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THIS WEEK’S e-EDITION (April 22, 2015)

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A vision in pink: spring is here

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Photo by LMF Marketing 

Cherry blossoms are in bloom again in Branch Brook Park which straddles Newark’s North Ward and a portion of Belleville. Guided historic park tours continue through Wednesday, April 22.

Teachers turn down labor pact

By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent

HARRISON – 

Harrison public school teachers have narrowly rejected a new contract offer by the Board of Education.

Both sides have been bargaining before the old pact expired June 30, 2014. Teachers are currently working under the terms of the old contract.

One BOE source reported that the vote, conducted last Tuesday, was 84-81 to turn down the offer. The Harrison Education Association, which bargains exclusively for teachers, has close to 180 members.

Asked to confirm the tally last week, HEA President Bill Hartman told The Observer, “That’s pretty close.”

James Doran, personnel director for the BOE, said: “The union sent a letter to the Board of Education to reopen negotiations so we can start over again. I guess we’re back to square one.”

Doran said he was “not at liberty” to disclose the contents of the contract proposal that was submitted to the union membership for consideration, but he characterized it as “a decent package.”

Hartman also declined to talk about the specifics of the contract package but said that bargaining committee representatives for the BOE and HEA had signed a “memorandum of agreement” – along with a revised salary guide reflecting the new contract proposal.

“At the time, we felt it was the best offer we’d get,” Hartman said, “after we’ve been bargaining for nearly two years,” and particularly when the union concluded back in January that “we were at an impasse, but we sat back down down again and ironed out a few issues.”

As mandated by the union’s by-laws, Hartman said that HEA members had been given two weeks to review the contract proposal and, last Monday, the union executive board – whose members also serve as its negotiating team – fielded questions about the offer from the members.

“About 60 showed up and they asked a lot of good questions,” he said.

Members of the HEA executive board – Hartman, Vice President Larry Manning, Secretary Karen Greene Pace and Treasurer Theresa Trucillo – plus NJEA field representative Kevin McHale – were scheduled to meet this past Friday “to see what we have to do to get a contract,” as Hartman put it.

“We think we know where the issues [of concern by members in opposition] lie and we believe we can rectify that,” Hartman said. “I’m not pushing any panic button – yet.”

Hartman said he’s heard “rumblings” from some disaffected members that, “any kind of raise we might get doesn’t cover the contributions for health care [coverage] that our members have to make, as mandated by Chapter 78 [of the Pension & Health Benefits Reform Act signed by Gov. Christie in June 2011].”

Under that legislation, Hartman said, public school employees currently have to pay 1.5% of their salary or 8% of the actual cost of their health care plan, whichever is higher, but that percentage is likely to rise in four years.

A starting teacher’s pay in Harrison is currently “in the low $40,000s,” according to Hartman, and it takes 14 steps (years) for a teacher to reach maximum pay, he added.

“About 51%” of Harrison’s teachers are already at the top step of the salary guide, he estimated.

Hartman said he was “slightly surprised” by how close the contract vote was.

“There were some members on maternity leave who had the right to vote but didn’t come to [the ratification] meeting,” he said, “and there were a couple of people attending a wake in Texas who didn’t make it.”

If both sides cannot work out some type of modifications in the contract terms to the membership’s satisfaction, would the union go for mediation, normally the next step in the labor negotiations process?

Hartman said he would prefer not to file for mediation because the state-appointed mediator simply meets with each side, independently, to learn what the stumbling blocks are – a process that Hartman views as likely not accomplishing anything.

For now, he said he remains cautiously optimistic that an agreement can be reached without going to an outside agency.

Carnival permit changes eyed

By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent

KEARNY – 

In the wake of a troubling incident at an Easter Sunday carnival on Passaic Ave., Kearny’s elected officials are considering tightening permit requirements for events held on town property.

