Final Meeting of West Orange BOE Candidates Held at West Orange High School
Tuesday, October 16, 2012 • 7:24am
WEST ORANGE, NJ - The West Orange Council of PTAs sponsored a BOE Candidates Debate Monday night at West Orange High School, which was moderated by the League of Women Voters. This was the last time the candidates had an opportunity to discuss their platforms and issues before the election.
The meeting opened with a welcome from Lisa Scalora, WOCPTA Special Events Coordinator. She then turned the meeting over to Michelle Babaro of the South Orange-Maplewood League of Women Voters.
Candidates were allowed a two minute opening statement. Adam Kraemer is an 8 year resident with triplets; a taxpayer, former teacher and accountant. He views education as imperative and would work with the Superintendent to develop cohesive leadership. He believes the Board and district should do their jobs sans micromanagement. He favors more technology, new curriculum and more money in the classroom, with efficient money management and a view to the future of the school district.
Joe Sorbino is a veteran, and a 13 year resident with two kids in the schools. He feels he will bring a fresh perspective and new ideas. He said he knows the community and has been involved in it, citing volunteer efforts as class parent, PTA President at EMS, and assistant coach. He stressed accountability, student achievment and technology in the classroom. He said kids must be prepared for a global world, but that the district must live within its means. He said transparency was important and all meetings should be televised.
Ron Charles has been a resident for 17 years and has four children in the schools. He has 25 years in public safety service, and currently manages 700 employees and a $100 million dollar budget. Saying that 'actions speak louder than words,' Charles began a non profit organization called We Care For All, which has helped to raise over 60K for breast cancer, Men Make a Difference and more. He has been actively involved in Mountaintop, Rec wrestling and PAL. He said he was a tough leader that could make the right decisions.
Michelle Lemma Casalino, a lifelong resident, is seeking a third term on the BOE. She is a Regional Business Director facilitating loan closings for a mortgage company, and understands the economic challenges that families and businesses face. She noted that her main goal has been to provide the best possiblel education for all students. Citing last year's 900K budget cut, transportation savings, and re-registration as a few of her cost cutting initiatives, Casalino said that she possessed the possessed the experience to move the district forward and knew the issues that needed to be addressed.
The first question asked candidates to identify alternative sources of funding in the face of federal cuts. Charles felt income from out of district special education students, bus advertising, and possible refinancing would save money. Kraemer expressed concern over an influx of special education students with schools at near capacity. Sorbino questioned whether the district was living within its means and said there should be no tax increases. He said no cuts should be made inside classrooms, but outside. Casalino said the district was under cap and living within its means, which was why the governor allowed the district to move elections to November as a cost cutting move. (The school budget will not be voted on for the next two years as well.) She said she has pushed to have principal and administrators sit down with the board to work on the budget with them, to get more dollars to the students.
Question two asked what candidates would reduce to meet budgetary constraints. Sorbino said he would talk to principals and look outside the district. Casalino noted that the district had 'something for every student' and would not reduce those programs. Charles echoed Casalino's sentiments. Kraemer noted employee benefits at current levels could not be sustained.
Question three asked about privatization of school services. Casalino told the audience that the district privatized transportation and food services. Transportation, while saving money, has not been without problems; food service has been more successful. She read that 84% of all school districts usually only privatize 1 or more services. She would not support privatization of custodial care. Charles agreed. Kraemer said you have to implement and monitor correctly, would consider landscaping, custodial, and special education consultants for privatization. Sorbino underscored education over all and review of cost savings.
The fourth question asked about the qualities desired in the new superintendent. All agreed he need to be an educator, leader, and have the ability to inspire and recognize that they were the CEO of the school district. Ms. Casalino reminded the audience that the board had made a unanimous decision to place Dr. Cavanna on paid administrative leave.
After a short break, questions from the audience were asked. One question was about drop scheduling at the high school. (The district is looking into increasing class period time from 43 to 53 minutes, which is a model that is utilized by several high performing area high schools like Livingston and Watchung Hills. This would protect class time and reduce discipline issues. The plan includes making a universal lunch period, with the intention of utilizing that time for clubs, teacher help, and more). Candidates all felt favorable towards the possibility, though cost/start up issues could be a consideration.
As to consolidation of school districts, all candidates advocated it for smaller districts but not for West Orange, which currently has about 6,900 students.
A question about the relationship between employees and the board of ed had mixed responses, but Casalino, as the incumbent, said she has always had a good working relationship with staff, listens to them and advocates that proper chains of command in the district be followed. All agreed that trust and respect were important.
Community involvement was a topic which Kraemer and Sorbino felt the PTA could help the district with. Casalino noted the establishment of Parent Portal (the online district site where parents can check their child's academic progress); parent/teacher conferences in elementary school and team meetings at the middle school level. Charles recommended that the district's Public Information Officer shoul attend PTA meetings to help develop a unique plan with parents.
After sharing what they considered to be some of their most important professional and personal achievments, the candidates were asked how they felt about non-residents in the schools. All were against it, with Casalino saying that re-registration efforts have saved the district at least one million dollars in savings.
As to NJ Monthly and West Orange not making the top ten percent, Sorbino advocated for a rigorous curriculum; Kraemer recommended a review of curriculum vis a vis early language/phonics and special education; Charles felt parent/teacher feedback was critical; and, Casalino said that ESL and Special Education were award winning programs in the district, and that teachers and administrators had a Curriculum Council that recommended curriculums to the board.
With respect to the demographics of the teaching staff reflecting the student population, Kramer noted that you can learn from someone that doesn't look like you, but it was good to have role models. Casalino said that unfortunately, despite many of the increased efforts over the past several years, that budget cuts caused the loss of some newer hires, many minorities. However, many of the administrative hires have reflected the diversity of the students.
The last question asked about what the candidates would do about 'kids in the middle'. Charles encouraged the combined support of parents and teachers. Casalino said that the Small Learning Communities Grant money had allowed the start of Freshman Seminar, Sat prep, and the continued work of the Adavncement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program. She also highlighted the ASAP sports program requiring athletes to maintain specific grades to remain active in their sport.
In closing, all four candidates thanked the audience for their time and hoped that they would make a smart and educated decision as to how they will vote. All said they would have no problem with all board meetings being televised.
The meeting ended at 8:55 pm and will be televised on TV 36 and 45. For more information on the West Orange School district, please visit: http://www.woboe.org.