Friday, March 24, 2017

CHS CODE YELLOW "SHELTER IN PLACE" TODAY: ALL CLEAR

From Columbia High School today:

Dear CHS Families,  

CHS had a code yellow/shelter in place for about 15 minutes today when we were made aware of a potential safety concern.  Shelter in place means that no one is permitted to enter or leave the building, but that classes continue as usual.  
 
We were quickly able to ascertain that there was no direct threat to CHS.  The code yellow was lifted, and classes were able to complete period 3 and move on to period 4 on time. 

We are grateful for the assistance of the Maplewood Police Department in keeping our students and staff safe.

South Orange Maplewood School District

RENT PARTY TONIGHT


NJ TRANSIT MIDTOWN DIRECT TRAINS DIVERTED DUE TO PENN STATION DERAILMENT

From NJ Transit:

All rail service is suspended in and out PSNY due to a derailed Amtrak train in PSNY. MidTown Direct trains are being diverted to Hoboken Terminal. Cross honoring is in effect system-wide with NJT bus, private carriers, and PATH.

From WCBS TV:

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — An incoming NJ TRANSIT train was hit when an Amtrak train leaving Penn Station derailed Friday morning.
It happened around 9 a.m. as Acela Express Train 2151 from Boston was departing Penn on its way to Washington D.C.
Amtrak said the train had “a minor derailment while moving at a slow speed.” That’s when NJ TRANSIT said one of its trains coming into Penn from Montclair was hit by the Amtrak train when it came off the tracks

TOWNSHIP COMMITTEE APPROVES NEARLY $4 MILLION IN CAPITAL PROJECTS

The Township Committee this week approved $3.4 million in bonds for a variety of projects in 2017, from repaving of Maplewood Avenue to new computers for the library. The total cost of the projects with other funding is $3.9 million.

See the related legislation and list of projects HERE.

SCHOOL DISTRICT RACIAL BIAS TOWN HALL ANNOUNCED

From the school district Thursday evening;


Thursday, March 23, 2017

SUSPECT ARRESTED FOR ALLEGED CAR BREAK-IN ON SPRINGFIELD AVENUE

...Scanner indicates police arresting a suspect for allegedly breaking into a car on Springfield Avenue, apprehending him near Yale Street ... No other details ...

TOWNSHIP COMMITTEE FLIPS ON RIGHT ON RED CHANGE AT BAKER/VALLEY

A plan to ease the No Right On Red restriction from Baker Street on to Valley Street was halted by the Township Committee on Tuesday night after three TC members who had originally supported the idea changed their minds.

An ordinance that had been approved on first reading two weeks ago was up for final passage. But three members who had voted for it originally -- Mayor Vic Deluca and committee members India Larrier and Greg Lembrich -- switched their votes. Frank McGehee had voted against it previously, while Nancy Adams remained the only supporter.

The ordinance would have allowed right turns on red at the intersection between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m., but keep the restriction in place the rest of the day. It lost, 4-1.

Those who switched said they had received increased opposition from local neighbors concerned about safety, including many from the nearby Crescents.  

"There were a few other people who contacted us besides the folks on the Crescent," Deluca said. "I think in the interest of waiting to see what happens I am gonig to be voting no."

See other comments below:



The reversal also followed the submission of a letter opposing the change submitted with the names of 22 residents who objected.

See that letter HERE.

SNOW BLOWER THEFT AND SHOPLIFTER LEAD POLICE WEEK

From Maplewood Police:

March 14, 2017; Theft; Between 3 PM and 3:20 PM, a snow blower left in the front of a home on Jefferson Ave was stolen.

March 15, 2017; Shoplifting; At approximately 10:15 AM, a female shoplifted several pieces of jewelry from a store on Maplewood Ave.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

RACIST WORDS, OFFENSIVE IMAGES AT CHS IN NEW SEPARATE INCIDENTS

Two more incidents involving alleged racist comments and images have occurred in the school district, this time at Columbia High School where racist words were used by a teacher, while a swastika and offensive comments were found in a bathroom.

See the note just sent to parents today:

March 22, 2017

Dear Columbia High School families,

We write to inform you of two incidents that occurred at Columbia High School today. 


In a classroom, students were allegedly using racist and derogatory language, specifically calling each other “n****s,” “b***s” and “hoes.”  In addressing the students’ use of these words, the teacher reportedly used the same words.  If true, this was clearly unacceptable and will be addressed according. One of our administrators will be joining the class tomorrow to follow up on the incident.