Police responded to the carnival held on town-owned land on a complaint from a 15-year-old girl who told officers that she had been groped by a man while she was riding the ferris wheel and that these unwelcome advances continued even after she had repeatedly told the man to stop.

By this time, police said, the man had left but after getting a description and further investigation, police tracked the suspect to his Newark home that night and charged him with criminal sexual contact.

In recounting the incident to members of the Kearny governing body last Tuesday, Police Chief John Dowie said the situation at the carnival site was exacerbated by a “brawl” that developed during the evening in the parking lot of a nearby fast food eatery.

Dowie that “by dusk or thereafter,” the event morphs from a family fun affair to a situation where a lot of people congregate in the parking lot of a nearby fast food business and, potentially, can lend itself to crowd control issues.

A town ordinance (initially passed in 2007 and updated in 2009) that spells out requirements for carnival permit applicants is silent on the matter of providing security at such events, according to Town Clerk Pat Clark.

Mayor Alberto Santos recommended that, in light of the carnival incident, the council take another look at that ordinance and draft a new one that would address the safety of participants at such events.

Santos suggested that the town might want to restrict the hours of the event and set “minimum staffing” requirements for police and/or private security.

Dowie reminded the mayor that for holiday coverage, in particular, it becomes very tough to call in police for voluntary overtime assignments. “You can’t give away the overtime on holidays,” he said.

Later, Santos reaffirmed his position for The Observer, saying, “I’m of the view that, yes, this is a public space we provide permits for the use of and those permit holders should not be creating an unsafe situation, even with providing insurance, whatever the event is, whether it’s a picnic, carnival, etc. Our current ordinance does say that the person or organization granted the permit has to be responsible, leave the space the way they found it, make it safe.

“So we’ll be looking at the lateness of the hours, hiring private guards as possible remedies. However it’s defined, there will be additional requirements regarding security and if, for whatever reason, the permitees cannot satisfy those requirements, then we may be looking at discontinuing permits for these events.”

Providing permits for carnivals, fairs and the like “is definitely a burden on our [the town’s] resources,” Santos said. “The [permit] fee doesn’t cover the real cost for public works crews, traffic control and so forth. Plus if it’s on a holiday, there are overtime expenses.”

KPD: From cell phone to cell

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A routine traffic stop led to a not-so-routine drug arrest of a Passaic man who allegedly had a considerable amount of narcotics stashed in his car, Kearny police reported.

Vice Unit officers were on Midland Ave. near Davis Ave. at about 5 p.m., April 10, when they spotted a Honda backing out of a driveway while its operator was talking on a cell phone. The detectives pulled the car over at Midland and Lafayette Place. Approaching to issue a summons for the cell phone violation, they detected the odor of raw marijuana and observed, in plain view in the car, plastic containers, one holding suspected pot, the other with knotted bags of suspected cocaine, KPD Chief John Dowie said. (A subsequent count reportedly tallied 17 bags.)

In a search incident to arrest, driver Derrick Rivera, 38, of Passaic, was found to have $1,500 on his person, police said.

The detectives also reported that, despite the removal of Rivera and the aforementioned drugs from the vehicle, an odor of pot was still evident. When questioned, the arrestee allegedly admitted there was more under the seat.

Suspecting that they were dealing with drug distribution, the officers had the Honda towed to the KPD garage and contacted the Belleville PD, which deployed its drug-sniffing dog Rowdy and his handler, Officer Andew Depczek.

When Rowdy “hit” on the vehicle’s trunk, the KPD applied for and was granted a search warrant. In that trunk, police said, were a USPS flatrate box, containing a large vacuum-sealed bag holding 513 grams (about a pound) of marijuana, and 11 more plastic bags filled with 47 grams of the drug.

Rivera was charged with possession of pot and coke and possession with intent to distribute and was remanded to the Hudson County Jail.

