SEPAC Parents Protest Esposito's Termination
“It’s a disaster, what you’ve done today.” -- Special Education Parent Advisory Council member Hedi Kovacs, to the BOE
When the school board declined on Wednesday night to renew the contract of Frank Esposito, one question hung in the air: Why?
Esposito, the Director of Special Services for the school district, had done an excellent job during his year in his position, according to several parents in the audience at the May 9 BOE meeting.
“Our superintendent, who is in the trenches with Mr. Esposito, and we parents, who are in the trenches with Mr. Esposito, feel he did a good job, yet the board members – including new board members – who have no inkling what he does, voted against him,” stated one clearly frustrated parent, Hedi Kovacs, facing the board. “It’s a disaster, what you’ve done today.”
Kovacs, a member of the Special Education Parent Advisory Council, (SEPAC) said she was speaking on behalf of all the special needs children in the district. She and other SEPAC parents at the meeting had pleaded with the board to renew Esposito’s contract but when it came up for a vote, only three members – Catzel Bumpus, Maribel Perez and Shane Berger – voted in favor. The rest of the board – Paula Zaccone, Emily Smith, Mary Shaughnessy, Ken Weisert and Dan Anderson -- voted against it.
Superintendent Jason Bing stated beforehand that he recommended Esposito’s contract be renewed but the vote overrode his recommendation.
“I’m trying to understand how you came to this decision,” said an angry Lizanne Wilkinson, another SEPAC parent, following an hour’s delay while the board members met in closed session. “Most of you don’t come to our [SEPAC] meetings. It’s disappointing that you haven’t asked any parents. The Director of Special Services has to work equally well with administrators and parents, but you chose only to get the administrators’ point of view.”
She added, “We’re wondering whether have someone in your pocket you’d rather have in that position. It looks a little shady from our viewpoint.”
Board members responded to the parents’ comments by saying they were not at liberty to discuss the reasons behind their decision. Smith said, “There were other factors that went into our decision. [But] I can’t talk about it.” School District Attorney Nicholas Ditoli reiterated her position, saying, “[The reasons behind the decision] should not be part of the public realm.”
What that meant, explained Bing after the meeting, is that the board was unable by law to discuss Esposito’s employment, or the circumstances surrounding his contract termination, because he had not consented to have it discussed in a public forum.
“By law, whenever we discuss employees in public, we have to notify them in writing beforehand,” said Bing, noting that this correspondence, known as a R.I.C.E. letter, would then require him to respond, ‘Please have the board delineate [in public] why I was not hired.’
Bing admitted, “99.9% of the time, people don’t want it discussed [publicly.]”
Beyond disappointment over the Esposito decision, the SEPAC parents expressed anger that the district’s special needs families were being largely overlooked by the administration.
“You do not understand inclusion or what it means to us,” Kovacs protested, while Wilkinson said pointedly, “If you want to learn about it, come to our [SEPAC] events. People who don’t come to the table really don’t have a right to say anything.”
“No one came to see Ari Ne’eman,” concurred Kovacs, referring to Obama's appointee to the National Council on DisAbility who came to speak to the Bloomfield community about inclusion on April 26. “He advises President Obama and Congress on the very things he came to speak to us about. When we have someone like that and no one shows up, it’s very discouraging.”
In fact, by Ne-eman had visited by special invitation of SEPAC member Misa Kastrati. Despite advertising the event and notifying the Board members personally, only about 40 people attended each of the two lectures. Bing and Bumpus did attend the presentations.
“We have to fight for every single support and service we get [in this district],” said Kovacs. “To get anything, we have to go to the courthouse stairs. It’s unconscionable.”
Newly elected Board member Kent Weisert addressed her concerns. “I can assure you this was not done lightly. It involved the weighing of a very large number of considerations,” he said. “We answer to a higher authority. My parents taught me that it was a sin of God to do anything against a disabled person.”