Education

District to Retest Faucets after 17 Found High Lead Levels: Citizens Address BOE Regarding Full Day Kindergarten in Berkeley Heights

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BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - To be in compliance with the New Jersey Department of Education regulations, the Berkeley Heights School District identified and tested all faucets utilized for drinking or food preparation outlets for lead in all six schools during the November Teachers' Conference break. As a result of testing, 17 of the 205 sites tested were found to be above the required levels. Some of the locations identified are rarely used.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 15 parts per billion is the action level for lead in drinking water. Immediate action was taken by the district.

Full results can be found at bhpsnj.org.

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A parent letter from Superintendent of Schools Judith Rattner dated January 4, 2017 stated, "In accordance with the NJ Department of Education regulations, the Berkeley Heights School District will implement immediate remedial measures for any drinking water outlet with a result greater than the Lead Action Level of 15 ug/1 (parts per billion [PPB]). This includes turning off the outlet unless it is determined the location must remain on for non-drinking purposes. In these cases, a 'DO NOT DRINK - SAFE FOR HANDWASHING ONLY' sign will be posted."

The district will schedule a second test on January 14 at the locations identified, which will further delineate the source of high lead levels. The district will remediate the issues and take all steps necessary to ensure safe drinking water for our students and staff, the letter said. 

At Thursday's meeting, Felezzola answered a few questions regarding the issue. The faucets in question will be repaired and replaced within the next year, she said. She also confirmed that the district will continue to look at the faucets and either replace the aerators or faucets.

The testing was contracted in July 2016 for $8,000, said Felezolla. The State will reimburse for remediation costs.

Dmitriy Agafonov, a resident of Berkeley Heights, asked why the lead testing was not completed earlier if the regulation was issued in July.  Felezzola answered, "We had planned to do it over the summer, but State regulations changed August 25..... we knew regulations were changing, we waited until the changes and regulations were made before moving forward." The November Teachers' Conference break was chosen because it was necessary to do the testing when no one was in school. 

A citizen asked the board if there was concern to test the facilities for lead in the paint. Several years ago there was a concern and Felezolla advised the citizen that they check for lead paint whenever they paint something. "We have not had any issues in the buildings with lead paint." Felezzola also advised the citizen that the district architect did a facilities audit two years ago and nothing came up at that time.

In other news:

Sai Bhargavi Akiri, a Berkeley Heights resident, addressed the board regarding the District's plan to implement full day kindergarten. She asked if there were any plans for a nonbinding referendum on this topic. Board president Doug Reinstein advised the resident that Mary Kay McMillin Principal Annie Corley Hand presented the topic in October of 2014, and at that time, the board did not go ahead with full day kindergarten.

Reinstein said the studies showed no evidence that the achievement gained from full day kindergarten lasts longer than third grade. Where it showed levels of achievement were in lower socio-economic towns, he said. "We would also need a $3 to $3.5 million expenditure to increase the size of Mary Kay McMillin....The Superintendent recommended to not accept the recommendation."

He added that there has been no further work to date since that time. Corley-Hand is always working with early childhood education at the state and local level with her peers, Reinstein said. "For right now, that recommendation of October 2014 is our latest recommendation," said Reinstein. "It is something our educators are constantly looking at, but until there is another discussion and recommendation, we have our half day kindergarten."

Reinstein commended the citizens for bringing it to the Board's attention. "We will make sure to communicate this to Judy [Rattner] and Annie [Corley Hand]." He also advised the parents to talk with Annie Corley Hand, who can provide more details.

"We want our town and our kids education to be perceived as being on par," said a citizen that addressed the board.

Audit findings were also presented at Thursday's meeting by Bill Swisher of Suplee, Clooney and Company, Certified Public Accountants and identified the following recommendations and have received a response from the Board of Education:

  • It was noted that payment of federal and state payroll taxes are not confirmed as paid by an individual not involved in the process of paying payroll taxes. This resulted in a late payment of payroll taxes. Response: We are adding a layer of oversight and all payroll tax payments will be confirmed by an individual not involved in the process of paying payroll taxes.
  • 1099s were not issued to several vendors who performed services for the District and were paid in excess of $600 with no evidence that they were identified as a corporation on form W-9. Response: We have requested new W-9 forms from all vendors. Once we have received a response, we will record the status of the vendor and issue 1099s to vendors as appropriate.

The next Board of Education meeting will be held on January 19, 2017 at 8 p.m. in the Multi Purpose Room at Columbia Middle School. The first budget meeting is scheduled for January 12, 2017 and the second is scheduled for January 31, 2017 in the Music Room at Columbia Middle School. 

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