(Editor’s note: Just out of perverse curiosity, we did a web search for “How much is a pound of weed worth on the street?” Results varied wildly from $1,250 to $6,400. And one answer was: “I just called my dealer . . . Figure at least 10,000 US/lb.” But that was posted seven years ago.)

• • •

Other recent reports from the Kearny police blotter included the following:

April 11 

At 12:45 a.m., Officer Tom Bannon, on patrol at Devon St. and Quincy Ave., observed a 1999 Mazda partially resting on the sidewalk, its engine running and its driver apparently passed out behind the wheel. After shutting off the engine, rousing the driver — Oscar Lucero, 27, of Kearny — and conducting field sobriety tests, Bannon arrested him for DWI and driving with a suspended license. Lucero later also received a summons for refusing an Alcotest at headquarters.

 April 13 

Officer Luis Moran, on patrol at 11 p.m., encountered several people apparently engaged in a dispute in the street on the 100 block of Devon St. The focus of the dispute was Jovan Echevarria, 20, of Kearny, whom witnesses said had been seen surreptitiously entering a 2002 BMW and apparently taking change from the car. Police said that when he was stopped while running toward Tappan St., he was found to have $5 in coins in his pocket. He was charged with burglary and theft.

April 14 

At 9 p.m., on the 600 block of Elm St., Vice officers observed Joseph Tumminelli, 39, of Kearny, whom they knew to have two outstanding warrants from North Arlington. Confirming this, they arrested him and took him to HQ, where he was turned over to North Arlington police.

April 15 

Officer Damon Pein, patrolling on the Newark Turnpike at 1:30 p.m., came upon an apparently disabled 2003 Chrysler van in the roadway. Checking with HQ, he was informed that the vehicle was unregistered and that the owner had a suspended license and a $750 warrant from East Orange. The van was impounded, Joey Hamilton, 36, of Newark was arrested, and East Orange was advised that he was in custody.

– Karen Zautyk 

Another school administrator is leaving

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By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 

KEARNY –

Turnover among administrative personnel within the Kearny public school system continues as Al Gilson has given notice he will not be returning as Kearny High School principal in September.

Gilson tendered his resignation, effective June 30, in a letter submitted to the Board of Education last Monday.

His resignation was expected to be accepted by the school board at its meeting this past Monday.

Gilson gave no reason for his pending departure in his letter.

However, several sources told The Observer that last Tuesday, Gilson gathered his administrative staff together and broke the news that he was calling it a day to pursue other employment opportunities outside Kearny.

Schools Superintendent Patricia Blood said: “I wish him and his family well and I’m thankful for the commitment he demonstrated toward the students of Kearny.”

Blood said that Gilson “worked hard to maintain student performance in English Language Arts, math, put in a great deal of work in the special education department, particular in the Success and Delta programs; oversaw bringing our Kards Academy classes back to the high school; and was visible at all student activities and athletics.”

Had he opted to stay and had his contract renewed, Gilson, who earns close to $150,000 a year, would have been eligible for tenure by December 2016.

Since he came on board at the end of 2012, Gilson inherited all the problems associated with the seemingly never-ending construction project at the high school and the rotation of a portion of the school population through classroom trailers parked on the school’s front lawn.

Still, he seemed to welcome the challenge and quickly fleshed out concepts designed to improve morale, such as periodic tributes to enterprising faculty and recognition of “students of the month.” He also arranged for the posting of pictorial displays of student projects and historic achievements at the high school.

He organized a 5K Relay event as a fall welcome backto- school event, applying registration proceeds to the support of high school afterschool clubs and activities, and he installed a “parent portal” system for electronic communications with school staff.

But the school board seemed disinclined to back Gilson’s proposal in 2013 for a Saturday student detention program in where seniors, for example, could use the time to make up lost academic credits instead of having to go to summer classes.

And this year, Kearny police were disturbed about the high school’s delayed notification about a hallway fight involving six students that resulted in a school security guard getting roughed up.

