My name is Deanna Arena Giacopelli, and I am the proud Chairperson of BVOTE. I have taught for twelve years in the Belleville School District. I formed BVOTE along with several teachers in the midst of crisis at our schools. Our district was crumbling due to the irresponsible choices of school board members. As my fellow colleagues know, conditions were unbearable. We could not in good conscience sit around and do nothing as our students were being deprived a proper eduction. We knew that the only way that things would get better is if the board seats were filled with citizens we could trust to make responsible choices for our children. The mission of our committee is exactly that-to help quality, pro-education candidates get elected to the board.

Our first year was a huge success. Our candidates were elected, and things started to get better at our schools. A few months later we began the search for new candidates. By July, we had chosen to endorse Nelson Barrera and Thomas Grolimond. As the election neared and as our candidates drew more support, we began to receive some criticism. I have learned quickly that when you take a stand for what you believe in, some degree of criticism is par for the course, I have attempted to ignore such criticism and instead focused on supporting our candidates in a positive manner.

That said, when someone personally attacks my ethics and credibility, or the credibility of this organization, I am compelled to respond. Unfortunately, the night before the election, web blogger, Lee Dorrey, personally attacked BVOTE and its leadership. To summarize, Mr. Dorrey accused BVOTE of implementing an unfair screening process and endorsing their candidates “without equal consideration to the rest.” Mr. Dorrey then went on to allege, without any factual support, that “BVOTE’s leadership is compromised, mired in highly questionable political conflicts, personal vendettas, and more alarming, an unholy alliance with the Town Council.” Finally, Mr. Dorrey went as far as to make the outlandish accusation that BVOTE’s leadership is “perfectly fine with deceiving the public to secure your vote.”

The accusations set forth by Mr. Dorrey are outrageous, patently false and downright reprehensible. While no one is going to confuse Mr. Dorrey’s weblog with the New York Times or Washington Post, his eagerness to publish such untruths and deliberately misleading statements about BVOTE and its leadership without any factual support is highly irresponsible. I will address them in turn.

With regard to our screening process for this election, BVOTE publically posted that we were searching for candidates who were seeking our endorsement. We posted this on the BEA Facebook page, the BVOTE webpage, and ironically, Essex Watch. We encouraged candidates who were seeking our endorsement to reach out to us through email to schedule an interview. We had this posted from April 2015. The ONLY candidates who reached out to us via email were Thomas Grolimond and Nelson Barrera. We interviewed each of these candidates twice. Ms. Jacho reached out to me via text in late July after petitions were filed and we had chosen our candidates. She did not ask for an interview in this text. She simply informed me that she was running again. I responded that I wished her luck. Had any of the candidates reached out to us in the four month window that we were interviewing, we would have, of course given them an interview. Once again, they did not.

I feel it is important to note that Ms. Jacho and Mrs. Lamperello did contact BVOTE through email to be considered for endorsement for the 2014 election. We interviewed each of them thoroughly. Mrs. Lamperello was interviewed three times. While Ms. Jacho was interviewed once, her interview lasted over two hours. Through these interviews we had developed a thorough understanding of each of these ladies’ platforms and positions. I can honestly say that I felt both of these ladies truly cared for the children of Belleville; however, there were only two seats up for the board and tough choices had to be made. In the end we decided to endorse two other candidates, Patricia Dolan, and Ralph Vellon.

The above outlines exactly how BVOTE screened its candidates. Despite Mr. Dorrey’s hollow accusations, I do not know how this process could have been more fair. We interviewed and vetted every single candidate that applied and chose those whom we believed would have the backbone and heart to help us do our job and help our students get the quality education they deserve.

Mr. Dorrey’s accusation that BVOTE is somehow mired in town politics is, simply put, nothing more than a wild conspiracy theory. Apparently, when more than one person supports the same candidate, their intentions must be questionable. It is also impossible to imagine that certain members of the community might actually value the teachers’ opinion on who would be best for the schools. Mr. Dorrey’s outrageous and unsubstantiated allegations are unequivocally false. The truth is that NO ONE influenced (or even attempted to influence) our decision on who we chose to endorse. Our decision was based solely on which candidates we believe will do the best job for our schools and our kids.

Mr. Dorrey’s accusation that BVOTE’s leadership is “perfectly fine with deceiving the public to secure your vote,” is perhaps, the most repugnant and outrageous of his comments, and does not warrant the dignity of a response. To accuse teachers of this district of such a thing without any hard facts further discredits his journalistic integrity.

It is important to note that Mr. Dorrey did indeed reach out to me approximately two weeks ago with regard to the article written by Mr. Vellon and who BVOTE interviewed. I provided him with an in depth explanation of BVOTE’s screening process over the past two years. TWICE. Notwithstanding, he found it necessary to attack BVOTE and its leadership…conveniently the night before the election. While my explanation of BVOTE’s screening process (which, again, I explained to Mr. Dorrey some time ago) should clear up any confusion regarding this issue, it is not my role to clarify the comments of present school board members. I had no knowledge of the fact that Mr. Vellon was submitting the letter, and no control over him correcting it. That said, I have ALWAYS been transparent regarding BVOTE’s screening process and I have NEVER misrepresented who BVOTE interviewed and how BVOTE screened its candidates.

While there is no doubt which candidates Mr. Dorrey is supporting in this election, he unfortunately lacks the courage to take a stand and say it outright. He instead chose to resort to demonizing our candidates and attempting to destroy our committee’s credibility with misinformation and propaganda. His outrageous claim that BVOTE is, “perfectly fine with deceiving the public in order to secure your vote,” is precisely what he himself is guilty of by posting his smear opinion piece the night before Election Day. Indeed, when when people have the courage to take a stand for what they believe is right, they are subject to attacks and negativity. That being said, I will never shy away from saying what I believe is right, no matter what criticism I endure. I am so proud of BVOTE, and the teachers who are brave enough to stand with me despite the threat of intimidation and public attempts to shake our conviction. Thankfully, I am confident that the citizens of Belleville will see through hollow attacks and accusations against BVOTE and its leadership and will understand that our goal is, has been, and always will be, doing what we believe will be best for our children.

Thank you,

Deanna Arena-Giacopelli

Who are we? BVOTE is comprised of educators in the Belleville School District. Our mission is to find, screen, and fundraise for quality, pro-education candidates to run for the Belleville Board of Education. Our goal is to find candidates who, once elected, will respect us and listen to our valuable input regarding decisions that impact our students.
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