WEST ORANGE, NJ — On July 9, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Eveny de Mendez provided the public with an update about the ongoing work with the district's Diversity, Equity and Access Committee.
Last week, a racial bias survey was been sent out to staff members which will help them explore their interests in several areas including understanding American history and its myths in relation to systemic racism, understanding implicit bias, understanding microaggressions, and how to talk about race.
De Mendez also explained that the district is looking to offer different types of professional development including book clubs where staff members are reading books like "Stamped" all throughout the district, traditional workshops--both virtual and in-person, an Edcamp which will be open to staff and community members in the fall, and an "unconference" where participants can discuss topics based on their preferences.
West Orange Public Schools Superintendent Dr. J. Scott Cascone also added that the district does plan on assembling all members of the diversity committee to develop a strategic plan about these topics.
In other news, during public comment West Orange resident Jackie Bazan addressed the West Orange Board of Education (WOBOE) to raise the issue once again regarding the non-renewal of West Orange High School guidance counselor Michael DuBose.
After hearing from residents at the last board meeting, Bazan said that the WOBOE still has not addressed the issue even though it is still an issue of concern for many parents in the community.
Bazan added that she had asked the board and the superintendent for transparency on the demographic makeup of educators throughout the district and the 30 positions which were cut from this year's budget.
Board President Ken Alper responded that although the WOBOE cannot address personnel issues directly, financially the district is in a difficult spot because of the unknowns which may be coming down the road.
"We can only assume that there will be further financial pain coming in the way of both shortfalls in property tax and other tax collection not reaching us, but then also in the state aid that we do receive," Alper said continuing that there is a good chance that more aid is going to disappear between now and Sept 30.
"When the state fiscal year actually ends, again without talking about personnel in general, I would never want to be in a position where the board is saying to people, we have the money for [these positions] and then find out that actually we don't have money for not just those positions, but for another, God forbid, 20-30."
Reflecting on the 2010 budget season when almost 100 jobs were cut, Alper said that he sympathizes with the fact the district is trying to fulfil a need to retain and recruit a more diverse staff while maintaining a financial base, but "layoffs are never easy in those cases."
Vice President Terry Trigg-Scales also commented as the only black elected official in the Township of West Orange explaining that she was "distressed" that so many people signed petitions asking for the guidance counselor's reinstatement.
"It's an anxious time for us," Trigg-Scales said continuing however that the "emotional wellbeing of our students and staff is primary right now," because of the many unknowns which may come up in the future. These include costs of PPE for students coming back to school, which is estimated to cost $498 for a three-week supply or figuring out if there is enough custodial staff to clean all district buildings as stipulated by state guidelines.
"As much as we'd like to do some things differently, we just can't at this point in time. It would be financially not prudent for us to do that," she said. "And so, I just want folks to know, we appreciate your interest; we appreciate your concern, that has not gone unnoticed."