In a separate incident, graffiti was discovered in a student bathroom that included the words “KKK for Nazis,” other sexist and racist words, and an image of a swastika.


Administrators are investigating both incidents so that we can ascertain the facts and determine what disciplinary action may be appropriate, based on the code of conduct and our personnel procedures and union contract guides.  The graffiti incident was also reported to Maplewood police for their own investigation.

We know that these and other recent incidents do not reflect the values of the SOMSD student body or staff as a whole, or the values of the South Orange and Maplewood communities. They do, however, highlight the work we still have to do as a community to make sure our young people know that there is no place for derogatory, racist or anti-Semitic language or images in our classrooms and other school facilities, or in our community, and that they will not be tolerated.

Recent meetings between CHS leaders, staff and Black Student Union members have focused on how to build student and teacher competencies around the use of the “N” word in particular, since it is widely accepted by many students for a variety of reasons.  We ask for families’ support in helping students understand the pain that this word causes, and that it is not accepted at CHS, regardless of who is using it or their intent.


We are also reminding staff in all of our schools to make sure all of our communications with students, families and each other reflect our commitment to inclusivity and the cultural competency training that we have received.

Hate speech and images do not happen in a vacuum, and are not confined to our school buildings.  This is a family issue, a community issue, and a national issue, in addition to most certainly being a school issue.  Adults must take responsibility.  We once again ask for the partnership of all parents, guardians and community members in helping students understand the impact their words, images and actions can have on other individuals and on our communities.

Sincerely,

Dr. John J. Ramos, Sr. ,
Superintendent  
Elizabeth Aaron
Principal, Columbia High School


These follow a recent string of racist images and offensive actions at other district schools that have already drawn negative publicity and national attention to the district, as well as plans for increased sensitivity training and curriculum review.

The district has also promised a Town Hall meeting to discuss the issue, but it has yet to be scheduled.

SUPERINTENDENT RAMOS UPDATE ON BIAS INCIDENT RESPONSE; $100,000 FOR MORE TRAINING

Superintendent of Schools John Ramos today issued a lengthy update on efforts to combat bias and hateful actions in the district following the string of incidents that have included racist messages and swastikas in some schools.

Sent today, it indicates the proposed 2017-2018 school budget -- adopted Saturday -- includes another $100,000 to be set aside for cultural competency training next year.

The note says, in part:

In light of the recent increase in reports of bias incidents, we are reviewing all of our procedures and protocols for responding to bias incidents, to ensure consistent responses across the district.  We are also reviewing the Code of Conduct internally and plan to discuss it with the Board of Education’s Policy and Monitoring Committee, to determine whether we need to add more specific language about bias incidents, and related consequences.

The Administration, Board of Education and staff are working with instructional leaders and community leaders to chart out a broad range of next steps.   Since curriculum and instruction are the heart of everything we do, we are creating  a process by which our curriculum will be reviewed to ensure cultural sensitivity and responsiveness. This includes expanding elementary classroom libraries with additional books whose characters, settings and stories reflect our school community. We are also introducing new guidelines and supports for teachers to continuously examine their lesson plans and assignments for inclusiveness, bias and sensitivity.

We have retained an anti-bias consultant, Dr. Khyati Joshi, who is in her 3rd year of supporting our efforts in creating positive, bias-free cultures in all of our schools, and ensure culturally responsive delivery of our curriculum.  This year, Dr. Joshi provided in-depth training for 275 teachers in anti-bias education, social justice, and culturally responsive classrooms.  We also started the year with all new staff participating in a workshop on Striving for Social Justice. We have increased resources for cultural competency training for next year by allocating an additional $100,000 in the 2017-2018 budget.
 

Read the entire letter HERE.

TOWNSHIP INTRODUCES $43.6 MILLION BUDGET, $75 AVERAGE TOWN TAX HIKE

The Township Committee on Tuesday introduced a $43.6 million budget for fiscal year 2017, which includes a 4% spending increase over last year and an average $75 municipal tax increase per home in Maplewood.

Added to the average $249 increase per home by the school district proposed budget, adopted last weekend, and the average tax hike for Maplewood homeowners this year will be $324.

"The main drivers of our budget this year were increased pension payments, payments for debt," Mayor Vic Deluca said, adding that most other spending areas were flat. "The salary increases were pretty much based on the bargaining unit increases that we negotiated with our unions."

He said $29.7 million of the budget is to be raised from taxes, a 2% tax increase over 2016. That means the average municipal portion of taxes per home went from $3,750 last year to $3,825 in 2017. That does not include the school district taxes. 

