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NJ School Boards Association Advises Toms River As Ritacco Trial Approaches

NJSBA rep. says to limit statements to media, use spokesperson, not rush to televise meetings

A representative from the New Jersey School Boards Association led discussion at the Toms River Regional School's policy committee tonight, advising the school board on how to proceed amid the complexities of the coming criminal trial of the district's former superintendent.

The discussion: don't individually address the media, use a spokesperson, weigh the option of televising meetings.

Kathy Winecoff, a Field Representative for Monmouth County and some Ocean County schools representing the New Jersey School Boards Association, was in attendance to make recommendations to the Toms River board.

Winecoff said that as the trial of former Michael Ritacco begins in less than a month, the board may find itself in unprecedented territory.

Ritacco has plead not guilty to the 27-count indictment for such charges are bribery, kickbacks and fraud. He retired the same day as his October arrest, and the board members are currently being by Ritacco for his unused sick and vacation time and deferred compensation plan.

In addition, the school board has filed an under its dishonesty policy coverage, for the alleged actions of Ritacco and the district's former insurance broker, .

How board members should handle these situations was one of several topics addressed in the public meeting, held in the district offices at .

The board invited the NJSBA for a presentation to hear its advice and weigh what policies it could inact for Toms River. It was an informal presentation to discuss matters such as televised meetings, public interaction, and media requests.

Public Statements Through Central Representative

“You will be inundated with [media requests],” said Winecoff to the board members when asked about speaking to the media and what protocol the board should take as the trial commences April 9.

Winecoff stressed putting a policy in place stating that no one has authorization to speak to the media except an assigned spokesperson (such as the Board President). Toms River Regional already has a spokesperson, Tammi Millar, who is employed by the district to coordinate media requests and issue official statements.

Currently at the Toms River Regional school board meetings, the public comment portion is listed on the agenda as comments from the public and the press, and the meeting is lead by the board president, as previously reported in Toms River Patch. Ed Gearity serves as board president for Toms River Regional.

Winecoff also suggested specific actions the board should take internally to account for a difference in opinion among board members, as it crafts a response to a media inquiry or question from the public. 

Winecoff recommended the Board to “exercise extreme caution” when speaking publicly to be sure that only accurate information is given to the media.

The discussion included whether the board could create a policy that would reprimand or censure board members who violate a policy about talking to the media.

Televised Meetings Still A Concern

Another topic was the potential to televise the board meetings, so viewers could watch on public access television channels or on the Internet.

Some of the concerns of televised meetings were the potential for grandstanding and loss of privacy of the residents in attendance at televised meetings.

Winecoff agreed with some of the board member’s concerns that the general community may not be interested in appearing on television, which would in turn lower the attendance of the public at school board meetings.

Winecoff also said that “film can be damaging to the board or to individuals” and that many things need to be considered if the meetings were to be televised, such as the welfare of the students and members of the community that may appear on television.

Linda Downing, principal at attended the meeting and had concerns about televising school board meetings.

“Televised meetings tend to bring out negativity,” Downing said. “It can become a platform for [one’s] political agenda.”

The Toms River School Board meetings are recorded as a written transcript and audio recording, and upon request either can be provided.

Three members of the board last year in hopes that the district would go farther than the audio recording, and hoped to pursue televised meetings. While Loreen Torrone, Ben Giovine and Alex Pavliv urged the nine-member board to vote at its last monthly general meeting to televise the meetings, the motion did not carry but gained the tentative support of board members Jack Reuther and Gus Kakavas.

Previously, residents have asked the board at its meetings to consider televising the events, saying it will allow those who are otherwise unable to attend a chance to know what the school board is doing. 

Winecoff suggested determining policy and protocol if televising the meetings was indeed an interest of the board.

The board members thanked Winecoff for her presentation and for attending the meeting. No action was taken to create any new policies for the district based on her presentation.

Editor Catherine Galioto contributed to this article.

Ghostwriter March 09, 2012 at 02:52 PM
BOE members should be careful in what they say during this period. Any misspoken word could be used by the media, who seems to love the 5 second sound bite to billed their next story. This could jeopardized future events and make a bad situation worse. No one wants to see the guilty work free because of a careless "sound bite" or opinion.
Justin March 09, 2012 at 04:32 PM
Greg, have done a number on this district? You mean keep our taxes low, inject other monies into the district, built our schools into powerhouses? Yea, he's done a great job at that! how quickly you all forget that...
Greg March 10, 2012 at 06:34 PM
Justin, Just think about how much money this district would STILL have of the "Mighty Mike" and his girlfriend were not getting rolex watches, vacation, tickets to football games, in the case of his girlfriend work done in her home, a new video sound system, new appliances and many other things. Oh, yes let us not forget that "money pit" of Cafe 1144 where our very own Mr. Doering has admitted not only here on the Patch but, has said in public meetings that the Cafe is losing at his figures and not mine $250,000.00 a year. Then we have this fiasco of the Seaside Park kids coming into the district FREE of charge while myself and EVERYOTHER TAXPAYER is footing the bill for them to come here. Now, with the way that the "Ritacco 6" handled his sudden retirement we are now locked into a lawsuit with him that could have been avoided if in the very beginning they had just suspended him without pay and with all of his retirement going into an interest bearing account and "if" he is proven innocent on all charges then he would receive all of his benefits with all of the interest that they would have accrued. But, instead we are going to have a HUGE lawyer bill to pay!!! Oh, yes let us not forget all of the entertainment that was suppose to come to Poland Springs that never came to fruition. Then take a look at New Jersey Monthly and see how ALL OF THE SCHOOLS are ranked. I guarantee that there isn't a Toms River School that is not ranked in the Top 100.
Greg March 10, 2012 at 06:39 PM
Continued from above... Just take a look at your previous tax bills and you will see that the smoke and mirrors game that Ritacco and his merry band of thieves other wise know as the school board did not pan out the way that everyone thought. Your school taxes still increased!! So, I guess you are correct Justin this district is going to be noted for things and they are not going to be academics, and that ever so important sports program it is going to be the Trial of Michael J. Ritacco. Yes, we are going to have to wait and see if our "GOLD STAR STANDARD" is going to be tarnished or not!!!
Overseer1 March 20, 2012 at 01:40 AM
Amazing, "Public Meeting" What a joke. If you don't want to show your face in Public stay the heck home. Plain and Simple! If you want a private meeting I am sure the GODs will grant you one when they aren't have a homes built for themselves on taxpayers time and resources. Televise it so all can view the big circus that is sucking this town dry.

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