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At Lacey Schools, Is Silence And Denial A Policy?

School district chooses to keep quiet, as long as the criticism about it continues

In Lacey, the face of the school district has lost its voice.

It lost what once gave it pride, a sense of openness that other districts could envy — even as it has endured, over the past two decades, tragedy as well as the trivial.

Now, under Superintendent Sandra Brower, it chooses to stay silent - with Patch, in particular - even on the simplest of matters. Even on the trivial.

Reporters and editors, such as Patch Local Editor Elaine Piniat, once could merely walk up to the superintendent, ask a question and get an answer, however short.

Now Elaine and others find themselves filling out forms just to do the same thing.

What little is revealed, when a question is asked, might as well not be revealed at all. What little is available must be requested in the form of an Open Public Records Act inquiry.

What little that's provided often comes in the form of a denial, or something very close. If there is any relevant text that is provided, much of it is blacked out and redacted.

This is not just a quick impression, or an impulsive judgment made by disgruntled journalists. The apparent policy — a word that Brower says does not apply to her relationship with the media or the public — has sustained itself for at least two months now.

For Brower, it doesn't appear to be rooted in any personal, principled opposition to what's become an online media staple: Allowing readers to comment on stories, so there is a balance of views with every report.

It's what they're saying about her, and her performance, that seems to gall her.

"Given all of the recent attacks on school personnel including teachers, administrators and board members that continue to be promoted on The Patch, the stories related to student programs and highlights are the ones that we will actively and enthusiastically participate in," Brower wrote in a March email to Patch.

Patch removed comments that were considered personal attacks. Most other comments were left up — even though Brower demanded they be taken down - because they were judged as mere subjective criticism, not a personal attack.

One example was this one:

"Maybe this is part of the $5m increase in the budget. Fight back Lacey!"

For the past two months, Brower has not wavered. While Elaine had long interviews and conversations with Starodub - in his office, at meetings and on the phone - when he served until last fall, Brower chooses to ignore.

"When The Patch decides to change its policies that currently promote the types of demeaning and vicious attacks on our school community," Brower wrote in the March email, "I would again consider to supporting the good work that you do."

The email came in response to Elaine's request to discuss Lacey's Adequate Yearly Progress status for 2011. Last year, she met with Starodub and Assistant Superintendent Vanessa Clark so they could explain any improvements or shortfalls.

Now Starodub is gone. This year, when she made the request, Elaine was left with an email that, after a small introduction, said this:

"Neither of us are available for this story."

Patch also asked Brower about summer session policies and whether she will be able to respond to questions regarding substitute teachers.

Brower's response?

"Policies are reviewed regularly," she wrote.

Both Patch and John Paff, chairman of the state Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project, have submitted at least eight requests for information on staffing issues. Nearly all personnel matters fall under the protection of the Sunshine Law, and can be withheld from the public.

But can they release information about a teacher's length of service, as well as their salary, since both matters deal with public money?

In Lacey, it's hard to say. In one request, Elaine asked whether a particular teacher is still working in the district. She also asked if the teacher resigned, and if she was tenured; she inquired about her dates of employment.

After submitting it to James Savage, the district's business administrator, she received this:


The reason?

"Your request does not specify a government record."

Controversy has followed Lacey School District for 30 years — perhaps never more so than in 1997, when a Lacey Township senior gave birth to a baby boy during her prom. The baby was discovered in a trash bag in the ladies room of a catering hall.

The case drew nationwide media attention, nearly all of it unwanted by the district — then headed by Starodub — and the students.

But on graduation day, some school officials helped escort reporters out to the football field — including myself — as some in the crowd showered us with boos and jeers.

The township is unusual in its ways, having a tight-knit community with no clear hangout, no clear place to meet and have coffee, and no traditional downtown business center.

There's the German Butcher on Lacey Road, and the authentic stores that harken back to Lacey's Pinelands' past, when it was truly only known by its sections: Forked River, Bamber Lake and Lanoka Harbor.

But the township also has its suburban sprawl that stretches from one end of Lacey Road to the other. Its community center has become, in a way, the Lacey Board of Education meeting room, where praiseworthy gestures can get beaten down by political posturing.

In 1994, Starodub dealt with it head on, faced with a Lacey Board of Education meeting room that was divided over the fate of the high school's baseball coach.

The coach's supporters called the process demeaning, questioning why the coach was put in this position in the first place. Others were more dead-center. "He's not a good coach. He's hurting kids more than helping them," said one former player who graduated two years before.

In the middle of it all was Starodub, who played mediator and mentor. Before the meeting even started, he talked to reporters (including me) and prepared them for what they were going to see.

The board, he said, wouldn't talk about personnel matters out loud. But they wouldn't stop others from doing the same thing.

