Solar Panels Expected to Lower Electric Bills at Sussex County Vocational Technical School

Board Members:  Dr. Rosalie Lamonte, Diane Wexler, and John Miller Credits: Jennifer Murphy
Stephen Goodbody and Candace Bowden discuss the proposed solar panels. Credits: Jennifer Murphy
Board Secretary Robert Clark and Superintendent Gus Modla Credits: Jennifer Murphy
NJSBA representative Robynn Meehan reviews the Code of Ethiccs with board members Clark, Modla. Credits: Jennifer Murphy
Skills USA State President Daria Ferdine and Northern Regional President Stephen DeVito as they present their conference to the Board. Credits: Jennifer Murphy

SPARTA, NJ – Sussex County Vocational Technical School was the host site for the Annual Northern Region Skills USA Conference, held on Feb. 13.  Skills USA President Daria Ferdine and the Northern Region President, Stephen DeVito, both Sussex Vo-Tech students, gave a presentation at the board of education Meeting on Feb. 28, comprised of photos taken throughout the day.

Speakers at the conference were Lori Howard, New Jersey Education Development Specialist, New Jersey Senator Steve Oroho (R-24), and Harold Wirths, Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development. They were given a tour of the school by student Matthew Corsello. 

Over 100 hundred students representing seven different technical schools from all parts of New Jersey attended the conference, which featured sessions as: Public Speaking, Skills 101 for new members, Career and Technical Education (CTE), Professional Development, including how to carry yourself and talk in front of a crowd, Running for Office, and Preparing for Competition.

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“One of the great things about Skills USA is that we, as students, actually get to teach other students about what we do,” said Ferdine.

“We had some alumni come back and speak to us,” said DeVito. “Both of whom were past New Jersey State Presidents.” 

“And Sussex Vo-Tech Students, may I add,” said Ferdine.

Ferdine reported to the board, “The feedback we got was amazing, the students seemed to love it, the adults seemed to love it.  Later that day, I was on the Skills USA Facebook page, which has over 25,000 likes, there was a picture of a student with Harold Wirths. A lot of people saw it, it was really good recognition.”

Both Ferdine and DeVito thanked the board, and credited their support as the basis for all student success.

Another presentation was made by Stephen Goodbody, of SunLight General Capital, and Cadence Bowden, an associate at Gabel Associates. Gabel Associates has been hired by the County to administer the RFP process in developing solar energy.  Through a bidding process with the county, SunLight General will be providing electricity through solar panels they construct in various locations throughout the county. Gabel will be overseeing the process.

There will be three arrays of solar panels at the school. One will be to the left of McNeice Auditorium, the other two will feed into the main building. One will be in the unused parking lot, behind the teacher’s lot, the other will be behind the baseball field.

The arrays will be constructed and maintained by SunLight General. Their obligation is to provide electricity at a predetermined rate for 15 years, if they fail to do this, they have to pay the school for lost electricity.

The school’s obligation is to provide the land and space, and to purchase electricity from SunLight at a fixed, predetermined rate for 15 years. 

Board member John Miller asked, “What types of approvals are needed?” 

Goodbody replied that SunLight has already sought municipal and environmental approvals from Sparta Township.

Miller then asked, “What happens after 15 years?” 

Bowden replied that there are two viable options at this time, either SunLight will come and remove the panels, at no cost to the school, or the system can be purchased at fair market value, to be determined at the end of the term. She is hopeful a third option will be legal by that time, which is to extend the contract.

The rate has been determined to increase by three percent per year, to which Sussex County Administrator John Eskilson, who was present at the meeting, replied that he had a brand new email announcing that JCP&L was asking the BPU for a 4.5 percent earlier that day.

Miller asked what the life span of the panels was; Goodbody explained that of the first significant number of them that were installed in the 70’s, most are still working.

Next, New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) representative Robynn Meehan completed the required annual Code of Ethics review with the board. She explained that although Superintendent Gus Modla has only been in his current position for a few months, it is required that he receive an annual evaluation before April 30.After his evaluation is complete, each board member must complete a self-evaluation. 

Meehan also distributed materials about strategic planning, which the board had requested. NJSBA offers two options.  The first is a traditional strategic plan process, which takes from six to nine months, which involves an internal facilitator to organize committee meetings and an external coordinator to get community involvement. A culminating weekend meeting will bring all stakeholders’ input together and develop the plan. The cost of this process is $6,000.

The second option cuts down the time frame to three to four months. In this model, stakeholders meet monthly for a two hour meeting, then culminate in a three hour meeting from which the plan is developed. This process costs $3,500.

“Although a strategic plan is not legally required, it is very helpful in guiding the day to day decisions that need to be made,” suggested Meehan. 

John Miller responded, “It is a real chore, you have to keep working on it, but it makes sense.”

Meehan responded, “Once people take part in the plan, they take ownership in it.  You have so much to offer here at Vo-Tech, it’s good to let people know.”

Superintendent Gus Modla reported that Allison McCurry received a scholarship for her achievements in track and field.  She will be attending Mansfield University in Pennsylvania.

Recently, Modla invited Sussex County Community College President Dr. Mazur to Sussex County Vocational Technical School to speak about how they can expand their opportunities to help their students earn college credit while still in high school. Next month, Modla will visit Mazur at the college.

Board secretary Robert Clark next explained that the announcement of state aid was made today. While many school districts in the county are getting an increase, Vo-Tech’s aid will be the same as last year. In the third year of charging tuition, the cost will be $1,975 (down from $2,300 the first year) per student next year, to be paid by the sending district.  Clark anticipates 781.5 students next year (including share time students), a record number.

Modla announced that with the increased enrollment, there will be a need to increase staff next year, especially in history, math, and the new Performing Arts track. Before considering this, Modla wants to streamline job descriptions with the goal of retention of students. He will have recommendations next month for the board to review.

After reviewing the consent agenda, the meeting was adjourned.



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