NORTH CALDWELL, NJ — Prior to closing down schools in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19, the West Essex Board of Education voted unanimously to approve the preliminary budget for the 2020-2021 school year, which would become effective on July 1, 2020. 

The tentative budget totals $43,751,185, and the local tax levy (inclusive of debt service payments) would be $40,028,428 if the budget is approved as presented.

The board also announced that Gov. Phil Murphy’s proposed state budget would provide for an increase of $241,801 over last year’s state aid for a total of $1,795,072 in state aid for the 2020-2021 school year.

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Board member Tony Rubinich, liaison to the finance committee, reported that the district’s healthcare coverage for its employees will see an increase of 19 percent due to a high experience rating. He noted that the committee is planning to present a referendum on or around March 21, 2021 that would provide upgrades to existing facilities. 

As the district moves forward to prepare for the referendum, the board unanimously voted to retain DiCara/Rubino Architects to provide an update of the long-range facility plan and Statistical Forecasting LLC to perform a demographic survey to determine future enrollment needs. The law firm of Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer, P.A. was retained to act as bond counsel.

In other district news, West Essex Regional High School Principal Caesar Diliberto attended the recent board meeting along with technology department representative Mike Johnson, who presented an opportunity for a new competitive video-gaming club called “E-sports.”

According to Johnson, the club would focus on three games—Overwatch, League of Legends and Rocket League—and would likely include two or three coaches overseeing a team of 20-to-25 members based upon tryouts.

In addition to providing an opportunity for socialization, where currently games are played in seclusion, Johnson said that the teamwork, analytical thinking, communication and sportsmanship involved would encourage “valuable work/life skills.”

After the initial meeting held in February garnered 30 signups, Johnson indicated the club organizers are hoping to “dabble a bit with a few scrimmages” once the spring semester resumes. However, he said, the current intent is to officially launch the club in the fall of 2020 with a second session planned for the spring 2021 semester. 

The board also accepted resignation letters from long-time high school social studies teacher Robert Muller and woodworking teacher Lee Oberg after 33 years and 40 years of service to the district, respectively. Their retirements will become effective July 1, 2020. 

Superintendent of Schools Damion Macioci and Board President Mary Adele Wojtowicz thanked them both for their contributions to the district and announced that the two educators will be publicly recognized for their service during a future board meeting.