Gilson will be the fourth administrator to leave the district in the past four years: In 2012, then-KHS Principal Cynthia Baumgartner got a job in the neighboring Harrison school district after being cut loose by Kearny BOE; and in 2014, then-Assistant Superintendent Debra Sheard departed for a post in Perth Amboy schools after Kearny BOE abolished her job, and then-Superintendent Frank Ferraro resigned after having been placed on an involuntary leave and threatened with tenure charges. He is now working in the private sector.

Two veteran educators, both KHS alums, are currently serving as high school vice principals: John Millar, who has a principal certification, became a vice principal after compiling a phenomenal record as the KHS boys’ soccer coach; and William Gaydos, who has a master’s degree in administration and supervision, was supervisor of the KHS science department 12 years and Kearny Adult School director 14 years before taking on the vice principal job.

Seek to name studio for beloved teacher

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By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 

BELLEVILLE – 

A movement is under way to memorialize a popular Belleville public school teacher who passed away recently by naming the high school’s TV/radio production studio for her. Marilyn McCabe, 63, a 40-year educator who taught mass communications and English in the Belleville school system, died March 24. A Newark native, McCabe spent 55 years in Belleville.

It was in 1980 that McCabe conceived of the idea for the studio and oversaw its creation, with an assist from her husband Jack who helped built it and became its first technician.

At the April 13 meeting of the Belleville Board of Education, trustee Peter Zangari Jr. paid tribute to the longtime instructor and came up with the proposal to dedicate the high school media center, which houses WBHS Channel 39 FIOS Comcast Cablevision station in her honor.

Schools Superintendent Richard Tomko, while new to the district, said it didn’t take much time to learn that Mc- Cabe was a school employee who commanded much respect among her peers and her legions of students.

“She was one of the lightning rods to our kids,” Tomko said. “They definitely responded to her. She touched everyone’s life.”

As one of her last official assignments, Tomko noted, “she video-taped me when I did my ‘Meet the Superintendent’ presentation.”

Ryan Sheridan, director of TV production at the high school studio, was one of the many BHS seniors who apprenticed at the studio, 15 years ago, and, then, continued his studies at Montclair State University where McCabe served as adjunct professor.

Eight years ago, Sheridan completed the circle, returning to his alma mater to work with McCabe in the studio, which bills itself as the oldest Board of Education-funded program in the state. Without her mentorship, “I wouldn’t be a teacher,” he said.

Among the more recent studio alumni who have gone on to land jobs with the communications-related industry, Sheridan noted, are Carmen Pizzano, assistant video production manager for the New York Football Giants; Ines Rosales, a traffic reporter for Fox 5 TV; and Alfredo Flores, a director/editor who has worked with various celebrities including Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande.

Other studio students are working for Disney, ABC, NBC, CNBC and CNN while others are independent producers.

Early in her professional life, Sheridan said, McCabe toyed with the idea of working behind the scenes in a production studio and interned at the same TV station in Texas where TV news journalist Barbara Walters began her career.

But, ultimately, McCabe shifted gears, opting to teach those studio skills, getting her undergraduate degree in English from Kean University and a master’s in interpersonal communications from NYU.

Having no kids of her own, “she considered her students her family,” Sheridan observed. “She had a heart of gold for every student.”

Aside from the countless hours she put in at the high school, McCabe also did side projects such as the development of an aerial video of Belleville, he said.

And she was also active in Holy Family parish affairs.

Belleville Board of Education President John Rivera said he expected the board to act shortly on adopting a resolution formally naming the high school media center in honor of McCabe.

Phone scammers out for your cash

Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura has issued a warning to area taxpayers about telephone scam artists who are intent on getting your money and/ or personal information by pretending to be with the Internal Revenue Service or the sheriff’s office.

The scammers have apparently become active in Essex in recent weeks, but residents in all The Observer towns should be wary. Last year, Bergen County taxpayers were targeted with a similar fraud, which also has been reported in other states.