"We've worked very hard to get this budget down," the mayor said. 

He also noted that since the Avalon Bay project on Boyden Avenue is being delayed due to the recent fire there, anticipated tax revenue from that project will not be received until next year, impacting the revenue stream as well.

The complete budget is to be provided on the Township website and at the Township Clerk's office this week.

A public hearing on the budget will be held on April 18.

See the mayor's budget message below:



WOMEN'S TRIVIA AND BABY LIT AT LIBRARY TODAY

Women’s History Month Trivia

12:00 pm

Win candy with the right answer!
Tuesdays @ Hilton Branch: 3/14 and 3/21
Wednesdays @ Main Library: 3/15 and 3/22

Hilton Baby Lit

11:00 am – 11:30 am

Hilton Branch * Ages birth – 2 ½  * Drop In * All children must be accompanied by an adult
Wednesdays @ 11-11:30 am: 3/8, 3/15, 3/22, 3/29

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

BIG TOWNSHIP COMMITTEE MEETING TONIGHT: FROM LEAF BLOWERS TO POOL FEES, AND MORE

The Township Committee has a pretty lengthy agenda for tonight's meeting, with issues ranging from pool fees to portable storage unit restrictions.

Oh yeah, and of course, leaf blowers.

See the full agenda HERE. 

Among the items being considered are:

* An ordinance to expand the summer leaf blower ban and institute hourly limits year round. See more on that HERE.

* An ordinance that would place restrictions on portable storage units, or PODS, in town. Details HERE.

* Approval of Maplewood Pool fees for 2017 that will include a new weekend-only discount.

* A change to the No Turn On Red restriction at Baker Street on to Valley Street, which will allow such turns between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m.

The TC will also introduce the 2017 fiscal budget. See the background on that HERE.

And, of course, you can speak at public comment. So show up, give them a piece of your mind, ask a question, or just a pat on the back.

Remember, they work for you!

The meeting is set for 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall, 576 Valley St.

SLAVE AUCTION CONTROVERSY/APOLOGY AT SCHOOL BOARD MEETING

The recent slave auction lesson controversy, which saw students at one school drawing posters and those at another engaging in a mock auction, was center stage at Monday night's school board meeting as Superintendent John Ramos offered an apology and several residents spoke out against the incidents.

Ramos opened the meeting with a lengthy statement that was part apology and part explanation for the events that came to light last week:




You recall the issue first arose last week when fifth-grade students at South Mountain School made slave auction posters, which were then posted around the school as part of a lesson. 

Days later it was revealed that one fifth grade class at Jefferson School had taken it upon themselves to hold a mock slave auction when their teacher was absent and a substitute in charge. Jefferson Principal Kim Hutchinson on Monday sent a letter home to parents indicating she was concerned that some of those students displayed a "jovial" and even "comedic" attitude toward the event.

At Monday night's meeting both board members and residents spoke out with different views of the situation, with some saying students need to learn the worst of our history, although admitting it might have been handled differently.

See those below:




AVALON BAY FIRE DEEMED NOT SUSPICIOUS, BUT STILL NO CAUSE

The Avalon Bay fire that destroyed part of the 235-apartment complex being built at Boyden and Springfield avenues last month, and raised concerns about the developer's safety record, is not considered to be suspicious, according to Fire Chief Michael Dingelstedt.

But the cause is still unknown

The chief said he was informed by the Essex County Prosecutor's Office, which took over the investigation of the Feb. 4 fire, that they could find no proof of any suspicious cause or activity related to the six-alarm blaze.

See his statement to Maplewoodian.com below:  

I was advised by the Essex County Prosecutor's Office that, 
based on their investigation, there is nothing suspicious regarding 
the cause of the fire. The cause is undetermined due to the extent 
of the damage. The Prosecutor's Office may be able to 
provide additional information related to their investigation.

The Prosecutor's Office did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.

Mayor Vic Deluca also confirmed the latest update.

Avalon Bay has said it plans to rebuild the damaged portion and finish the project, although it will be delayed beyond the original timeline. The Township has also increased its safety requirements for the project and others in town, with a ban on propane heaters at the site and others.

BIG LIBRARY DAY TODAY: FROM COMPUTERS TO PAJAMA STORYTIME

Hilton Computer Explorations

1:00 pm – 2:00 pm

Hilton Branch – Computer beginners and intermediate users can get help with:
  • Using a mouse
  • Creating basic documents
  • Managing an email account
  • Searching the Internet
  • Viewing photos online
The instructor will help with your specific needs. No registration needed.

