NUTLEY, NJ - The League of Women Voters hosted a candidate forum on Wednesday Oct 30 in the Nutley Museum. All six candidates for the three open seats on the board participated.  

Each candidate was asked two questions and were required to respond in 250 words or less. The two questions were:  1. What do you see as the singularly most important job that the BoE does for the township and for the school district? and 2. What do you consider the strengths and weaknesses of the current Nutley school system?

The candidates' answers follow, published in order of ballot position:

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Frank DeMaio

1. What do you see as the singularly most important job that the Board of Education does for the township and for the school district?

The most important job that the Board of Education has is to educate our children and communicate with the community. As a Board of Education member I realize that we have the responsibility to hire and evaluate the superintendent, establish policy, approve the budget. Understanding and listening to community members and opening the lines of communication demonstrates transparency. Approachability in a board member allows a comfort level that is essential to honest and open conversation. Keeping everyone informed of the ongoing changes our district is facing helps keep the community partner with our school board. School District strategic planning is better understood when done in concert with an informed citizenry.

2. What do you consider the strengths and weakness of the current Nutley School system?

As a product of the Nutley School system, along with my wife and three children, I can say without doubt that the strengths of our school system are the teachers, staff and families. Growing up in Nutley and attending the schools my family and I were lucky to have fantastic teachers and administrators that encouraged us to do great things. Nutley has always had a strong sense of community and family. Parents are highly involved in our schools as well and make valuable contributions to the educational system as shown in organizations such as the PTOs and the Nutley Educational Foundation (NEF). Unfortunately, with all strengths come weakness and the one that stands out most is the “shrinking” classroom. Due to many state mandates we are losing classroom space. We as a district are not alone in this fight, but for us the need for space is a great one. Classroom size has become an issue in many of our schools and the need for temporary trailers has taken place. With communication between the board
and community we can solve this problem in a reasonable and affordable way.

Ralph Chimento

1. What do you see as the singularly most important job that the BoE does for the township and for the school district?

The most important job the Board of Education does for the township and the school district is listen. A Board of Education member is charged with representing the interests of the community. The only way to properly serve those interests is to listen to the ideas, concerns and criticisms of the people. While the Board of Education sets policy for the District, this policy must necessarily be in accord with the vision of the people for whom that policy is intended to benefit.

2. What do you consider the strengths and weaknesses of the current Nutley school system?

The greatest strength of the District is its highly qualified teaching staff who are dedicated to providing their students with a quality education. Teachers are often undervalued for the impact they have on shaping our children’s lives and contributing to their success in adulthood. I believe that the District has also done a commendable job in responding to rising concerns about mental health issues, adopting an initiative to tackle this problem quickly and efficiently. While still in an early stage, the District has already implemented several programs to address educating students and faculty on identifying and addressing mental health issues, minimizing stress and anxiety, and detecting signs of depression. This is critical, as early identification of mental health issues can make all the difference.Overcrowding and security shortfalls are also critical weaknesses that must be dealt with in all due haste. Overcrowding has reached crisis point, and, even though the writing has been on the wall for nearly two decades, the can has been kicked down the road far too long. Another weakness that is not being talked about enough, is the District’s shortcomings with respect to preparing all students for a successful future, including those students who are not interested in following the traditional, college-bound path. We need to provide more exposure to, and training in, vocational and technical fields, as our students are not “cookie-cutter” kids, and all deserve the best possible education we can provide, no matter the path they choose to
take in life.

Vito D’Alessio

1. What do you see as the singularly most important job that the BoE does for the township and for the school district?

The single most important job of the Board of Education is to establish goals for the district and ensure that those goals are being met. This entails, among other things, keeping abreast of trends in education and industry to confirm that we are best preparing our students for a successful future; overseeing the budget and making sure we are maximizing the return on every dollar spent; and contributing to the overall prosperity of the community (good school districts = increased property values).

