Princeton school board reorganizes; pay rate for substitute custodians increases


Three newly-elected school board members, which included two incumbent members, were sworn into office during the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education’s annual reorganization meeting on Jan. 5.

Beth Behrend, Michele Tuck Ponder and Jean Durbin took their “virtual” seats on the school board after being sworn in for three-year terms by school board attorney Brett Gorman.

Behrend and Tuck Ponder are beginning their second terms on the school board, and Durbin is beginning her first term.

The school board then turned its attention to electing its board president and vice president, choosing Behrend to lead the board for a second year and picking Dafna Kendal for vice president.

Kendal nominated Behrend for a second, one-year term as board president.

“There are many challenges ahead of us, but it’s an exciting time to be on the board. We must stay focused on moving forward in the best interests of the students, and so I nominate Beth Behrend as board president,” Kendal said.

Behrend was elected by a vote of 8-2. School board members Deb Bronfeld and Dan Dart abstained, but board members Betsy Baglio, Jean Durbin, Susan Kanter, Dafna Kendal, Brian McDonald, Michele Tuck Ponder, Beth Behrend and Cranbury Schools representative Peter Katz voted “yes.”

Accepting re-election to the school board presidency, Behrend thanked the board for its confidence in her. She said she is optimistic about the coming school year, and that she is looking forward to working with the board on “powerful change.”

“Everything we do as a board, we do collaboratively, as a team, and all on behalf our students, who are at the center of every decision we make,” Behrend said.

Kendal was nominated for vice president by Tuck Ponder. She was elected unanimously.

Tuck Ponder said she had grown to respect Kendal over the past two years as a “fierce advocate for special education students and (for her) unflagging commitment to equity.” She is honest and a hard worker, Tuck Ponder said.

“There is nothing that she is not willing to take on. She cares deeply about the students in the district and she is not afraid to put herself out there and act,” Tuck Ponder said of Kendal.

Kendal said she is looking forward to working closely with Behrend to address some of the challenges facing the district and also on behalf of the students and staff.

In other business, the school board voted to increase the hourly wage for substitute custodians from $12 per hour to $15. The school district had been paying $11, but a state law that took effect Jan. 1 raised the minimum wage to $12.

Interim Superintendent of Schools Barry Galasso recommended bumping the hourly pay to $15 because of the difficulty in finding substitute custodians to help in keeping the schools clean.

“We are working with community outreach people who believe they may be able to have some community people work with us on a part-time basis for $15 an hour,” Galasso said. “We think this is in the district’s best interests, long term and short term, to have substitute custodians living locally.”

Raising the hourly rate for substitute custodians would cost less than if the district had to hire a private contractor to help the custodial staff keep the buildings clean during the pandemic, he said.

When the meeting was opened for public comment, Princeton resident Maria Juega said she was grateful to Galasso for his recommendation to increase the minimum wage for substitute custodians. She also urged the school board to raise the salaries of similarly low-paid employees.

“If we could take it a little bit further, that would be fantastic,” Juega said.