West Orange African Heritage Organization Hosts Informal BOE Discussion with Candidates
Thursday, September 20, 2012 • 12:33pm
WEST ORANGE, NJ - The West Orange African Heritage Organization hosted an informal discussion with incumbent Board Member Michelle Casalino and challengers Adam Kraemer and Joe Sorbino. Ron Charles, the third challenger, was inducted into the Belleville Sports Hall of Fame last night, and was unable to attend. He sent one of his campaign representatives to read a statement. Paul Petigrow, long time Board of Education member, dropped out of the race last week.
The candidates were allowed to make opening statements, followed by questions written by audience members that were read by WOAHO President Cynthia Hadley Bailey. A few questions were allowed from the floor.
Adam Kraemer was up first and emphasized the need for more technology in the district. He said the district should use its teachers to write curriculum instead of textbook use. He noted custodial overtime, employee benefits and financial controls as ways to save money.
Adam Kessler, representative for Ron Charles, read a prepared statement which highlighted Mr. Charles' driving philosophy that Quality + Value = results. He stressed the importance of academics and financial accountability, and said the focus of the BOE over the coming year would be to hire the right Superintendent.
Joe Sorbino stressed his district involvement as class parent and President of the Edison PTA last year. He spoke of his experience in the Department of Corrections and public management. As a concerned parent and taxpayer he wanted education to be outstanding and affordable.
Michelle Casalino noted that she was a lifelong resident of West Orange and proud alumni of the school district. She spoke of her past six years of experience on the school board and how she has worked to lower and keep taxes down to maintain a manageable budget while supporting initiatives to improve academic excellence. She noted some of her cost savings initiatives with reregistration and facilities charges to lower custodial overtime.
Questions from the audience began with the issue of Dr. Anthony Cavanna, who was placed on Administrative Leave with pay in June, 2012, pending an investigation. James O'Neill was appointed Interim Superintendent in July with a per diem rate. The questions were primarily directed at the incumbent, Michelle Casalino, who spoke of her own frustration with the situation but was unable to comment due to the ongoing legal proceeding. She did say, however, that the board felt it was in the best interests of the 6,900 students and several hundred employees of the district to hire Mr. O'Neill at this time. She reminded residents of the lengthy community input process to hire Dr. Cavanna. Sorbino expressed frustration that the Board would only cite 'personnel issues' and said they should have kept Dr. Cavanna on until next year when his contract expired. Kraemer took issue with the hiring process of Dr. Cavanna, calling it 'unhealthy'.
The questions moved on discuss the desired characteristics of the new Superintendent. All agreed that the new Super would need to be a team builder that possessed strong management, leadership and educational skills. In discussing the newly imposed 175K cap on NJ Superintendent's salaries, Casalino noted that the process would be challenging since most of the candidates they interviewed last time were looking for 250K and above. She added that the pool would probably contain several Assistant Superintendents. Kraemer commented that perhaps a base salary of 125K with a bonus of 50K could be considered.
Mr. Kraemer was asked if his children were currently attending West Orange Schools, and he said that up until this year they attended St. Cloud School, but were placed in a Yeshiva school for religious reasons.
Technology questions arose, and Sorbino spoke about a 'Bring Your Own Devices' plan which would allow students to use their own technology in the classroom as opposed to supplying all students with Ipads, which Mr. Kraemer suggested. Ms. Casalino said the district was in the process of rewriting school policy (the use of cell phones is currently prohibited) and that several programs were in the works.
On the subject of Spec Ed, Kraemer said that Aides should be placed on a merit system. Sorbino favored Regionalization of Spec Ed students, and Casalino said that state mandates drive most of the spec ed expenses in the district, although a lot of savings has been realized by redirecting students from out of district placement and changing their schedules to make the Spec Ed budget more cost efficient.
The candidates were then asked what they thought the big issues were to tackle over the coming year. All agreed that the Superintendent situation was a priority; Casalino told the audience that overcrowding was a huge issue (140 new students in the district already this year) and that in an effort to avoid the possibility of building another elementary school, that redistricting the entire township was a very real possibility. Sorbino felt student achievment needed to be addressed and Kraemer said the district should continue outsourcing and resolve the contract with the union.
In a question regarding term limits, Sorbino favored a 2-3 term limit (currently a term is three years) while Casalino said a two term limit, if the term was four years, was best. She said it took a long time and a lot of work to learn the job, and that the way it was currently structured, that the board changed each year due to the 3 year term.
In response to state standards vis a vis the student test scores and achievment, Sorbino stressed the importance of data. Casalino said the current BOE lobbied to have school administrators involved in the budget process because they knew the needs of their schools and students better than anyone. She also spoke of all the new data mining implementation in place in the district, and the need for parents to be involved in their child's educational progress via Parent Portal.
The meeting adjourned around 9:15. Additional Candidate Debates, one at Pleasantdale School, and another with the West Orange Council of PTAs, are upcoming. The Alternative Press will notify the public of these meetings in the near future, as well as present information on all candidates.