Hilton Job Search Support and Strategies Workshop

2:00 pm – 3:00 pm

Hilton Branch – Looking for a job? Need help searching for jobs, creating materials to market yourself, or preparing for interviews? Whether you are just starting or need some support in the middle of your search, we can help. We offer assistance with:
  • Preparing for your job search
  • Resume design and editing
  • Online application support and guidance
  • Interviewing practice
  • Self-promotion tools and resources, including flyers and  social media posting
Drop in. No registration needed. Additional dates will be announced.

Women’s History Month Trivia

3:30 pm – 4:00 pm

Win candy with the right answer!
Tuesdays @ Hilton Branch: 3/14 and 3/21
Wednesdays @ Main Library: 3/15 and 3/22


Hilton Preschool Storytime

4:00 pm – 4:30 pm

Hilton Branch * Ages 2 ½ – 5 * Drop In * All children must be accompanied by an adult
Tuesdays @ 4-4:30pm: 3/7, 3/14, 3/21, 3/28

Create Space – Maplewood Library’s Makerspace is Open!

5:00 pm – 8:00 pm

Hilton Branch – Every Tuesday 5:00-8:00 pm, Thursday 5:00-8:00 pm, and Saturday 10-1 pm. Patrons can use Rhino 3D software to build a model, print an object on our 3D printer or use our new color printer or laminator.  There are also Snap Circuits, Squishy Circuits, littleBits and SparkFun kits for the kids. Raspberry Pi single board computers are also available to learn more about computer science.  More information about the Create Space…

Digital Device Clinic

5:00 pm – 7:00 pm

Get free one-on-one support for using your e-reader, tablet, smartphone, or other electronic device.  The clinics will take place during the Create Space drop-in hours. Open to adults, teens and children. 

Hilton Math Tutoring

5:00 pm – 7:00 pm

Hilton Branch * Drop In * Grades K – 7
Have questions about your math homework? Come work with Danielle Perrotta, who has years of experience working with the school district’s math system. She specializes in working with students in grades K-7. 

Pajama Sing-a-Long Storytime

7:00 pm – 7:30 pm

Hilton Branch All Ages Drop In
Come comfy-cozy in your PJ’s, hear stories, and sing songs! The best bedtime treat around!

FREE DIABETES AND BLOOD PRESSURE SCREENING TODAY

12:00 pm – 2:00 pm

Hilton Branch – Find out if you are at risk for diabetes or high blood pressure with a free screening. Educational materials and individual counseling are also provided. (Additional charge of $10 if HbA1c screening is desired.)

Monday, March 20, 2017

"JOVIAL" MOCK SLAVE AUCTION VIDEO PROMPTS NEW JEFFERSON NOTE FROM PRINCIPAL

It appears that video of the controversial mock slave auction held by students at Jefferson School, and revealed last week in a note home from their teacher, has prompted a further explanation from the school's principal to all school parents.

The principal sent a note to parents of all students in the school Monday, which also offered concern that some of the students treated the issue "lightly" and even in a "jovial" manner. 

The note stated in part:

When we had the opportunity to view the full video last week, we were concerned to see how lightly students treated the topic. The jovial nature of the video suggests that either there is a lack of understanding about the true barbarity of a slave auction, or a lack of awareness of how treating this topic comically is offensive. As ------- explained in her earlier letter, she has already used this as a teachable moment to reinforce the gravity of this part of our history and the importance of social justice and acting as responsible members of our school community. 

We believe that additional work remains to help our students consider how their actions can have a negative impact on others, even if unintended, how joking about slavery is disrespectful to all Americans, especially to the African American community, and that certain matters should be treated with a degree of heightened sensitivity. 

Editor's Note: We have chosen to remove our link to the entire letter and the names of administrators involved out of concern for possible backlash against them.

SCHOOLS SUPERINTENDENT PROMISES REPORT ON BIAS AND RACIST INCIDENTS

School Superintendent John Ramos is promising what he described as a "comprehensive chronology" of the events related to the recent racist and bias incidents in some schools, ranging from racist graffiti to swastikas.

He said the report will be provided to the school board by next Monday. It will likely review the racist messages found at South Orange Middle School and swastikas at SOMS and South Mountain Elementary School. It is unclear but probable it may also include the slave auction images and activities at South Mountain and Jefferson schools.

