Over 150 Protest Proposed Cuts at Passaic Valley High School Board Meeting

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Over 150 attendees turned out at the recent Passaic Valley High School Board of Education Meeting on May 9 to protest proposed cuts to several courses and programs, including two teaching positions. Credits: Tina Pappas
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Over 150 attendees turned out at the recent Passaic Valley High School Board of Education Meeting on May 9 to protest proposed cuts to several courses and programs, including two teaching positions. Credits: Tina Pappas
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Over 150 attendees turned out at the recent Passaic Valley High School Board of Education Meeting on May 9 to protest proposed cuts to several courses and programs, including two teaching positions. Credits: Tina Pappas
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Over 150 attendees turned out at the recent Passaic Valley High School Board of Education Meeting on May 9 to protest proposed cuts to several courses and programs, including two teaching positions. Credits: Tina Pappas
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LITTLE FALLS, NJ - The Passaic Valley High School Board of Education voted to eliminate one business teaching position, while tabling another media teaching position, at a meeting held on May 9.

Board members were also considering the elimination of several courses and programs, including the replacement of some. The revisions and cuts also targets PVTV, the high school's television programming channel.

A public hearing was held prior to the vote, which brought out well over 150 attendees comprised of staff, former staff, students and graduates, who protested the elimination of two popular programs, along with their respective teachers. News about the proposed cuts was dispensed over social media days in advance of the board meeting, which propelled many to appear in person.

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Superintendent Dr. JoAnn Cardillo spoke prior to the opening of the public comment and reassured attendees that the school's television network, PVTV, would not be eliminated.

"It's part of a curriculum to offer students a very rigorous program aligned with today's digital platform. The community will continue to see PVTV as a community bulletin board and planned programming will be offered," Cardillo said, adding that Girls Show, the longstanding annual performance event that is televised live by the broadcast channel, will "continue to be a priority for the high school," along with proposed technological upgrades that are needed.

"This year we streamed through YouTube to over 5,000 devices, both locally and to other places in the United States," she added. "Many of you have shared your frustration with the quality of live programming. I am preparing to discuss and recommend to the board that we do independent needs assessment of our current technology and next steps to rectify this issue. Students will continue to be the focus of this and every program at Passaic Valley. Our providing them with rigor in high school is what's going to make it better for our students."

Cardillo added that her goal was to partner with a local university to create a pathway for learning. 

"We're purchasing a bus so that more of this interaction of students on campuses and interaction with our lower schools can continue to happen."

Sam Yodice, board member, who is also finance committee chairman, commented on the intent of the board to attendees. 

"We are looking to abolish four courses and create two new ones," he said, and confirmed with Cardillo, that the items hadn't been brought up to the education committee but that they were reviewed by board members prior to the meeting.

"I encourage the education committee to sit and have a conversation and bring it back to the board," he remarked, adding that the board needs to have more details for the course offerings and the possible changes that are intended. The board then passed a motion to table items 32 through 37 on the agenda items. 

"The education committee will sit with Dr. Cardillo to review both programming and fiscal matters this week prior to a special meeting of the board held this Monday night at 6 p.m.," he noted. "We will have an education committee and finance committee meeting just to make sure at the end of the day we're doing the right thing and we want to get it right for the students of Passaic Valley."

Board members then heard countless testimonials from those who took those courses with Carolyn Macchia, teacher of technical occupation: television production technology, whose job was possibly being eliminated. The speakers all stated the impact her direction had on their lives. Several graduates also attested to the success in their careers as a result of taking those courses under her instruction.

Alex Volgyesi, a junior at PV, who was previous assistant director of Girls Show coverage, gave a heartfelt plea during the evening.

"I'm here on behalf of myself and the rest of the students of PVTV, who request the continued employment of Ms. Macchia," she said. 'I didn't know when first starting media class, that almost two years later, she would become one of the most important and influential teachers I've ever had. Her capabilities as an educator reach far beyond the classroom and she has been integral to my personal growth." 

She also commended Stephanie Roberts, broadcast journalism teacher, for her tireless efforts in running the class, programs, and covering events with Macchia.

"This is a job too big for two full-time teachers to do, yet it gets done. Ms Macchia is an invaluable teacher and PVTV would not be able to meet the community's demands with out her," she noted.

Joseph Bavazzano, a graduate of the class of 2011, who is now the assistant director of the ADP for Learning Technologies at Montclair State University, strongly urged the board to reconsider its possible plans.