2. What do you consider the strengths and weaknesses of the current Nutley school system?

The greatest strength of the Nutley Public School system is the town in which it resides. Nutley is a special place — a unique suburb reminiscent of Main Street USA amid one of the most densely populated counties in the United States — which makes it a highly desirable place to live. This small-town community feel exists within the schools as well - teachers truly know their students and, quite often, their parents; administrators are accessible to parents and students alike; and many activities, such as the annual all-school instrumental concert, the Junior Olympics, the art show, and science and history fairs foster a “single community” spirit amongst all of our students across schools.The Nutley school system’s greatest weakness is the overcrowding issue. Our students should all be securely under one roof, and our taxpayers pay too much money in taxes to have to send their kids to school in trailers. Moreover, the District still has significant gaps in security. I have an extensive background with school security measures and believe that, rather than hiring school security officers for the High School and Middle School this year, the District should have hired Class III SLEOs in
coordination with the Nutley Police Department. Our educators should focus on their area of expertise and leave security in the hands of security experts. Aside from the fact that the District has now taken on a new layer of liability, school security officers are not subject to the training mandates applicable to Class III SLEOs.

Dominick Ritacco

1. What do you see as the singularly most important job that the BoE does for the township and for the school district?

The singularly most important job that the Board of Education does is to serve as the voice of the people, balancing the interests of the taxpayers, faculty and staff, and, first and foremost, the students of the District. As a parent, I also strongly believe it is the Board of Education’s responsibility to set policy that ensures that students receive a well-rounded education that recognizes the uniqueness of every individual.

2. What do you consider the strengths and weaknesses of the current Nutley school system?

The greatest strength of the Nutley school system is the tight-knit community of involved parents and citizens who unfailingly support the best interests of the students. Despite our differences, the community shares a common goal - to continually improve the educational experience of our students and cultivate an interconnectedness within the township that reflects the values taught to the students at home and in the classroom. The District has also made great strides in cultivating a culture of acceptance. While bullying and exclusivity has not been completely eradicated, the District has made extensive progress in teaching the students to see beyond labels. Aside from the most obvious weakness of the school district – overcrowding – the district still has significant security issues. For instance, armed security guards were placed in the middle
and high schools, but no such measure has been implemented in the elementary schools. The District has also invested significant financial resources into constructing secure entrances at all the schools but have failed to address the vulnerability of the ground floor classrooms, which renders the entrances meaningless. Moreover, four of the five elementary schools are over 100 years old. Although improvements were made to these schools several years ago, many improvements are still needed to maintain
the integrity of these schools. This problem is further compounded by the fact that the last two referendum proposals sought to add additions to these aging facilities. The District needs to discuss whether we should keep pouring taxpayer dollars into these structures.

Danny Carnicella

1. What do you see as the singularly most important job that the BOE does for the township and for the school district?

The Nutley Board of Education, similar to all school boards in the state of NJ, are primarily policy making boards that provide oversight for the public with no executive authority in the day to day operations of the district. The only executive power that Board has is with the hiring, supervision and evaluation of the superintendent. The Board should be a reflection of the community's vision regarding education, working within the guidelines from both federal and state Departments of Education. Policy is the board's strongest tool in establishing direction for our superintendent who maintains the day to day operations, performance, and expectations of the district. Policy is created as a matrix that promotes transparency to the public and allows the district and superintendent to function within a framework, focusing on compliance and accountability. Policy provides the Board, as a majority, the authority to maintain compliance and hold accountability of the superintendent. Oversight, which represents the boards' second
largest role would be best described in these steps:
1. Adopting Vision and Goals- led by community stakeholders, staff, and superintendent;
2. Creating a clear framework - ensuring expectations are aligned with visions and goals;
3. Developing Plans and processes to achieve the vision and goals within the defined framework;
4. Approving implementation;
5. Evaluating progress;
6. Evaluating results.
These two complementary roles are the most important in establishing a strong, high performing school district. Electing the right community leaders are essential in the long term sustainability for a school district and community alike.

