Tuesday, April 25, 2017

YET ANOTHER DISABLED TRAIN DELAYING NYC TRAINS

From NJ Transit:

Trains are subject to up to 45 minute delays in and out of New York, due to heavy congestion caused by an earlier disabled Amtrak train in Penn Station New York.

Beginning with train 6628 (10:25am arrival into NY), Midtown Direct trains will operate into Penn Station New York. 

NJT rail tickets and passes will be cross honored on NJT bus, Private Carriers and with PATH at NPS and NY-33rd Street and Hoboken.

SCHOOL BOARD GIVES FINAL APPROVAL TO BUDGET AND TAX HIKE; ELEMENTARY SPANISH REINSTATED

The school board on Monday gave final approval to the 2017-2018 school district budget that includes a $130 million spending plan and a tax hike of 3.56%, or an average increase of $249 per home in Maplewood.

The board voted, 8-1, on the budget adoption, with Board Member Johanna Wright voting no.

As we reported last month, the budget includes the addition of some 14 staffers, including many middle school teachers, but with cutbacks in other teaching positions as well as fewer supplies and some textbooks.

The budget had initially included a cutback in elementary school Spanish programs that currently affect fourth and fifth graders. But those were reinstated just this week after district officials realized they were required by state law.

"Our due diligence has revealed that it is required by the state," Board President Elizabeth Baker said.

To offset that reinstatement the board chose to eliminate plans for two new math intervention instructors at the same $150,000 cost.

The budget includes a 3.56% tax hike in Maplewood. That means the average Maplewood home assessed at $396,992, and currently paying $8,474 in school district taxes, will see a $249 increase to $8,723.

The tax hike is above the 2% annual state cap because the district is using what is known as "banked cap," which is an increase not taken in prior years.

The budget includes the addition of 11 employees. Among them are six middle school teachers (three at each middle school), one elementary school teacher, one special services teacher, a new high school assistant principal, one custodial supervisor, one part-time nurse and a part-time safety and security director.

But the budget also cuts between eight and 14 other employees, with up to five teachers - including Freshmen Latin classes at CHS, two physical education, and one each in math and science.

And another $1.7 million is saved through cutbacks in other staff, as well as books, sabbaticals and health care spending.

The budget adoption occurred on the same night that the district received two reports on future enrollment projections, which continue to rise, and the effect on overcrowding and building maintenance needs. They noted the changing demographics in the two towns, which indicate a rise in white populations and a reduction in those of people of color.

Several board members spoke out with frustration at the ongoing cost increase and lack of revenue, as well as state funding limits.

"I believe that this community as well as much of this state has been living under a financial delusion with a 2% (tax increase) cap and our clearly neglected facilities for decades and that it was just going to work out," Baker said.

Board Member Madhu Pai added, "We are making it impossible for certain groups of people to move into these towns because of our taxes. We need to invest, but we also have to be careful that we don't turn into Chatham because of who we allow to move into our towns." 

AFTER DISPUTE OVER LEAF REMOVAL CONTRACT, FIRM REFUSES TO TAKE THEM

It's been three months since the Township sought to hire a firm to remove tons of leaves collected last fall from town streets. 

But they're still piled up next to the recycling center on Boyden Avenue awaiting removal. 

And they're beginning to stink.

"The neighbors are complaining because it has an odor to it and it is only going to get worse," Township Administrator Joe Manning told the Township Committee last week when he updated them on the situation.

What's the problem? The company that was hired to remove the leaves last month has refused, claiming they are contaminated. 

"We have a situation that is somewhat emergent," Manning explained at the meeting, later adding, "the contractor who we have a contract with to remove the leaves is refusing to remove the leaves because he says the leaves are contaminated, although he has provided no proof. We have no way of testing this."

That contractor is S. Rotondi & Sons of Chatham, which was chosen from among six firms who bid for the removal contract way back in January. 

Originally, the lowest bid was $6.87 per cubic yard (or $109,920) from Mazza Mulch Inc. of Tinton Falls, according to a memo from Public Works Director Calvin Bell to Township Administrator Joseph Manning provided to the Township Committee in February.

See that memo HERE.

But S. Rotondi & Sons initially contested the awarding of the contract to Mazza, claiming the firm did not possess the proper N.J. Department of Environmental Protection permit to haul the leaves. 

Bell reviewed Mazza's qualifications and found it did not have the permit and could not haul the 700 cubic yards of leaves required under the contract.

Bell indicated he then sought to award the contract to the second-lowest bidder, Marilyn Haggerty Farms of Washington. N.J. But a review of its bid found it lacked some proper certificates to operate within the contract.

Bell then suggested awarding the contract to S. Rotondi & Sons, which came in third with a bid of $6.94 per cubic yard (or $110,040).

But there was an initial delay in late February when Mazza objected to the awarding of the contract to Rotondi & Sons, claiming his firm could handle the job. The TC tabled approval until a review of Mazza could be completed.

Two weeks later, on March 7, the TC denied Mazza's objection and awarded the contract to Rotondi & Sons.

