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School elections round-up

By Ron Leir  | Observer Correspondent

It’s back to the drawing board for Boards of Education in Lyndhurst and, to some extent, for Nutley, while Kearny, North Arlington, Belleville and Bloomfield were lucky to hang on to budgets they pitched to voters.

In Nutley, by a tally of 1,668 to 1,337, voters authorized raising $48.1 million in taxes to support a 2011-2012 school budget that could see a reduction in the work force through layoffs.

But township residents rejected, by a vote of 1,478 to 983, a second proposal to spend $7 million for the acquisition and installation of solar panels at Nutley High School and five elementary schools.

Joseph Zarra, the district superintendent of schools who is retiring at the end of the school year, said the solar energy program “would have greatly reduced” the district’s energy costs and “would have generated income” from sales to outside energy users.

Zarra said he anticipated the school board going to the voters with a similar plan next year.

“I’m very happy the (school tax levy) was approved by the voters,” Zarra said. “It’s a very good indication that the majority of the people who went to the polls were satisfied with the budget and the return on their investment in the public schools.”

Perhaps, but the district faces some harsh realities under next school year’s budget: It’s proposing to reduce staffing by 25 job slots in administration, instruction, library, secretarial and coaching.

It’s also outsourcing its cafeteria operations and assessing fees for student participation in extracurricular activities.

Yet, even with all the cutbacks, the district has projected a hike in school taxes for the coming year.

Meanwhile, not only is the district losing its chief school administrator, it is also bidding farewell to three other administrators who are retiring. Replacements for them are being sought.

Zarra said the district is working on a “transition plan” that aims to “ensure that by September we have everything in place that we need.”

Zarra said the school board is “in the final stages of selecting a (new) superintendent and is reviewing applications for high school principal, elementary school principal and special services director.”

Nutley residents selected from four school board candidates three winners: attorney Victoria Flynn, with 2,189 votes; Lisa Danchak-Martin, an ADP product release manager, 1,930; and retired Assemblyman Frederick Scalera, 1,698.

Kevin Georgetti came in last with 1,323.

The three incumbents – board president Ken Reilly, Walter Sautter and Vincent Moncaritola – opted not to seek re-election.

In Lyndhurst, voters nixed the approximately $32 million school tax levy but returned incumbent Stephen Vendola to his seat on the Board of Education with 956 votes.

Two other incumbents – Tom DiMascio and Lou Bilis – didn’t run. Their seats went to retired teacher Josephine Malaniak, who got 840 votes; and Homeland Security employee Christopher Musto, 717.

Rounding out the voting: Stephen Morinho III, polled 581; Rosemary Albecker, 532; and Vincent Sommese, 516.

Lyndhurst Board of Education President James Hooper was philosophical about the budget defeat. He said that after the public turned down the school board’s proposed $37 million plan for a new middle school in January, “we weren’t that hopeful of a positive impact (on the tax levy).”

Hooper said the board was fighting a tough numbers game, being locked into a labor contract that ensures district teachers of a 4% raise for the year ending June 30, 2012.

“We’re hoping that in contract negotiations in subsequent years, we’ll do a little better,” Hooper said. “Also, we’re going to get back 1.5% of their salary for health insurance.”

Hooper said the board’s finance committee will meet with the mayor and township commissioners “and, hopefully, the cuts won’t be too bad. It’s up to the commissioners,” Hooper added. “We’ll go to them, hat in hand, and hopefully, they’ll do what’s right for the kids.”

In the meantime, Hooper said, he also remains hopeful that the board can persuade residents to support a new referendum that the district is planning for later this year on ways of upgrading aging school facilities.

Kearny’s $80 million budget falls under the state-mandated 2% spending cap, but still reflects attrition in the ranks: 10 instructional and two custodial slots vacated via retirements will go unfilled.

Voters approved the $45.2 million tax levy by a vote of 1,194 to 768 but declined to return incumbent board members David Stevenson Jr. and John Campbell to their seats. Incumbent Virginia Santos didn’t run.

Instead, residents elected retired firefighter S.J. Zibbie Viscuso, former councilman John Leadbeater and John Plaugic Jr. Viscuso was high man with 955 votes, Leadbeater had 921 and Plaugic, 877.

Stevenson collected 854; Campbell got 861; Richard Ribeiro, 543; Alex Valdez, only a year out of high school, 537; and Dinis Conceicao, 269.

Viscuso, 74, a member of the township zoning board who served on the school board two terms 17 years ago, said he ran this year “because I’d like to see things run smoothly. There should be no bickering. … I didn’t run for the Board of Education to have anyone hired or fired.”

Going forward, Viscuso said he hopes that Superintendent Frank Digesere will be staying on, regardless of any benefit restrictions that Gov. Christie’s administration might be implementing for school administrators.

“I’m a supporter of Mr. Digesere and I’d love to see him stay,” Viscuso said. Like Digesere, Viscuso advocates redistricting to remedy overcrowding in certain grades and schools.

Leadbeater, who served on the Town Council from 1990 to 2000, said he was energized to run for school board “because of the amount of money we spend on taxes for education.”

He said he would push “to get rid of all the kids going to Kearny schools who don’t live in town. All you have to do is sit on Kearny Ave. in the morning and watch them get off the bus. Or watch them get on the bus after school. Then go over to Newark and watch those kids walking around in their Kearny (school) uniforms.”

Leadbeater said he’s also upset because “there’s too much money being spent on administration and not enough on the kids. … We have vice principals making $132,000 – that’s only going to keep going up. People in town can’t afford this anymore.”

In Belleville, voters returned incumbents William Freda, the board president, and Joseph Longo to their school board seats over challengers Ralph Vellon and Eric Schwartz and accepted the tax levy to support a $59 million school budget by a tally of 838 to 621.

In the election, Longo led with 1,177; Freda got 1,140; Vellon garnered 819; and Schwartz, 348.

North Arlington residents approved their $21.3 million school tax levy by a vote of 648 to 554. Incumbent Anthony Blanco and newcomer George Rosko ran unopposed for the two open seats. Longtime board member Karen Palatella didn’t seek a new term.

And, in Bloomfield, votes accepted the $59.4 million school tax levy by a tally of 1,733 to 837 and chose three aligned newcomers – Emily Smith (1,589 votes), Paula Zaccone (1,488) and Catherine Bumpus (1,409) – to seats on the school board.

Incumbent Susan Wolf got 1,098 votes; Joann Castro, 1,129; Joel Rosen, 881; and Derek Grimes, 402.

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