Board member defends decision to exit public meeting

I, Avery W. Grant, walked out of the public meeting of the Long Branch Board of Education on July 22, 2009, because board President Violeta Peters would not let me complete my statement in support of a motion to buy nine 16-passenger school buses.

The previous night at the Board of Education agenda meeting, I spoke in support of this agenda item to buy the buses, and said that after I became a board member, I also spoke against selling some school buses that Superintendent Joseph Ferraina had recommended.

Mr. Ferraina commented that I was incorrect and that the privatizing of our bus service was done under the previous superintendent (Herb Korey) and that “You (“Avery Grant) were not around and had nothing to do with that (privatizing of the bus service).”

I told him that I was very involved in both the privatizing of the bus service, and his (Ferraina’s) recommendation to sell some of our school buses. An intense argument erupted because of his demeaning of my involvement in both events.

In 1985, at the request of Superintendent Korey, I served as a member of the committee to racially balance the elementary schools. It was a very intense and time-consuming effort because the state had mandated that if the school district did not do it, then the state would come in and desegregate the schools.

As a committee member, I traveled to Montclair and Bayonne to see how they desegregated their schools, I visited all of our elementary schools to observe the student population, I held focus group meetings in my home to get public input, and attended numerous committee meetings. For these daytime school visits, I used vacation time from my job, so that was a significant involvement.

The final recommendations of the committee were: to divide the grades in six elementary schools (three schools would have K-2 grades and three schools would have three to five grades); add new and/or expanded magnet theme programs, and to provide busing (even at a recommended additional cost of $100,000). Superintendent Korey made the recommendations to the school board, and they were approved.

At the July 22 school board meeting, I read the following from an editorial from a local daily newspaper: “Long Branch victorious, Desegregation, busing come off without a hitch … Many critics predicted that Long Branch would fail the test when half of its 2,000 elementary school pupils were bused beyond what traditionally would have been their neighborhood schools. Many parents, most of whom were white, were outraged that their children would be bused to correct a problem they believe did not exist.”

Following that, I read a letter dated July 7, 1988, from (thenschools superintendent) Herbert Korey, “Dear Mr. Grant. Enclosed is a copy of a recent editorial commenting on the success of our desegregation program. Please feel free to share the article with your colleagues. Once again, thank you so much for your assistance in helping us to make this happen. (Signed, “Herb”).”

Board President Peters stopped me from making the following comment at the meeting, “Shortly after becoming a school board member, I strongly opposed Mr. Ferraina’s recommendation to sell the last two or three of our school buses. Mr. Ferraina remarked that some had reached their age limitation, and that our private bus service could provide any transportation at any time. I disagree with him, because of my experience with transportation, and my education; I have a master’s degree in transportation planning and engineering.”

I left the school board meeting because, 1) I supported the recommended purchase of nine 16-passenger school buses; 2) as a board member, I have the right to discuss a motion; and 3) I was highly insulted and disrespected by the action of board President Peters to stop me from speaking, particularly because she was a member of that 1985 desegregation (more properly, “To Racially Balance Our Schools”) committee and she was well aware of the intense and time-consuming efforts of that committee.

Hopefully, this clarifies my leaving the school board meeting for those who were in attendance, and for the member of my education advisory committee.
Avery W. Grant
Long Branch School Board member