In the alert issued Thursday, Fontoura noted that “numerous” local residents had contacted his department to report that callers, “many of whom identify themselves as Essex County sheriff’s officers,” have demanded money ostensibly owed to the IRS — or, conversely, have told the call recipient that he/she has a refund due.

The aim is to trick you into paying the “debt” or sharing your private information. “These people are con artists who can sound convincing when they call,” Fontoura said.

How do they persuade you that they are legitimate? As the sheriff explained: “The scam artists may know a lot about you, and they usually alter the caller ID to make it look like the Internal Revenue Service or our department is calling you. They use fake names and bogus IRS or police identification badge numbers.”

Fontoura said the scammers frequently claim that they have a warrant for the call recipient, who is threatened with arrest unless the supposed tax debt is paid immediately.

“Do not be deceived by these threatening phone calls,” the sheriff cautioned, highlighting five things the scammers often do but the IRS will not do. “Any one of these five things,” he said, “is a tell-tale sign of a scam.”

The IRS will NEVER:

• Call to demand immediate payment, nor call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.

• Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.

• Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.

• Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

• Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.

“If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be a sheriff’s officer or a representative of the IRS asking for money,” Fontoura said here’s what you should do:

• If you know you owe taxes or think you might owe, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. The IRS workers can help you with a payment issue.

• If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to believe that you do, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1-800-366-4484 or at www.tigta.gov. On the website, you can file a complaint using the FTC Complaint Assistant: Choose “Other” and then “Imposter Scams.” If the complaint involves someone impersonating the IRS, include the words “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.

Remember, too, Fontoura noted, the IRS does not use unsolicited email, text messages or any social media to discuss your personal tax issue. As for those calls alerting you to a “refund, “these, too, are not legitimate. The aim of the caller is to get your personal info, e.g., Social Security number, bank account data, etc.

For more information on reporting tax scams, go to www.irs.gov and type “scam” in the search box.

 – Karen Zautyk 

Thoughts & Views: How sweet was my habit

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Now it can be told: Growing up as a kid, I was an addict.

Seems that I just could not get enough Coca-Cola.

If I had to drink milk – and I was forced to get that calcium – I insisted that I be allowed to mix in some chocolate flavoring or, better yet, Coke.

(Interesting that I later learned I was lactose intolerant.) Which also probably explains why I never really got along with my mom and constantly rebelled at all of her suggestions, or should I say, commands. Dad, being at work mostly, missed all the fun.

In its early years of production, according to Wikipedia, Coke had an estimated nine milligrams of cocaine – derived from the coca plant – per glass and was promoted for medicinal use but, reportedly in 1903, the cocaine was eliminated.

Today, a can of Coke ( 12 ounces) is said to have 39 grams of carbs – all from sugar – plus 34 mg of caffeine, 50 mg of sodium and 140 calories.

So apparently it wasn’t the cocaine that got me but the combination of caffeine and sugar that did me in.

Next, figuring that I had to live up my fuzzy image of what a newspaperman was supposed to be, I spent too many nights getting wasted on beer in my choice of dive bars followed by late night dining.

That led to Type 2 diabetes and a steady diet of meds since I refused injections of insulin. Why am I blathering on about the tales of a reprobate news hound? Because I’m not unique. Many of us in the general population come to depend on something we don’t need that robs us of time and energy we could be investing in a more productive, healthy way.

On Friday, as reported by The Star-Ledger, a survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention shows that more and more kids in middle and high schools are being turned on to nicotine, thanks to the novelty of the e-cigarette which, it is feared, is becoming a “… ‘gateway’ to a lifetime of smoking.”

And in Sunday’s New York Times, we learned that more and more collegians and people in the workplace who face a lot of deadline stress have been popping stimulants just to keep pace. Many cannot stop taking the pills and end up in substance abuse treatment centers.

Behavioral psychologists would likely tell us that the roots of addictive personalities are found in our DNA and cultural upbringing.

