Sometimes, the smaller the location, the greater the problems become.
Such is the case in East Newark, a municipality of .1 of a square mile with just one school, where the issue might even seem unfathomable.
Superintendent of Schools Richard Corbett said last week he was informed at the end of July by borough officials that he would have to vacate the East Newark Recreation Center — used traditionally for pre-K, and various other school activities and slated this year to be used for even more classroom space because of social distancing — by the end of the 2020, not even midway through the school year, so renovations might be performed on the center.
The borough is expected to accept a $300,000 grant from Hudson County later this month to improve conditions at the rec center.
Here’s how Corbett explained how the ordeal went down in late July.
Corbett says East Newark Mayor Dina M. Grilo’s liaison to the board, Kevin F. Catrambone, who also serves as the borough administrator, informed him at first that the school district would not have any access to the rec center at all in the new school year. But then, after further discussions, he was told he would be able to use it until the end of December.
When he asked Catrambone when discussions began about renovating the rec center, at first, he says, he was told municipal officials started the discussions in January. Then he was told the discussions began in March.
Whether January or March, Corbett says he was never told there was a possibility the borough would accept a grant that would require the school district to find alternate locations for pre-K and other happenings, such as dances.
“No one told me anything before hand,” he said.
The school district is able to use the rec center because of a shared-services agreement, in place for nearly a decade. Per the agreement, the school district pays more than $100,000 annually for the borough to provide the building, police security and snow removal, among other things.
The school board, meanwhile, provides the upkeep on the building — and is spending more than $10,000 this summer for upgrades to the building’s interior.
When Corbett asked Catrambone for suggestions to alternate locations in the borough, the former St. Anthony’s building and church basement were proffered.
“Those buildings are not suitable for children,” Corbett said. “The building is contaminated with asbestos, and the church basement is decrepit. There is no way we could send children to either of those locations for adequate schooling.” He says neither spot meets New Jersey Department of Education standards.
Now, though it appears the grant money has to be spent by a certain time before the end of the 2020-2021 school year, Corbett says the borough should reject the grant if it means renovation work must be done outside the summer months.
“Renovations are done in the summer all the time,” Corbett said. “So either do these renovations in the summer months or don’t take the grant money.”
While the grant has not been formally awarded to the borough yet, it is expected the Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders will do so later this month and the borough is expected to accept it.
The Observer asked Corbett what he might do if the borough accepts the grant and boots pre-K from the rec center. There are two viable options, he says.
The first — if the shared-services agreement is ultimately canceled, Corbett says he may have to bring the matter to court
The second — another court option — but figuratively, he says he believes the court of public opinion will rest in his favor, ultimately leading the council to keep the agreement as it has been for the last seven or so years.
Grilo, meanwhile, did not respond to requests for comments from this newspaper. However, she told another publication the borough gave Corbett “five months’ notice” of the grant.
Corbett insists he had no idea about the grant, however, until July.
Now this is not the only controversy the board is facing.
Corbett says the bills for Comcast at the rec center — which had been in the name of the school board — were switched without his or board authorization to the name of the borough and Grilo. He says no one in the borough claimed to know anything about the switchover.
Because of this, Corbett called for an ad-hoc committee to investigate how it happened — and he says he may involve the police since it is illegal to improperly switch the name under which a utility is filed.
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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.