SPARTA, NJ-The Sparta Board of Education took the next step to create a new playground at the back of Mohawk Avenue School.  It was one of only a few topics on which there were discussions among board members during the virtual meeting last week that was “attended” by more than 130 people.

An addendum to the agenda, authorizing the business administrator to solicit bids for “playground replacement” was approved by an 8-1 vote with board member Kurt Morris the lone dissenter.

Morris said he did not think it was appropriate to be discussing spending more than $240,000 for a playground “when people have lost their jobs.”  He disagreed with approving the resolution and disagreed with exceeding the $200,000 earmarked in the 2020-2021 budget.

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Board President Kim Bragg said that price tag was an estimate from the architect.  They were hopeful the bids would come in lower.

During public participation people in the meeting spoke about the playground.
“The children [at Mohawk Avenue School] are suffering,” parent Amy Perillo said. 

Parent Lenore DiStefano thanked Morris for questioning the expenditure. “Is this really the time to be implementing a new playground when we’re simultaneously letting go of how many aids at Alpine.  Unemployment is skyrocketing in New Jersey… We’re going to implement a $200,000 plus playground for students that are in the building for one year. I have a hard time reconciling that.”

Board member Robert Zywicki said the equipment could paid for by “end of year surplus” funds from the current 2019-2020 budget, with the balance of the project to be funded in the 2020-2021 budget, as approved.

Julianne Buccino asked if any end of year surplus could be spent by the district to make any accommodations that may be necessary to reopen schools in September. 

Business Administrator said capital funds could only be used for capital projects.  It could not be used for “PPE.”   But that “it all depends on what items comes out of this and ways and structures that are constructed to protect our students and our staff. Most likely it’s not going to be reserve funds.”

Board members referenced several options provided by the architecture firm Parette Somjen though committee minutes were not available for the public to see prior to the meeting.  None of the options listed costs.  Board members approved pursuing “Option 2” that expanded the existing playground’s footprint and equipment though this option, it was noted, may be impacted by state requirements regarding waterways.

The board also approved a plan to cover the walkway between the main building at Alpine Elementary School and the modular classrooms go out to bid.  Two plans were initially put forward: a canopy for $318,000 and an enclosed walkway with lights for $912,000. The finance committee recommended the canopy option which was on the agenda.

Board members discussed the removal of Matthew Scott and Robert Dodson from the Personnel portion of the agenda.  Both men were discussed in the May Personnel committee meetings, minutes reveal.  The committee “discussed necessity for custodial staff hiring during school closure” and then “agreed to support the recommendation of Buildings and Grounds at this time.”

The committee had supported the two be added on the evening shift, even though the current custodial staff is not working full shifts, according to operation committee minutes.

Morris said the committee members did not know the item was going to be pulled from the agenda.  Acting Superintendent Patrick McQueeney said he had recommended it be removed because given the current “executive orders it doesn’t make sense now.”

The decision to remove the custodian positions had been made at the finance committee meeting which had been held the day before the meeting according to board member discussion.

Board member Kylen Anderson asked Bragg “if the finance committee is meeting the night before the regular meeting please post the committee minutes.”

The Personnel committee had the same names on the April agenda and agreed “there isn’t a need to start full time custodial staff at this time,” with schools closed and full time staff working staggered shifts.

The Curriculum committee, in a discussion about purchasing text books to address the new science standards, had Science Supervisor Marisa Wilson in the meeting.  Wilson spoke with the board members about the “integration of climate change into the curriculum per the new standards and introducing professional development for teachers to ensure this very complex topic is well understood and brought into the classroom properly.”

The next board of education meeting is scheduled for June 22, 2020.