"The district has been contending with a complicated set of issues of late," Ramos said during Saturday's special school board budget meeting. "In order to provide the Board of Education with a comprehensive chronology of events for both the recent bias incidents in our schools and incidents where reports of bias instruction have been made, the superintendent will provide a report to the Board of Education by March 27 that includes the following information for each incident: a description, date, timeline, content, and subsequent communication and decision points related to the incident where such communication included interaction between my office and any of the following: building leaders, strategic leadership team, anti-bias experts, community leaders and the Board of Education itself."

Ramos also said the report would indicate information on decisions made in reaction to each incident, if it was investigated, if it was found to be a case of Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying (HIB), if police were contacted, who made that decision, if a decision was made for further action, and the outcome of any decision.

"This report should help clarify matters for both the Board of Education and the community in regards to the incidents we have been experiencing of late," Ramos said.

School Board President Elizabeth Baker added, "I want to make clear to the public that the board is asking for this information not as part of a blame game or finger pointing, but to have a clear understanding that we can share to the extent we are allowed to by law about what exactly has happened."

The board is also set to meet tonight for its regular monthly meeting, which is set for 7:30 p.m. at the Montrose School, 536 Clark st., South Orange.

SCHOOL BOARD ADOPTS 2017-2018 BUDGET, MORE FUNDRAISING URGED TO OFFSET CUTS

The Board of Education on Saturday adopted the preliminary 2017-2018 budget, which includes a $130 million spending plan and a tax hike of 3.56%, or an average increase of $249 per home in Maplewood.

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

"The budget is intended to help us move our mission forward," Superintendent John Ramos said at the special meeting Saturday.
"The budget you are seeing this morning is really a reconstruction."

The board voted, 8-1, on the budget adoption, with Board Member Johanna Wright voting no. It now goes to the county superintendent for approval and a final board vote in April.

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 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 seven teachers - three world languages (affecting fourth and fifth graders Spanish and 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, according to Ramos. 

"I have a feeling with this budget that we have really, really done our due diligence," said Board Member Madhu Pai, who later added, "This will probably be the last year that I vote for a tax increase that is close to 4%."

Some concerns were raised at the reduction in world language teachers, at a savings of $169,000, by those who questioned the additional CHS assistant principal, which will cost $120,000. Student Board Member Philip Saulean said the language classes were more important than the additional administrator. 

Board members Susie Adamson, Maureen Jones and Donna Smith also objected to cutting the language instructors. "It's unfortunate to see world languages on the reduction column," Jones said. "I would love to see world languages re-imagined."

Ramos
Board President Elizabeth Baker raised the question of whether the district would be penalized for the world language reduction, citing state regulations that say all districts must have K-12 world language classes.

Among the other changes is the institution of summer school tuition that would run between $250 and $350, depending on the class. But students in low-income families would not pay.

During a lengthy discussion at the meeting, Baker also noted that efforts are underway to seek other revenue sources, even fundraising.

"We have been beginning a series of meetings and discussions with parent associations about leveraging both their abilities in helping us raise money and expertise in a structured way," she said. "There are efforts underway within the district to be growing the revenue."

Baker cited groups such as the Achieve Foundation, Cougar Boosters, and PTA leaders who could help.

"There's discussion beginning on how can the PTAs work together in collective fundraising," she said. 

The next board action on the budget is set for April 24.

The board meets again tonight at 7:30 p.m. on other non-budget business during its regular monthly meeting. See that agenda HERE.

POST OFFICE DEVELOPERS BEGIN THE BIG SELL

As the former Maplewood Post Office project, known as "Clarus," takes shape, the company building the retail/housing complex has launched its marketing campaign.

Among the items pushing the building is a lengthy press release from JMF Properties issued this month. It also now has its own website.

See a portion of the release below:

It isn’t just a collection of upscale residences. CLARUS Maplewood is an entire residential experience that incorporates health, wellbeing, convenience and luxury, and it is available now for pre-leasing, developer JMF Properties announced today.

Renters who want to live at CLARUS Maplewood can now lock in their place early, well before the community’s initial occupancy scheduled for this summer. Pre-leasing is available for the entire collection of just 20 thoughtfully-designed one- and two-bedroom residences.

Located in the heart of Maplewood Village, voted New Jersey’s number ONE downtown by New Jersey Monthly Magazine, CLARUS is just steps from an array of sidewalk cafes, coffee shops, upscale boutiques, galleries and the Maplewood train station, with direct service to midtown Manhattan. Residents will enjoy living in a building that has been designed to achieve the WELL Building Standard®, a designation created by the International WELL Building Institute to ensure the buildings that people live and work in positively impact their health and wellbeing. Certified WELL Multifamily Residential buildings create an environment that helps improve resident sleep patterns, nutrition, fitness and mood.

