a "steam valve" for the community to vent this frustration. The petition was available both online at our web site {}, and at all polling places on December 11th.

We collected a total of 2,837 signatures (1,310 from Woodbridge, 977 in Orange, 216 in Bethany and 334 online for a total of, once again, 2,837.) Twenty-four percent of the 9,408 people voting on Dec. 11th signed this petition at the polls.

Clearly there is a message here.

I would like to present the original petition pages to you now. The petition reads:


* Support quality public education;

* Strongly disapprove of the Amity Board of Education's actions to date regarding the budget crisis;

* Send a message of NO CONFIDENCE to current Board members for failure to provide proper oversight of the nearly $30 million budget entrusted to them.


My name is Sheila McCreven-Helfenbein and I am also a co-chair of ACEPAC. I live here in Woodbridge. I'd like to focus your attention if I could on communication. We in ACEPAC feel very strongly about communication and we'd like to share several concerns with you tonight on this subject. First let me read a short passage from the US Department of Education which appeared in their December 2001 Community Update, a publication for parents:

"The most dangerous thing you can do for your community is to assume that 'the experts' are running the schools just fine. If they are not giving good answers to your questions - or you and your peers are not asking any questions -the children of your community are missing the opportunity to reach their full potential."

As part of our mission, ACEPAC has posed questions to the district. At the recent Public Information Meetings held in Orange, Bethany and Woodbridge, community members stood up and asked questions, long into the night. Many other questions were posed in various editorials and letters to the editors of local newspapers.

What we received in return was a polite ear, but where were the answers? A list was drawn up at the Information Meeting in Orange, but the same questions were asked in Bethany and Woodbridge in subsequent weeks. Where were the answers?

These were not easy questions, by any means. And we all appreciate the level of commitment and the sheer number of hours Board members put in to their work here. But we need answers; reliable, detailed, timely answers.

So tonight, we ask that the district re-focus on communication - and that every Board member try to attend future Public Information sessions. If there are not readily available answers to questions asked, then please get this information out to people right away, the next day when at all possible. If the answers will take longer, please provide an idea when to expect a response.

Advertise and use your web site, the way you did during the Facilities Expansion Committee process - publish your Meeting Minutes, your Agendas, and Meeting Notices on a regular basis. Consider assigning this task to the Web Development class here at the High School. (What better learning experience can these students get than this glimpse at real-world communication mechanisms in action?)

Develop an e-mail list of interested community members and send meeting reminders. Write a regular column in the local press that includes timely information about budget

and facilities issues.

In the coming weeks and months, you will undoubtedly need all the community support you can get. Welcome community input and you just may receive the support you need.

Communicate with us; answer our questions, give us the details of the issues and make us understand. Let us into this process, wherever possible, so we can work together with you for the future of our school system.


Good evening, my name is Connie Goebel. I live in Orange and I am a member of the ACEPAC Steering Committee.

Because of the budget crisis, many in our community are angered and dismayed with the Amity Board of Education, resulting in a lack of credibility and trust. As a consequence, ACEPAC and several other groups had to mount a massive effort to get voter support of the December 11th referendum, which asked for an additional 2.25 million dollars to make up the budget deficit.

Let me spend a few moments highlighting some of the efforts made to get the referendum passed.

A telephone survey took close to 300 volunteer hours and cost over $9.000 in donated professional services. ACEPAC's web site was enhanced with audio information to improve communication around the budget issue - at a cost of over $5500 in donated professional services. Friends of Amity spent time and money on yard signs. ACEPAC spent hundreds of hours and $500 distributing flyers to over 9,000 households.

Over 60 teachers donated countless hours and their professional and political organizations contributed almost $10,000. Volunteers spent hundreds of hours getting the petition signed, getting out the vote, offering rides and informing members of the Orange Tax Stabilization Program that the increased tax would not effect them

Bottom line: This effort totaled over a 1,000 hours of volunteer work and about $15,000 of donated professional services. In addition, there was over $10,000 in real money expended by organizations which operate on a strictly donation basis. Please, stop and think about what these volunteers needed to do to overcome the anger and distrust of the ABOE that exists in our community.

Wouldn't it have been better to devote this same effort to improving our facilities and restoring the quality of our educational system?

Now that the referendum has passed, the Amity board has a number of major issues to deal with in a professional and timely manner. Unfortunately, after attending many meetings in person and on video, ACEPAC does not believe that the board, with its current make-up, can move the Amity system forward.

Our three communities are still angry and outraged; the petition speaks for itself. This community needs to see change.

We suggest that each and every member evaluate his or her own abilities, expertise and time availability to deal with the current vital issues. These issues include:

* Managing the 2.25 million dollars approved in December

* Preparing the 2002-2003 budget and working to get it passed

* Putting the critical Facilities Expansion projects back on track. A referendum must be passed by June 30th in order to keep the state funding that has already been awarded to the district to offset construction costs

* Continuing to provide oversight for the interim superintendent, new principal and associate principal

* Initiating a national search for a new superintendent

* And, last but not least, implementing an upgraded financial management system to prevent budget fiascos in the future

Please, look in the mirror.

Ask yourself if you can commit to this level of involvement. Can you envision yourself working with other board members in a positive and productive manner? If not, please step down for the good of the Amity School District.

Please, help gain back the public's trust by doing the "right thing." Step down now if there is any chance you might impede the forward movement of the Amity school system.

Thank you for your time this, on behalf of ACEPAC.