Fast forward to this week and Manning revealed that Rotondi had refused to remove the leaves, prompting the TC last week to pass an emergency resolution that allows Manning to hire another firm without bids so that they can be removed quickly. 

As of Monday, the job had still not been done, but Manning said it would be moving ahead by Wednesday.

"It is a problem because those leaves are there and they are usually gone six weeks already," Mayor Vic Deluca said at the meeting.

Stay tuned!

"VILLAGE COFFEE" PARKING LOT CLOSED FOR CONSTRUCTION AGAIN

Parking Lot 2, which is located between the Post Office project and Village Coffee, is closed "until further notice," according to a police alert today.

See it below:

From Maplewood Police:

4/25/17 Lot 2 closed from now until further notice for construction. The Dunnell road tunnel to lot 2 open to pedestrian traffic.

Monday, April 24, 2017

SCHOOL BOARD TO ADD BACK ELEMENTARY WORLD LANGUAGES, CUT NEW MATH INTERVENTION

From the school district this afternoon:

There is a resolution on the agenda for tonight’s Board of Education meeting to give final approval for the 2017-2018 budget and to set the tax levy.  

The final budget before the Board restores World Languages in the 4th and 5th grades.  This is budget neutral, since reinstating the 2 Elementary World Language teachers will be offset by eliminating the proposed addition of 2 math intervention teachers.

The meeting is set for 7:30 p.m. in the Columbia High School library.

 The agenda for the Board meeting is available here.
You can watch the Board meeting via livestream here or on the Columbia Cable Network (CCN)\

  • Maplewood: Channel 35
  • South Orange: Channel 19
  • FIOS Channel 22

CHS STUDENT DJ IS ALSO A NATIONAL NAME

DJ Ameer. Photo: Jet
Sixteen-year-old Ameer Muhammed is not just another Columbia High School student. He's also a rising star DJ.

The CHS sophomore has become the official DJ for Inspirational Dance Company on Springfield Avenue and has been involved in several local fundraisers. 

Jet magazine, a national publication, recently posted a great interview with Muhammed.

It states:

Showing an interest for DJ’ing at an early age. At the age of 7 years old, he had his first Numark controller and an amazing ear for music blossomed with a passion for House Music, Classic House and 80/90s music.

Photo: Jet
Ameer is currently the official DJ for Inspirational Dance Company in Maplewood NJ and is working fundraisers at Bergen County College to raise awareness for Men against Rape and Domestic Violence against Women. Big on community outreach Ameer has played in Newark’ 24 Hours of Peace and many Summer House Music festivals including Weequahic Park, Lincoln Park and the Dance and Music Festival Passing the Torch ceremony in Silver Springs Maryland.

See the full interview HERE. And more on his work HERE

CHS MANDARIN CHINESE LANGUAGE COURSE PROMPTS QUESTIONS, FEW ANSWERS

A plan to offer an optional Mandarin Chinese language course next year at Columbia High School is drawing a mix of support and puzzlement as it comes with few details about funding, no school board approval as of yet, and no plan for a second year.

Many CHS parents last week received the formal offering from Dr. Ramon Robles-Fernandez, K-12 world languages supervisor, offering three sections of the course next year. It stated, in part:

Dear CHS Family: 
We are delighted to be able to offer Mandarin Chinese classes at CHS in 2017-2018. 
SOMSD has been selected by the US Department of Education to host a teacher of Chinese for the next school year to help us start a Mandarin Chinese program. We are excited to offer our students an opportunity to enroll in this course, and plan to offer 3 sections of Mandarin for next year. Sections will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis, and sections will be closed once we have reached the class size limit. 

See it HERE.

Some were surprised at the option given that several basic courses in world language, including Freshman Latin at Columbia High School, were recently cut in the latest budget proposal, which is set for a final approval tonight.

The Mandarin courses have yet to receive school board approval and the offering gives no indication as to how they will be funded or if they will be available beyond one year.

We reached out to School Board President Elizabeth Baker and District Spokeswoman Suzanne Turner Friday to ask about the timing, funding and board approval.

Turner did not respond, while Baker said via email: 

This will be covered at Monday's meeting. To the extent we are able to share information before Monday, Suzanne will get back to you.

Tonight's meeting is set for 7:30 p.m. in the Columbia High School library.

JOB HUNTING HELP AT LIBRARY TODAY

Northern NJ Professionals in Transition

10:00 am – 12:00 pm

A MONEY SMART WEEK PROGRAM
Hilton BranchFinancial Planning During a Transition
Professionals in Transition have our April 24, 2017 Money Week Series speaker. It will be Bill LaChance a financial planner whose demographic is those in Job Search Transition. Bill has spoken to the group, (and other job search support groups) about the issues facing those in job search transition and tailors his talks to that unique demographic. 

Several of those in transition have followed up with him for additional advice and services.
Network with other professionals who are currently unemployed or looking for new career opportunities. Meetings alternate between guest speakers and career workshops. Programs are free and open to the public. Subscribe to the group here.

EAT AT VILLAGE TRATTORIA TONIGHT AND HELP MAPLEWOOD MIDDLE SCHOOL