LITTLE FALLS, NJ - The Passaic Valley Board of Education voted to approve the reappointment of Carolyn Macchia, teacher, during at a special meeting held on May 15. The board also voted to rescind the renewal of the teaching position held by Lisa Clark, gym teacher, and the high school's girls lacrosse team coach.
Board members voted to eliminate one business teacher position, held by Kevin Ketcho, while tabling Macchia's media teaching position, at the prior board meeting last week. The board also considered the elimination of several courses and programs, including revisions and cuts to PVTV, the high school's programming channel, but are now leaving it as is.
News about the proposed cuts prompted many students and staff members, including former students and staff, to speak during the public comment portions of that meeting. Dr. JoAnn Cardillo, superintendent, spoke of the recent high school budget and the need to accommodate special needs students, including what she referred to as "pragmatic downsizing."
Over a hundred attendees flooded the high school's library to voice their concerns at the recent actions by the board. Many remained critical of the board's decisions to possibly remove two beloved teachers. Several attendees who took the opportunity to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting, thanked the board for keeping Macchia and PVTV. However, many attendees again commented against the board's decision to eliminate both Ketcho's and Clark's positions. Many of Ketcho's students and former students were on hand to speak out against his job elimination, as well as Clark's students, which included many from the high school's girls lacrosse team. Several attendees also said they felt that too many administrative positions were being budgeted for, and an emphasis on sports over academics, was at the heart of the matter.
Kevin Villagomez, a senior year student, said that the teachers' salaries make up only a small portion of the budget.
"You have 15 administrators. What if we were to go back to the old ways of department heads who taught classes?" he said. "Why not review their positions before you review a few teachers? Many teachers are valuable to our education. It's understandable you have to review teachers but you also have to review administrators," he said, adding he never took a course from any administrator, mentioning several by name.
He then suggested to the board that teachers could be retained given that several administrators are scheduled to retire at the end of the school year.
"You could keep Ms. Clark, you could keep Mr. Ketcho, and you brought back Ms. Macchia," he added. He then made a comparison between several teachers' salaries and those of some of the administrators' at the high school.
"We looked at these numbers," Villagomez noted. "But if you could provide the full budget, that's when we could actually go over everything."
Raymond Reddin, board attorney, then suggested that anyone who wanted to seek more information on the high school budget could fill out an OPRA (Open Public Records Act) request in the high school's business office in order to get the information, or any other information that was being sought. Reddin added the high school had up to seven days in order to respond to a request.
Several students replied that they did file OPRA requests. Many also said that they felt the board was spending frivolous amounts of money on material items, at the expense of the teaching staff.
Salvatore Vonoflorio, also a senior, presented his comments during the board meeting.
"As public servants, all of you have a responsibility to fulfill the various wants and needs your constituents, including the over 400 students and staff here at PV," he said. "The board was elected to meet these obligations, including the superintendent they chose to appoint. These past few months have lead many of us to believe the board and the administration have not been acting in the best interests of their constituents. This was demonstrated last week when many came to protest the board's decision to remove teachers and revamp the PVTV program."
He also spoke of teachers, who he said represent the "front line of education."
"It begs the question, where is the taxpayer money being spent?" he added.
He also commented on several flat screen televisions that were installed recently, to which he said "students walk past every day. "
"So far the TV's have served no obvious purpose." he further added. "Are they a necessity? Along the same lines, PV introduced the 'makerspace' this year, a program that allows students to take part in S.T.E.M. related activities. I wish I had more information on the subject, but the makerspace page on the high school's website is completely blank."
He also referred to technical equipment purchased for the "makerspace" program, questioning whether is was "just another unnecessary expenditure we should have never funded in the first place."
Additionally, he stated that both the screens and the makerspace paled in comparison to what he called, "the repetitive and redundant jobs in the administration."
"The dean of students, whose base salary is slightly over $80,000, is such an example," he noted, adding that the position was created in early 2015 against the interim superintendent's wishes and despite already having a vice principal of discipline, and a principal who is a former police officer. He also said OPRA requests were filed to get the job descriptions of those positions "to compare and contrast their responsibilities."
"There are other ways to get funding without getting rid of our teachers and successful programs," he further added. "It's your job as a board to find that funding that's within the best interests of your constituents."
Eric Skyta, a graduate, empathized with the board, stating that he knows it's a tough job trying to make the right decisions for the school and the students of the community. He then spoke ardently in support of the business program and business teacher Kevin Ketcho.
"He is the driver of that program. This program provides real life experience and fact based and real life learning," he explained, adding that he was part of the first years of the program where students learned "the real process of business" because it was hands-on and valuable.
"Mr. Ketcho puts his heart and puts his soul with everything he has into Passaic Valley High School. He breathes PV and loves the green and white, and that is the value needed for someone here trying to get deals for these students and teaches how the real world works. He is the most valuable person you can have on your team. He created scholarships for students to go and pursue the next level of education."
Natalya Stahl, a senior, who is this year's graduating class's valedictorian, referred to the budget information accessibility as "bare minimum."
"It doesn't show where directly funds are allocated," she said. "Except for the handful of administrators who make over $75,000 a year and who are not part of the collective bargaining unit. We, the general public, don't know where our money is going. I believe every person in this room deserves to know where the money is going and allocated specifically. Not just allocated with administrators, but within programs, sports, academics - specifically where these funds are going and how much money is going to specific things. We don't understand why transparency should be an issue."
She also referred to the two administration positions that will be vacated at the end of the year.
"If we do not fill these positions, we will save almost $500,000 in those two years. and a gym teacher's salary is not very much," she added. "It would provide smaller class sizes for individualized attention."
During the meeting, the board also voted to abolish computer programming I honors, and create a department of fine and performing arts, which were formally separate departments of art, music, culinary and the theater program. Also added to the department was web design, moved over from the technology department.