"This is an educator that truly went above and beyond to help every single student that passed through her classroom," he said.

Many attendees also spoke on behalf of Kevin Ketcho, business teacher, who runs Passaic Valley Enterprises, Inc., (PVEI)  a student led company for virtual businesses. Ketcho's success in getting his kids business savvy and financially literate, often led to students on his business teams winning many business competitions. The teams would often compete in the "Stock Market Game" program, sponsored by the SIFMA Foundation, an independent, non-profit, educational organization. His business students often scored top placements, year after year. 

Last year, the high school hosted a visit by business students in Japan who read about Ketcho's business students and wanted to learn more about the classes and programs at the high school.

Kevin Villagomez, a senior, spoke of behalf of Ketcho.  

"I'm a student here and I was enrolled in the business program," he said. "Like my peers we have gone through this program and it has 450 graduates. We created a business learning environment. We created a stronger PV. By letting go of a few of these teachers, it's not going to be the strongest choice."

He also questioned why tenured teachers were being considered for elimination.

"I know Mr. Ketcho was always outstanding, and I'm pretty sure Ms. Macchia has done the same," he added.

Eric Skyta, a graduate, also commented on the impact that Ketcho had as his business teacher.

  "This man is one of the most influential teachers I have ever come across and I know many other students can agree to that," he said. "Is he unorthodox? yes. Does he like to push people's buttons? of course. But the reason why he does that is because he's been in the real world. He's been in a business and can bring the experience right to the classroom. He brings the real life action to the classroom. He teaches you to how to budget and balance that budget, and what the stock market is. All of these important facts, ideas and concepts, he brings to the student.  This school has been in the media for great, great reasons. We have placed multiple times over many competitions."

 Cardillo then spoke of the recent high school budget and the need to accommodate special needs students, including what she referred to as "pragmatic downsizing."

"A program needed to be downsized in order for us to meet our budget expectations and hold on to our surplus as required by law," she explained. "We also are projecting and receiving up 37 students of special needs coming to Passaic Valley of above and beyond in take for our freshman year. Those students have IEP's that need to be legally met. So somewhere that funding for special ed teachers has to come. Some of the hard decisions that have to be made. This is not a personal thing."

In March, Ketcho had been placed on administrative leave with pay. Details about the investigation into the leave were not disclosed by PV administration. Sources told TAPInto that Ketcho was in class when told to head to the office. Students said they were later escorted out of the classroom, where it was closed off, and items were removed by police. Sources said there were rumors and questions by students and faculty about the operations of the school store.

Villagomez also commented on the board's priorities.

"The third most highest paid person is the football coach," he commented, erupting loud applause from attendees. "It's our taxpayer money that's paying salaries at this school. We know you're looking out for our best interests, but you have to hear our voices as well." 

Alexa Arrabito, a graduate, who also teaches seasonally at the high school, also questioned the board's priorities.

"I'm happy to hear we're trying to make more for students with special needs as my brother, who's coming here has an IEP, so great," she said. "But I don't understand why that has to be at the expense of someone else."  

Mike Rufino, a graduate, commented on the purchase for a new school bus as an expense.

"You're gong to also have to have insurance for that bus," he said. "I want to mention that you can cut the budget for PVTV because it's expensive but I would ask you don't have to get rid of someone who knows how to teach phenomenally."

Raymond Reddin, board attorney, informed attendees that the personnel matter that was discussed during the executive session that evening did not involve teachers who were the topic of conversation during the public session. He added that Rice notices were submitted prior to the board meeting

"I will acknowledge there were Rice notices that were executed by Ms. Macchia and Ms. Roberts, which authorizes any discussion about them to be held in public," he said.

Under the agenda items of that meeting, the board listed both Macchia and Ketcho's positions under "Approval/Regarding Reduction in Force." It lists as the intent to "abolish for reasons of economy, reorganization, programmatic, downsizing and other good cause, the following positions effective June 30, 2017."

It further listed the approval/abolish current courses and approve /new course offerings, approval, create department of fine and performing arts and the approval to "move 712 Web Design from the Technology Department to the Fine and Performing Arts Department starting the 2017-2018 school year."

Board members ultimately voted to eliminate Ketcho's position and tabled the other listed agenda items affecting Macchia's position, along with the changes in courses, for further discussion and deliberation.

A special meeting by board members will be held on Monday, May 15 at 6 p.m. at the high school's Suchorsky Library.

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