“CLARUS Maplewood will be unlike any other residential community in New Jersey,” said Joe Forgione, the Founder and Principal of JMF Properties. “We developed this project from the inside-out, focusing first on the resident experience and then shaping our overall design around the lifestyle and environment we wanted to create. The result is a product that embraces the charm and character of Maplewood while also creating a new standard of living that will withstand the test of time, with a focus on the health and wellness of our residents.”

See the entire release HERE.

JMF Properties has also launched a brand new website for CLARUS:  www.clarusmaplewood.com.

ENTREPRENEUR AT TONIGHT'S IDEAS FESTIVAL


Frank Rimalovski

7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
 
Main Library – Frank Rimalovski
Executive Director of the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute. Rimalovski leads an initiative to spur and support entrepreneurship and technology commercialization, and directs a seed-stage venture fund formed to invest exclusively in startups. His talk will focus on how ideas are developed and the process of seeing them through to fruition. See our Ideas Festival Schedule

 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

TOWNSHIP APPROVES LEAF HAULING CONTRACT AFTER DELAY, COMPLAINTS

Leaves collected by the Township that will now be removed
We told you weeks ago about the delayed approval of the $100,000-plus contract to haul away leaves collected in recent months by township workers.

You may recall that six firms bid for the project, but when the two lowest were deemed unqualified, the third lowest bidder was chosen to receive the contract. That bidder was S. Rotondi & Sons Inc. of Chatham.

But at the last February Township Committee meeting, one of the other lower bidders -- Mazza Mulch Inc. of Tinton Falls -- objected to the award, claiming they could handle the work. The TC chose then to table the award until a review could be done.

See the background on that HERE.

But the TC decided to stick with Rotondi & Sons, voting at their most recent meeting on March 7 to award the contract to that firm.

That did not come without another potential delay when the third of the three lowest bidders -- Marilyn Haggerty Farms of Washington, N.J. -- spoke up at the March 7 meeting and complained that it was not given a "fair shot" at providing evidence of its qualifications.

"I wasn't sure that I got a fair shake in that because it all should have come to light in the initial bid," said Leonard Haggerty, owner of Haggerty Farms. "I felt that if I had received the winning bid I would have had a month to get that rectified."

But Township Attorney Roger Desiderio said he had not received any new information from Haggerty. The TC then voted to award the contract to Rotondi & Sons at a rate of $6.94 per cubic yard or $110,040.

DID YOU TALK TO THE TOWNSHIP COMMITTEE?

The Township Committee was out in the cold at the recycling center Saturday as promised for the regular Talk to the Township Committee meet and greet.

Check to see when the next one will be next month.

$10 SEWER CHARGE INCREASE PLANNED FOR 2017

The Township is planning a one-time $10 increase in the annual sewer charge this year that will bring the fee to $194, according to an ordinance to be introduced Tuesday.

Mayor Vic Deluca said the fee hike is needed to offset a charge from the Joint Meeting of Essex and Union Counties, which operates the local water treatment plant that serves Maplewood, and needs the cash for capital improvement costs.

"We are recommending a $10 surcharge in 2017 to cover deferred capital costs," the mayor said at the last Township Committee meeting, later adding, "The rest of it is to do work with sewer covers, about 25 sewer covers that will reduce the inflow so that we will not have this recurring bills from the joint meeting."

The TC approved plans for an ordinance to increase the fees, which will be voted on at Tuesday's meeting. See it HERE.

This marks the second year in a row that the annual sewer charge was increased, following last year's hike from $175 to $184. But the mayor stressed this is a one-time increase and the fee is expected to go back to $184 next year. 

"I don't want to see it every year," TC Member Nancy Adams said.

NINE OPEN HOUSES TODAY

Find your next home or just see what the market is offering.

Full list HERE.


MAPLEWOOD IDEAS FESTIVAL IS UNDERWAY


Saturday, March 18, 2017

TIGHTER LEAF BLOWER BAN AND THE NEW YORK TIMES

The ongoing leaf blower saga continues this Tuesday as the Township Committee vote on the latest, expanded ban that will extend the restriction on commercial leaf blowers and add in specific hours of use the rest of the year.

See background and details HERE and the formal ordinance up for approval HERE.

