PLEASANTVILLE — The school board has a new president for the first time in five years as newly elected board member Julio Sanchez was selected to fill the role left vacant by Carla Thomas, who was elected to City Council here.
“First of all, I thank the residents for trusting me with their vote, the education of their kids and the district budget, and all the other things we have to take on,” Sanchez, a city firefighter, said in a phone call following the meeting.
He was sworn in Tuesday during the board’s annual reorganization meeting, held via Zoom, along with his sister, Elysa “Elyse” Sanchez, who was selected as the board’s vice president, and incumbent Anny Melo.
“I’m a pillar in the community already,” said Elyse Sanchez, who is the longtime president of the Pleasantville Jokers youth sports organization. “I’m very appreciative that they’ve had the faith in me to nominate me as vice president, and I’m just ready to get started.”
However, before the swearing in could get underway, the board heard from former school board candidate Doris Rowell asking that the district hold off on administering the oath of office due to questions about a current board member’s residency.
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Rowell said a board member, whom she did not name, did not live in the city, and asked for an investigation.
“I have proof, and if this is not investigated by outside counsel, I’m going to hand this over to the Prosecutor’s Office and then to the press. Because this is not fair and it’s not right,” Rowell said.
Board attorney James Carroll told Rowell her comments were improper and advised the board not to respond.
This is the second time this week that the residency of board members has been brought up to the district. Earlier this week, a resident of the community who asked to remain anonymous due to fear of retribution sent a letter to district administrators declaring that Elyse Sanchez and recently appointed board member Yadira Falcon were both ineligible to sit on the board due to not living in the district.
Reached by phone, Sanchez denied the claims.
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“According to my lease and the house I rent and the utilities that I pay, I definitely live in Pleasantville,” she said.
Reached via Facebook Messenger, Falcon directed questions to the school board’s attorney.
Pleasantville Superintendent Natakie Chestnut-Lee confirmed Tuesday that a letter was emailed to her and Business Administrator Elisha Thompkins regarding the allegations, then forwarded to the state-appointed monitors for the district, J. Michael Rush and Constance Bauer, as well as in-house counsel Karyn White for further investigation. She said the letter would not immediately affect Tuesday’s proceedings.
“The reorganization will go on as planned, and if it is determined that those two individuals do not live in Pleasantville, ethics charges will have to be filed,” Chestnut-Lee said prior to the meeting.
State law requires that each member of a school board be a citizen and resident of the district for at least one year immediately preceding their appointment or election.
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Elyse Sanchez, who won a seat on the board during the November election, lists her address with her brother, Julio, who was her school board running mate.
The letter claims Elyse Sanchez lives in various locations including Delaware, Atlantic City and Blackwood, Camden County, but used her brother’s residence to run for the school board seat. It also states that Falcon, who was appointed in the summer to fill a vacant seat, lives in Galloway Township. Falcon also lists her address as Pleasantville.
Meanwhile, Julio Sanchez said a main priority for 2021 will be to straighten out the district’s finances.
“I’d like to get us to a point where we don’t have to have not one but two state monitors which are draining funds that are needed to educate our children,” he said.