WEST ORANGE, NJ – With the West Orange Public Schools (WOPS) district quickly approaching the start of the 2019-20 school year, Superintendent of Schools Dr. J. Scott Cascone gave a positive update on the state of Legionella in the district at Monday’s West Orange Board of Education (WOBOE) meeting.

“We’re happy to report that all of our buildings are clear of Legionella insofar as the drinking water,” he said, adding that all fountains have been fitted with filtration systems and that a “regular chlorination protocol” has been put in place on all fountains with the exception of one at the West Orange High School (WOHS), which is currently shut down and being cleared.

Dr. Cascone continued that because the high school is made up of three separate buildings, WOHS will ultimately be “the most challenging to maintain.”

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“We are exploring with the environmental company the potential of installing fairly intricate filtration systems at the high school and that would be three separate filtration systems because it is three separate buildings,” he said.   

According to Dr. Cascone, the estimated cost of the proposed filtration systems is $30,000 per building, not including annual maintenance costs.

A welcome letter from the superintendent was distributed to parents this week regarding Legionella other updates within the district.

In a brief presentation on Monday, WOPS Director of Technology Fil Santiago provided an update on the district’s 1:1 Chromebook program.

Beginning this school year, WOHS will receive 2,100 new Lenovo Chromebooks, which will be added to the stock of 200 Lenovo units which are currently less than a year old, with older functioning models to be distributed to grades K-8, he said.

According to Santiago, WOHS students will also be the only group to take their Chromebooks home after school this year due to the high amount of breakage among units distributed to students in grades 6-8 compared to the minimal breakage found among units distributed to K-5 students.

As a result, Santiago suggested bringing back laptop carts to every classroom in the middle schools. For students who may still need access to a computer at home, however, Santiago said that a “loaner program” will be made available so that they can check a Chromebook out from the school library for a duration of approximately two-to-three weeks.

According to Santiago, the elementary schools will also have a Chromebook cart available for use in each school’s Library Media Center.

Santiago also suggested that the district allow underclassmen at WOHS to keep their Chromebooks at the end of school year in preparation for the 2020-21 school year in order to help them complete summer assignments. As part of this recommendation, Santiago said members of the technology department would be made available during the summer to provide support to those students.

Additionally, Santiago mentioned that there are 800 obsolete desktops in the computer labs need to be replaced and that 400 new laptops have been purchased for faculty use.

He also touched briefly on the upcoming redesign of the district website, stating that after having six companies submit a request for proposal (RFP), the technology department is hosting a meeting in September with the design committee in order to review those vendors and the responses to a survey that was distributed to the community about what improvements were needed for the current website.

In other district news, Tony Catana from Spiezle Architectural Group returned before the board on Monday to give another update on the WOHS Athletic “Bubble.”

This week, Catana said that the contractor, GL Group, has “scheduled a final building inspection for the locker room area of the air structure.” He added that the firm has submitted a temporary certificate of occupancy (TCO) so that all equipment and furniture will finally be moved into the athletic facility.

Business Administrator John Calavano added that he has seen a lot of progress at the facility since the last board of education meeting.

Referencing what was said at the last meeting about the manufacturer’s, Arizon Building Systems, refusal to do work on the Bubble, WOBOE Vice President Sandra Mordecai asked whether the manufacturer was still unwilling to work with the current contractor. Catana responded that meetings with the board’s legal council are being organized this week to see what can be done.

As suggested at the Aug. 12 board meeting, Dr. Cascone clarified that the district has met with a representative from Arizon at the Bubble, but that it is clear Arizon and the general contractor have irreconcilable differences. He said that this is “why [the district] decided to bring board counsel into it to see what legal options we have at this time.”

According to Dr. Cascone, the Bubble does currently have HVAC installed, but additional penetrations were made at the top of the structure “for the venting of the bathroom spaces, for the shower, and things of that nature.”

Although in this context these vents do not directly help with the Bubble’s air ventilation, Catana clarified that this is “part of the process of keeping the Bubble expanded” because air needs to move in and out of the facility “at a constant rate.”

Dr. Cascone also said that the lockers for the Bubble “are slated for installation in the second week of October.” Although the Bubble project is now two years old, according to Mordecai, Dr. Cascone said that progress is being made on the interior, which had a revised completion date set during the second week of August.

During public comment, resident Adam Kraemer—who is also a Republican candidate for the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders—commented that he hopes that the board will focus its spending on improving education while also ensuring that people of reasonable means and middle-class residents can still afford to remain in West Orange. He then suggested that the board consider the tax base when negotiating union contracts.

“Ultimately, not only is the town going to suffer, but at some point, future contracts and future negotiations with the unions are going to be at an economic stand still,” said Kraemer also expressed concern about the board’s usage of bonds. “The bonds that you’re considering have to have extreme control and extreme focus. The Bubble contract already got out of control, so if we do a lot of bonding for other capital improvement projects and give our buildings and grounds a wish list, I think it’s opening us up to a fiscal disaster.”

Since moving to West Orange 15 years ago, Kraemer said he has observed that although total enrollment has decreased, the amount of “administrative head count” has increased. Noting this as a concern, he reiterated that as a taxpayer, he wants his money to be “focused on the students.”

“I don’t want like last spring, when I came to the board and said why is enrollment stable, inflation low, and you’re spending 6 percent more,” Kraemer said.

The next board of education meeting will be held on Sept. 23 at WOHS.