Community groups SOMA Justice and P.A.R.E.S. [Parents in Partnership for Respect and Equity in SOMA Schools] have released their fourth annual Scorecard on Race, a questionnaire and scorecard focused on issues of race and equity for candidates vying for seats on the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education.
Three candidates responded. Three candidates declined to respond.
“Congratulations to Courtney Winkfield, Susan Lewis Bergin, and Deborah Engel, the high scorers on the SOMA Justice/ P.A.R.E.S. BOE Scorecard,” organizers of the Scorecard wrote in a statement. “Thank you for demonstrating your commitment to equity in our schools by completing the scorecard.”
The statement continued, “This is the 4th year that SOMA Justice/ P.A.R.E.S. has published the BOE scorecard on Race and Equity. Candidates were given two weeks to answer 10 questions and their answers were evaluated by a team of independent evaluators and graded holistically. This year, questions were changed and updated from previous years, and input for questions was solicited from SOMA Justice, PARES and Mapso Youth Coalition. To read the candidates thoughtful responses and for more information, please visit: https://janebleasdale.com/
Courtney Winkfield and Susan Bergin, who are running together to fill two of the three full terms that are up for election, both received “A’s.” Deborah Engel received a “B.” The candidates who did not respond received the score of “F” for “Failed to submit.”
Asked to comment on candidates who opted not to participate in the scorecard, SOMA Justice/P.A.R.E.S. organizers wrote, “This scorecard was created by local Black moms – one who is a former SOMSD student – and we see it as an important public service, reflected in the thousands of people who read the candidates’ answers and use it to inform their voting decisions every year.”
In addition to the Q&A, this year the organizers have provided short videos from the candidates who responded:
Asked to comment on their participation, Winkfield and Bergin sent a joint statement that read in part: “We were glad for the opportunity to express our views on the scorecard topics. We trust that organizations in our community that host debates and sponsor questionnaires and scorecards, such as SEPAC [Special Education Parents Advisory Committee], the PTAs, Soma Justice/PARES, SOMA Families for Effective Instruction and more, are doing so in good faith and we appreciate all the opportunities to share our ideas with the community. We think that the community has the right to assess candidates on their views and that’s what the scorecard does, along with providing full and open access to all candidates’ responses so voters can decide for themselves. As voters, we, like many others, would like to know what all the candidates’ views are on the important topics covered by the scorecard.”
Visit the Winkfield and Bergin website at https://www.berginwinkfield2020.com.
Deborah Engel sent the following statement upon release of the scorecard: “I am an independent candidate, not aligned with any local organization. I participated in the SOMA Justice / PARES scorecard questionnaire because I am running on a platform of communication and transparency. I am answering all questions and surveys that I receive from various community groups, including SEPAC, Arts Ed NJ, and two from SOMa Families for Effective Instruction, and I will continue to do so throughout this election season. I am also participating in all of the candidate forums and debates that I am invited to. I am a leader who works to build consensus. I want to understand both sides of an issue and work diplomatically to solve problems. I believe the previous community work I’ve done shows that I have the ability to bring people with different viewpoints together to build programs and policies that have support from all stakeholders.”
Visit Engel’s website at https://www.votedeborahengel.com.
Elissa Malespina and Melanie Finnern sent separate statements to Village Green explaining why they did not participate in the Scorecard.
Malespina wrote, “I have a proven track record of fighting for our special needs and BIOPIC, LGBTQ +, and LATINX students. The Black Parents Workshop lawsuit in which I was a plaintiff and was recently settled will bring substantial and historic changes to our district. I stand firm on my record and beliefs I have set forth in my platform.” She added, “I have always believed we learn more when diverse voices are allowed to be heard and civil discussion is allowed to happen without fear of retaliation. I believe in looking for ways to collaborate, even if it means we might not always agree. We must all work together to make SOMSD the best school district for our children.”
Visit Malespina’s website https://www.elissaforboe.com/.
Melanie Finnern wrote: “I have deep respect for SOMA Justice. They do so much for our community in terms of outreach and education. Where I disagree with their positioning is ‘grading’ BOE candidates via the SOMA Justice and PARES scorecard, a task no other community group assumes the right to do.” She continued, “Although the scorecard was created with the right intentions in mind, sadly, it has become a lightning rod for dissent and online bullying. I made a promise to myself that in running for BOE, I would maintain my own integrity and beliefs to treat everybody with kindness and respect — the same beliefs I instill in my own children. The scorecard and the online discussion that happens in the aftermath of its release runs counter to that mission. Therefore, I declined to participate.”
For Finnern’s full statement on the Scorecard, visit https://www.melaniepfp.com/.
Kamal Zubieta, who is running unopposed to fill out a term on a fourth seat on the BOE, forwarded an email she sent to Dr. Jane Bleasdale, whose company Bleasdale Educational Research and Consulting gathered the responses and collated the data.
Visit Zubieta’s website at www.zubieta2020boe.com.