"Nothing's decided until it's decided," he said, but saying it with a slight but welcoming smile.

The reporters asked for more. Starodub, in his humble, matter-of-fact way, folded his arms and then made his prediction.

Nothing would be decided that night, he said.

That's all the reporters — and the public — wanted to know. When the meeting ended, it turned out to be true.

TheGreatHoax May 24, 2012 at 02:32 PM
Dr. Brower listens to parents/students. Thus the campaign to discredit and demean her. If you have issues contact her office. Shame on Patch. This editorial makes the writer appear to be a very "small" immature and petty man . There are larger issues at stake than a relationship with "Patch". Will I be blocked?
concernedparentof4 May 24, 2012 at 04:34 PM
@Pamela..Thank you for your comment. I appreciate the respectful reply. Yes, I agree, Parents are their child's first teacher. I believe very strongly in schools and homes working together to provide academic success for every child. I am involved with all 4 of my kids schools. As I stated, I have only had this problem with the high school. When someone of "authority" in the school speaks to a parent in the same tone you would speak to a student who got caught doing something wrong, or another who turns their back on you & closes the door, basically dismissing me, it makes it very difficult to be a partner in education at the high school. When I read of the new position for the principal, I nearly choked on my coffee. I will address my concerns with Dr. Brower, hopefully without a trickle down effect to my children, all because a pot has been stirred by their mother. Since Dr. Brower has only been here a short while, I will remain hopeful the replacement of the principal will be chosen wisely. Again, I thank you for your respectful reply.
Beach Girl May 24, 2012 at 05:39 PM
@Amy - a paper letter may work better than an email. Usually the super's secretary filters the emails. Good luck!
Pamela Brown ♥ May 24, 2012 at 07:36 PM
@parent of 4: My pleasure. If it was a business, the approach you describe would not be tolerated. I am sorry you had to experience that type of treatment, but do not give up, you - as a parent - are their best advocate~ With letters or email, your concern is documented, while phone calls / chats are not. Keep posting so others can see they are not alone. Go to board meetings and speak loudly. Seek out supports from people outside of the school- get your pediatrician's advice, ask questions, and do whatever is in your child's best interest. You only get one chance to educate them, do what you have to do to make it work for your family. There is now an free online school approved by the DOE, founded by Tim Nogueira, the Superintendent of Monmouth Ocean Educational Services Commission. There is also the Interdistrict public schools of choice program, also free. Or you can run for school board (get your notice in by June 5th) and try to change the culture from within. You only get one chance to educate kids, do what you have to do to make it work for your family. Best of luck to you in whatever you choose.
WeAnne May 24, 2012 at 11:52 PM
I understand what you are saying JB but I can say from experience that this problem is all over the state.I think in many other professions as well. It is unfortunetly always about who you know not how well you are qualified for a job.
Jerry Springer May 25, 2012 at 12:06 AM
This article along with most of the other bashing articles are like a Jerry Springer show. No class.
Backtwo May 25, 2012 at 01:04 AM
From what I have read there has only been 1 new postion added, K-12 Humanitiies Supervisor. Using the supervisors that we have and broadening their responsibilities seems wise. Also by doing this it will bring more continuity from grade to grade. Isn't that what Dr. Brower has been trying to set the groundwork for?
Backtwo May 25, 2012 at 01:37 AM
You comment that the NJ ASK is relevant, why besides State Report Card and State funding? What is the child getting from it. Actually, the NJ ASK is on its way out and another similar test will replace it for 2014. I think Goldie Hawn stated it best in the movie "Overboard", "And you can sit here and smugly lecture me on the importance of tests? Tests which exist to pigeonhole childrens potential, a thing which cannot *possibly* be measured. That statement is true! Look at recent college applications and see what they are looking for; colleges are looking for what the studnets do outside of school, and not just basing their acceptance solely on test scores.
Morey P May 25, 2012 at 03:51 AM
Cumming from U that means a lot :-(
Pamela Brown ♥ May 25, 2012 at 01:42 PM
A reporter asked a question regarding the district's test results. No smug lecture, just a Superintendent unwilling to talk to a reporter about the district results on state mandated tests because they don't like the public's comments on Patch. NJ ASK is the current method used to determine achievement aligned with the curriculum. I agree tests are a snapshot of achievement, and potential is not measured by standardized tests. NJ ASK does not measuring "potential". It measures students' competency in regards to the standardized curriculum. Soon it (or something similar to it with a new name) will be part of teacher evaluations. Goldie Hawn is a lovely actress - great quote. TY.
Pamela Brown ♥ May 25, 2012 at 01:44 PM
