The school boards of Bensalem Township and Neshaminy recognized at their recent meetings several members who won’t be returning next term. While some lost their re-election campaign during the Nov. 2 municipal election, others thought it was the right time to step down and let fresh faces take the reins.
Superintendent Dr. Sam Lee, of the Bensalem Township School District, distributed certificates and other tokens of appreciation to outgoing board members Vanessa Woods, Rachel Fingles and Stephanie Ferrandez. Each served one four-year term.
“You’ve experienced, and at times endured, some significant changes – budget, pandemic. You’ve seen them through. You’ve seen us through. Your guidance, support and encouragement has been greatly appreciated,” Lee told them. “I can say confidently that we’ve better positioned ourselves to advance and move the district forward, so thank you.”
Several attendees praised the trio during the public comment portion of the meeting. A few inquired about where the district is at in the process of hiring a diversity, equity and inclusion officer. This is something the three outgoing members, especially Woods, who serves as chair of the new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, have been vying for over the course of several months.
According to Lee, so far the first round of interviews has been completed. Woods asked why there’s not a stronger sense of urgency to fill the position.
“It seems like there’s been constant delay tactics,” said Woods. “You have the direction from the committee, from the board, from this community. What is the delay?”
“From my perspective, there is no delay. It’s how long these things take,” responded Lee, who preferred not to discuss the situation in a public forum. “If the prospective DEI directors are watching this and they see a board that wants to push this through with three members leaving, there’s a pretty good possibility that they won’t come here.”
Woods, Fingles and Ferrandez expressed their fear that, if the DEI director isn’t approved and hired before the end of their tenure, it won’t happen.
“We unanimously approved it. We set aside the money. The money is sitting there. There is no reason not to get this done while these people who have worked on this are sitting here and who know about it,” said Fingles.
It’s currently unclear when a DEI officer will be officially hired.
Each shared a few final closing words.
“As I exit, I know many of you are very happy to see me go. You stated on the floor of the board that you’re tired of hearing me talk. But everyone forgets that the board floor, or public committee meetings, are the only legal place where we can discuss things,” said Ferrandez. “Discussions are not supposed to be behind closed doors. It’s a violation of the Sunshine Law and our duty to the community, and I took that very seriously.”
Woods said, “My advice to the oncoming board members is to just vote your conscience and do right by our students because at the end of the day, we can disagree about a lot, but I think the one thing we can all agree on is that our kids deserve the best and that our kids are worth it. I’m hoping the politics will be out of it. We will have a majority [Republican] board that will be of one political party. Now nobody can say, ‘It’s politics.’ I’m hoping that we can just focus on keeping the main thing the main thing, which is our kids.”
Meanwhile, the Neshaminy meeting boasted a more positive, yet bittersweet, air.
Irene Boyle, who served on the board for 16 consecutive years and saw nine superintendents, announced that she’s voluntarily stepping down.
“My sadness at leaving the board is mitigated by the fact that I leave it in good hands,” said Boyle. “My hope is that the school district is better for my having been here. To the community, I say, be kind to your school board, who are only here to serve and ask nothing in return.”
Board president Stephen Pirritano read letters of commendation sent to Boyle from state Reps. Frank Farry and Tina Davis. Countless members of the community also offered their well wishes to Boyle, who received a standing ovation from attendees.
“I’m not aware of anyone that has served that length of time, especially as a volunteer,” said Pirritano, who temporarily resigned as board president so that Boyle could sit at the helm for her final meeting. This allowed her the honor of holding every position possible on an executive level.
Board member David Marrington, who served for four years, also announced his resignation. Superintendent Dr. Rob McGee shared that he’s worked with three generations of David Marringtons. While Marrington’s father was McGee’s high school assistant principal, his son graduated from Neshaminy High School under McGee’s leadership as superintendent. When McGee had the opportunity to work with the “guy in the middle,” he was thrilled.
“The Marrington family has been part of Neshaminy since Neshaminy was formed in the early 1950s when we brought six different school districts together to form what Neshaminy is today,” said McGee.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org