The New York Times, meanwhile, has gotten into the act with a lengthy column in the Real Estate section of Sunday's paper on the issue and our town. 

See that HERE.

SIGN UP FOR LOCAL BUSINESS AND WIN AN ECHO

TALK TO THE TOWNSHIP COMMITTEE TODAY

The Township Committee will hold its regular Talk to the Township Committee event today from 9 a.m. to Noon.

This time they are at the recycling center, 359 Boyden Ave.

So show up, ask a question, give them a piece of your mind, or a pat on the back.

Remember, they work for you!

SCHOOL BOARD TO ADOPT BUDGET IN SPECIAL MEETING TODAY

The Board of Education is holding a special meeting this morning at 9:30 a.m. to adopt the 2017-2018 budget.

The unusual meeting day is needed as the deadline to submit the budget to the county is Monday.

See background on the latest planned cuts, additions and tax implications HERE.

The agenda is HERE.

The meeting is set for the Montrose School, 356 Clark St. in South Orange.

Friday, March 17, 2017

"GOOD PEOPLE" STARTS TONIGHT AT BURGDORFF


22 TEACHERS TO ATTEND BIAS IN CLASSROOM SEMINAR TODAY

Twenty-two South Orange Maplewood teachers will not be in class today, instead taking time to attend a free seminar at Montclair State University on "Responding to Bias in the Classroom."

Even before the recent incidents related to the swastikas found in some schools, racist comments in others and the slave auction assignment issue, the Board of Education on Feb. 27 had approved sending the nearly two-dozen teachers, at least one from each district school, to the event.

See more on the program HERE and below: 

GAS ODOR PROMPTS BRIEF SOUTH MOUNTAIN SCHOOL EVACUATION

South Mountain School parents received this note from the school district on Thursday:
Just before noon today, South Mountain Big School staff noticed a gas-like odor, and students and staff were briefly evacuated as a precaution. The South Orange Fire department examined the scene. The odor was identified as residual fumes from work being done on the furnace, after the gas had been shut off.  The Fire Department determined the building to be safe, and gave clearance to return at approximately 12:14 p.m. The day is proceeding as normal.
As always, student safety remains a top priority in our district. We are grateful to the South Orange Fire Department for their quick response and assistance.

THE IRISH MUSIC STARTED EARLY

The St. Patrick's Day celebrating kicked off early this morning at St. James' Gate with their annual Irish Breakfast.

And a little piper music.

Happy St. Pat's!


 

NEW SCHOOL BUDGET INCLUDES AVERAGE TAX HIKE OF $249 PER HOME

The Board of Education this week tweaked its 2017-2018 budget proposal so that it will include a slightly higher tax increase, but save a few staff positions.

Instead of a proposed 3.28% tax increase, the latest version has a 3.56% tax hike. 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.

"Year over year revenue is not keeping up with the growth in district expenses," Business Administrator Paul Roth said this week. 

The district issued its own budget message on Thursday, which does not include the per-home average tax hike amount. See it HERE.

We reported last week that the board had initially planned for a budget with $128.1 million in revenue and $130.4 million in expenditures, which included the addition of 11 employees. Those included six middle school teachers (three at each middle school), one elementary school teacher, one special services teacher, one high school assistant principal, one custodial supervisor, one part-time nurse and a part-time safety and security director.

Superintendent John Ramos
That indicated a $2.3 million deficit if the district had stuck with the state-limited 2% tax increase cap.

But utilizing what is known as "banked cap," the board had planned on a higher tax increase, up to 3.28%. That "banked cap" is an additional increase allowed when the district does not raise taxes by 2% in a prior year. 

The board also planned to cut between eight and 14 employees, with up to seven teachers - three world languages (affecting fourth and fifth graders and Latin classes at CHS), two physical education, and one each in math and science.

And another $1.7 million would have been saved through cutbacks in other staff, as well as books, sabbaticals and health care spending, according to Superintendent John Ramos.

But at a budget forum on Monday, the district revealed that it had found an additional amount of "banked cap" that will allow it to increase taxes even more, by 3.56%, to raise $1.79 million above the capped amount. 

That will allow the district to restore some student activity funds and summer school tuition that would have been cut. In addition, two more math teachers and an English/Language Arts teacher at Columbia High School have been added. But the other planned cuts would remain.

"The choices are very difficult," Ramos said.

The board plans to adopt the budget at a special meeting on Saturday, March 18, at 9:30 a.m. at Montrose School, 356 Clark St., South Orange. Since the adopted preliminary budget is due on Monday, the meeting must be held before then. 