I’m not quite sure what it is that drives people to stand on line for hours and hours to grab the latest product from Apple, for example, but I guess it keeps our economy going.

Still, habits – no matter what they are – can be broken if we want to break them. I pretty much gave up drinking beer some years ago, no longer take sugar with my coffee, have Soy milk with my cereal. I’m still trying to revamp my daily food menu.

Some habits, though, I don’t want to give up. Like reading. And puns. Maybe I’d make some people happier if I stopped writing columns like this but, sorry, every other week I’m called on to fill this space.

Have a good week!

– Ron Leir 

St. Stephen’s hosts Four Chaplains tribute

On Feb. 3, 1943, the Dorchester was torpedoed in the waters of the North Atlantic. As the ship began to sink, the chain of command broke down. The Four Chaplains – Father John Washington, Rabbi Alexander Goode, Reverends George Fox and Clark Poling – began to distribute life vests to those on board.

The life vests soon ran out and the chaplains, realizing their fate and abandoning themselves to the will of God, made the ultimate sacrifice and gave their life vests to four others on the ship. Survivors recall seeing the chaplains, arms linked and praying on the deck, as the Dorchester slipped into the North Atlantic.

This year, on March 15, St. Stephen’s Parish, in a continuing commitment to keep the legacy of the Four Chaplains alive, welcomed from Mt. Vernon Washington, Cady and Benjamin Crosby, co-founders of 3G a non-profit organization that encourages us to: Give what you have, Give more than you take and Give it your all. Cady and Benjamin presented a living history of the Four Immortal Chaplains.

The emotional story was told through the fictional voices of a military survivor of the sinking of the Dorchester and Rosalie Goode, daughter of Rabbi Goode, portrayed by Benjamin and Cady. In attendance were relatives of two of the Immortal Chaplains, Joann Hoffman, niece of The Rev. John P. Washington and her sons Brian and James and members of their families, and Mark Auerbach cousin of Rabbi Alexander Goode. Also in attendance were the Rev. Joseph Mancini, Pastor of St. Stephens, Louis Cavaliere, Captain, U.S. Navy Retired Chairman of the Chapel of the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation in Philadelphia and Christine Beady, Executive Director. Kearny Cub Scout Troop 305 was in attendance proudly wearing their neckerchiefs adorned with a patch depicting the Four Chaplains. Members of the parish represented St. Stephen’s. For more information about the Four Chaplains view www.Fourchaplains.org or www.thechurchofsaintstephen.com.

– Nancy Waller 

Project Graduation volleyball set for Friday

KEARNY – 

Kearny’s 2015 Project Graduation volleyball tournament — an annual event — is set for this Friday, April 24, at the Kearny High School gym. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the games are set to begin at 6:30.

The traditional event — held every year since 1996 — features a lineup of fiercely competitive teams.

Among the contests are those pitting teachers representing Kearny schools against each other. Last year’s tournament champs, the Franklin Falcons, will face the teachers from Washington School. The other matches: Garfield vs. Roosevelt and Lincoln vs. Schuyler.

In addition, KHS teachers will compete against members of the KHS class. Also on the schedule: Board of Education vs. Town Hall employees, and the Kearny Fire Department vs. the Kearny Police.

Tickets, available at the door, are $5; $3 for students and senior citizens. Tickets for Project Graduation’s 50- 50 raffle also will be sold at the tourney.

All proceeds go toward the graduation night drugfree, alcohol-free, party-untildawn celebration for members of the KHS Class of 2015.

Project Graduation welcomes volunteers. If you are interested, and at least 21, you’re invited to join. An informational meeting will be held Thursday, April 30, at 7:30 p.m. in the KHS teacher’s lounge. Further information is also available from KFD Chief Steve Dyl, the program chairman, at 201-991-7467. To buy 50-50 tickets, contact Sandy Hyde at 551-265-8969.