Well said.
Pamela Brown ♥ May 25, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Really? Enrollment is down by almost 300 students since 2006, and B2 thinks it's WISE to add more administrators? 2006-07 High School had 1574 students, in 2009/10 High School had 1481 (-93) 2006-07 Middle School had 815 students, in 2009/10 Middle School had 756 (-59) 2006-07 Mill Pond School had 766 students, in 2009/10 Mill Pond had 751 (-15) 2006-07 Cedar Creek had 626 students, in 2009/10 Cedar Creek had 600 (-26) 2006-07 Lanoka Harbor had 664 students, in 2009/10 Lanoka H. had 594 (-70) 2006-07 Forked River had 559 students, in 2009/10 F. River had 528 (-31) So folks the new math is: 300 less students = we need more administration... http://lacey.patch.com/articles/school-district-seeks-new-high-school-principal-after-administrative-reorganization PS Isn't "Human Resources Coordinator" also a new position?
JOHNNY Done it May 26, 2012 at 03:07 AM
Why dont we hire more out of town adminstrators With Doctor degrees & pay them more than previous So our taxes go up and the problem remains the same & the only difference is we are paying more for it....(& I dont work for the school system)
JOHNNY Done it May 26, 2012 at 03:14 AM
I also was not impressed with DR brower 's speech at the kindergarten orientation I think Mr rodgers did a better job on his show...
NoCanDo May 28, 2012 at 02:38 AM
Maybe she should let PeeWee Herman speak at the HS Gradualtion :-)
teatleytea May 29, 2012 at 09:57 PM
Wake up residents of the Lacey Township School District, because if you don't you and your town are more than likely going to follow in the footsteps of the Toms River Regional School District. Here in Toms River we have the distinction of being the school district that not only had their Superintendent's house raided by the FBI and the IRS but, also having his name and face plastered all over the news as he was deciding when and where he was going to give up to the Federal Government, we also had a Assistant Band Director who was caught stealing instruments and selling then for his own profit then we have a janitor who is under investigation for a child pornography sting, a head of athletics who not only sold the school district inferior sports equipment but, was also arrested for insurance fraud who then turned into one of the main witnesses in the Ritacco Corruption Case oh, and let us not forget about a certain lunch lady who is making over 75,000.00 a year to run a cafe that is losing to the schools Business Administrator own admission 250,000.00 a year. Ah yes, we also have BOE members who have been on the board for decades who have also made sure that they secured jobs for not only their family but, their friends. We also have an architect who also had his house raided by the FBI and way too many things to list. Now, our new Super wants us to believe that things are going to change? Well,here we are 3 years later and things are still the same.
Joe Stewart May 30, 2012 at 07:06 PM
People need to start going to meetings and put her on the spot. This is not happening!
Silver dollar May 30, 2012 at 09:16 PM
People need to start going to meetings and put the school board of education on the spot ,This is what is not happening! Dr Brower's has only been there 7 months they have been there for years . She is trying to do. what they have a deaf ear to.
Just a Peasant May 30, 2012 at 09:23 PM
The 'King' , or in this scenario, the 'Super' has no clothes. She has beek hoodwinked by her assistant, who has conviced her how Great the assistant is and how dumb everyone else is. Hopefully she will look into a mirror and she the game that is being played on her.
Just a Peasant May 30, 2012 at 09:37 PM
Brainstorming is an excellent way of learning who knows what, who has something to offer, and who the dead wood is. Did they tach you that in your Doctoral program? Didn't think so.
Just a Peasant May 30, 2012 at 11:15 PM
Anyone know how to fill in a cesspool?
River City Rover May 02, 2013 at 01:39 AM
Guess we will have a new Super after the ongoing scandal with SB. So sad the disgrace she brought on Lacey. Hope she seves time an loses her pension.
Tom Davis (Editor) May 02, 2013 at 07:12 PM
Any thoughts on this article? http://lacey.patch.com/articles/lacey-schools-superintendent-placed-on-administrative-leave
proud May 02, 2013 at 09:35 PM
Well, you know what they say,"loose lips sink ships".
proud May 02, 2013 at 10:00 PM
1st Protects freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press, as well as the right to assemble and petition the government
Rachel May 02, 2013 at 10:03 PM
I've never heard that expression. What does that even mean @Proud?
proud May 02, 2013 at 10:19 PM
Loose lips sink ships comes from World War I and/or WWII, when sailors on leave from their ships might talk about what ship they sailed on or where it had come from, or where it was going. If they talked too much (had 'loose lips') they might accidentally provide the enemy with anecdotal information that might later cause their ship to be tracked, and bombed and sunk, hence 'Loose lips sink ships.' Later, it came to mean any excessive talk might sabotage a project.
Rachel May 02, 2013 at 11:07 PM
@@@@@@@@@ Thanks Proud.
proud May 03, 2013 at 01:30 AM
Ronald Fletcher Stephensen June 17, 2013 at 08:43 PM


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