MAYOR APOLOGIZES FOR "UNACCEPTABLE" SNOW REMOVAL; VOWS CHANGES

If you were not happy with the snow removal in Maplewood the past few days following Tuesday's big blizzard, you were not alone.

Mayor Vic Deluca agreed with you, issuing this statement Thursday that the work was unacceptable and changes would be made for the next big storm:

The DPW staff worked very hard on the clean up from this storm. Many of them worked for 20 hours. Unfortunately, the results were not acceptable. We are continuing to clear areas that need more work. I apologize for the condition of our roads. We will the evaluate snow removal operation and make changes for next season.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

DISTRICT EXPLAINS WHY SNOW DAY CALL CAME LATE

With some parents and residents upset that Wednesday's snow day was called after 8 a.m. and took parents by surprise who had expected only a previously-announced delayed opening, the school district issued a statement offering more details on how the decision came about.

See the explanation below:

We always try to get notice out as early as possible of closings and 
delayed openings so that families can make necessary plans.
 
SOMSD decided last night, along with surrounding districts, that a 
delayed opening was necessary to give staff time to clear the 
pathways around each school.

Our grounds and school buildings were ready to start the school day. 
 
However, the extent of ice on local roads and sidewalks made it 
extremely hazardous for students to get to school, whether by bus, 
car, or walking.
 
Every other district around us made a similar call this morning 
given the icy conditions, and changed their call to cancel.

We decided that a call to close schools was in the best interests of 
students and staff, despite the late notice, since safety is our first 
priority.

The Superintendent and Assistant Superintendents worked with 
building staff to make sure that each school had at least one 
administrator or teacher on-site, in case students arrived at school 
having missed the notification.

MAPLEWOOD WOMAN SHOT DEAD IN NEWARK

From NJ.com: 

NEWARK -- Authorities have identified the two people shot and killed in separate slayings in the city over the past two days, while revealing few other details about their deaths. 

A 17-year-old boy, Raquan Boundurant, of Irvington, was shot and killed Sunday near the intersection of Rose and Bergen Streets, Katherine Carter, a spokeswoman for the Essex County Prosecutor's Office, confirmed Wednesday.

Monday, a 62-year-old Maplewood woman, Deborah Burton, was shot and killed on 3rd Street, Carter said.

Additional details about what time the shootings occurred or what may have prompted them was not immediately available.

The prosecutor's office is investigating both shooting deaths. Authorities have not identified suspects in either shooting, or released any other details about their investigations.

DISTRICT PROMISES BETTER SUB TRAINING IN WAKE OF MOCK SLAVE AUCTION AT JEFFERSON SCHOOL

The school district responded to Wednesday's story about a mock slave auction in a fifth-grade class at Jefferson School with a lengthy explanation that stressed the incident was not a planned assignment. 

It also supported the actions of the teacher, who was out that day and informed parents through a letter. But District Spokeswoman Suzanne Turner indicated that since a substitute teacher was involved, the district would "look again at training and improved supervisory protocols for substitutes."

See the original story HERE.

See the entire statement issued Wednesday evening from Turner below:

We note that you posted a story about this less than an hour after 
asking for a comment, on a day you know the district to be closed.

The letter from the teacher speaks for itself. The activity was not 
part of the curriculum, not part of the teacher's assignment, 
not condoned by the teacher, not authorized by the district.

The culminating assignment for the Colonial America unit in 
this teacher's class was to choose a colony to research and then 
create a PowerPoint presentation with a partner about that colony. 
 
Students submitted their plan to the teacher, signed off on by their 
parents. At no point was an enactment of a slave auction proposed 
as part of any student's plan.  The projects were due on the day that 
the teacher was out, and nothing should have been added during 
the school day.

Upon hearing about the impromptu re-enactment and video while 
she was out, the teacher proactively reached out to parents to 
inform them not only of what had happened, but also how she was 
addressing this with students. Her letter shows that she took the 
incident seriously, addressed the "impact it had upon the students,"
the "gravity of this part in our history," and connected it to a 
larger discussion about social justice. She asked for partnership 
from families in helping reinforce these messages at home as well.

Given that this happened while a substitute teacher was supervising 
the class, administrators will look again at training and improved 
supervisory protocols for substitutes.

I ask that you post this entire email, so that your readers can see 
the timeline of your request for comment, and can reflect on the 
tone of your post in the circumstances. 
 
Thank you.

Suzanne M. Turner
Director of Strategic Communications
South Orange Maplewood School District