2. What do you consider the strengths and weaknesses of the current Nutley school system?

Nutley Public Schools, similar to other districts, have their strengths and weaknesses. Here in Nutley we are still challenged with underfunded programs based on antiquated funding formulas at the state level which continue to burden Nutley taxpayers. State aid has not increased at the levels seen by adjacent school districts and the overall perception of the state funding committees seems to remain—of effortless affordability amongst the Nutley Community. Costs for all school districts continue to rise within New Jersey. However, only a minority of school districts are being funded appropriately. Equitable funding would help to stabilize significant school budget increases, add much needed relief for programming, and allow for program enhancements for 21st century learning environments to keep our students adaptable and competitive in this high level educational environment. This would also allow for relief to local taxpayers who cover the majority of costs for education. The Nutley Board of Education has continued to have strong conversations with state officials involving funding equality and simultaneously applied for emergency aid to ensure our voices be heard at
different state levels. The Nutley public schools however, in the face of underfunding has enjoyed many strengths. During the last six to eight years the school district has been able to update curriculum, adopt new policies and procedures, increase educational rigor through programming and scheduling, to challenge and inspire staff and students alike to improve the overall success of the student body.

Charles Kucinski

1. What do you see as the singularly most important job that the BoE does for the township and for the school district?

By law, only one job that the BoE does for the township and school district and that is to set policy. Therefore, the predominant duty of the BoE: to establish policies that serve as a guide for the day-to-day management of our schools. Included in policy setting is deciding the vision and goals for the school district, and holding the
district accountable for results. Also, under policy-setting is the hiring and evaluation of the superintendent, adoption and overseeing of the annual budget and managing the collective bargaining process for employees of the district. The Board of Ed’s decisions have a long-term impact on our community more so than any other elected body at any other level of government. And, for that reason an effective school board member needs to listen to his or her constituency, think independently and contribute his or
her own unique talents to the position while being able to collaborate and work as a team with other board members. Communications between the Board of Ed, Commissioners and the citizens of Nutley is an integral function of policy setting. Great school districts are always planning for the future involving listening to everyone in the community. Maintaining open dialogue is key to successful school districts. I am proud of my track record and willingness to interface with constituents who either ask me
a question in passing, send an email or wish to sit down to discuss. Board member to community; extremely important aspect, a role I take to heart. 

2. What do you consider the strengths and weaknesses of the current Nutley school system?

Nutley is proud and can boast many strengths; a strong, accessible, effective superintendent and administration, a rigorous curriculum encompassing all students, quality teachers and high-performance achievement statistics. Daily these academic professionals unselfishly and heroically open the minds of every Nutley student gifted or challenged. Our superintendent, administration, teachers and staff are the backbone of our district who take education beyond the traditional classroom enhancing the learning experience. Nutley is a sought-after district attracting families from many surrounding communities. It is in the best interest of the Township as a whole to maintain a strong school district. Our school performance is a key factor in property values and the quality of life in our community. Current weaknesses in our district: housing our students and teachers in an environment that is safe and conducive to learning, and working with reduced state aid with a 2% tax cap. Aging schools, expansion of the kindergarten program to full day sessions along with our special education program and State mandated curriculum are shrinking our classrooms. The overcrowding necessitated two referendums that unfortunately failed resulting in temporary trailers equating to band-aids rather than the cure. Classroom sizes are being forced to
increase, a situation that affects our rating scores. The ratio of number of students to teacher is a measuring factor. Regardless of how well our students score academically, our scores are reduced because of this ratio. Our children are entitled to better accommodations and I am committed to continuing to fight to resolve these issues.

TAPinto Nutley is grateful to the League of Women Voters, Nutley Area for making this information available to our readers. 

Since 2016,  has been the only locally owned news organization serving the Township of Nutley, and is a member of the New Jersey Press Association. The Nutley Board of Commissioners made the township's 'Official Electronic News Source' starting in 2019. 

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