WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Board of Education (WOBOE) welcomed two new members at its meeting Monday night as the board reorganized its members and positions after the departure of former board president Ron Charles and former member Irv Schwarzbaum.
Cheryl Merklinger and Terry Trigg-Scales, a former educator who brings 38 years of experience in education, were sworn in as the newest members of WOBOE with three-year terms. Although it was discovered after the election that votes from one machine were not counted, this did not change the results of the election once those voted were received from the county.
During Monday's meeting, the new board voted 3-2 to appoint WOBOE member Ken Alper as board president, and Sandra Mordecai was elected to serve as vice president with a vote of 4-1.
During public comment, Cindy Matute-Brown, the newest member of the West Orange Township Council, inquired about the progress of the superintendent search. Alper responded that action has yet to be taken because the board did not want to bind the decisions of the old board to the incoming one; but with the new board now in place, he said updates would be coming soon.
The board later voted unanimously to approve a contract for Acting Superintendent of Schools Eveny de Mendez, effective Jan. 8 and ending on June 30.
Deborah Robinson, a teacher who stayed overnight with students during the Nov. 15 snowstorm, was met with applause when she asked about the state of teacher compensation.
“We haven’t gotten paid for our time staying overnight,” she said. “We don’t know if we are going to get paid.”
Alper responded that teachers will be taken care of and that compensation is currently being discussed, but it is a work in progress.
WOBOE member Mark Robertson also apologized for the amount of time that has passed without the teachers being compensated and thanked them for their sacrifice.
“I don’t believe that it should have taken two months to say that we are working on some progress,” Robertson said. “We not only appreciate you, but we intend to compensate you.”
West Orange Resident Gary Van Wyk also asked about any updates regarding the implementation of GPS or geolocation technology on buses following the chaos the ensued after the Nov. 15 snowstorm.
De Mendez revealed that the board applied for a $50,000 grant from Zonar, a company that provides bus tracking technology, but that the district was only granted $23,000. She said this would cover new hardware for GPS, updated student IDs, and geomonitoring, but that additional funds would have been used toward features such as tablets for bus inspection and front-facing cameras to be installed on all buses.
According to de Mendez, the WOBOE has reapplied for the grant in order to purchase these additional features and hopes to hear back soon. Recommendations will be brought to the board at the next WOBOE meeting, and all items will be implemented within a month of their approval, she said.
Jeremias Salinas, a West Orange resident and former WOBOE candidate, also raised questions about the state of the athletic “Bubble” at West Orange High School (WOHS), stating that it looks like no progress had been made. Business Administrator John Calavano responded that work is being done, and that the structure of the “Bubble” is slated to go up sometime next week. He also said advertisements for bids on who will do interior work on the “Bubble” to be sent out also next week.
WOBOE member Mark Robertson expressed his excitement about his two newly elected colleagues, citing that he could already feel the new energy that they were contributing to the meeting.
New member Trigg-Scales congratulated her fellow board members on their new positions and took some time to reflect on her new responsibilities. Many parents lauded Trigg-Scales’ appointment as a board member because of her breadth of experience in education.
“I certainly look forward to this awesome responsibility—being part of the governance that overlooks the running of our school district—it is an awesome responsibility, something I take very seriously,” she said. "I also believe we are a community and it takes a village to raise a child.
"We (the board) certainly need everyone’s input, we don’t know everything. We need to be good listeners and we need to be eager learners. We need you at the table, and the board will be working to see how we can include you.”
Trigg-Scales also thanked everyone for coming out to the meeting, but she implored parents to continue coming to subsequent meetings.
In other news, WOBOE student liaisons Sessina Dani and Aarushi Bhatnagar announced that the Black History Month Scholarship dinner will take place on Friday, Feb. 1 at 6 p.m. at the high school's Tarnoff Cafeteria. They also announced that Escriptus, the English Honor Society, is holding its annual Poetry Out Loud competition on Jan. 16 in the Little Theatre at WOHS. Both events will be open to the public.
The next WOBOE meeting will be held Jan. 28 at 8 p.m. at WOHS.