Candidates for the West Orange Board of Education gave their qualifications and debated recent action around suspending the district superintendent at a candidate’s forum Wednesday night.
Incumbent Michelle Casalino, challenger Adam Kraemer and challenger Joseph Sorbino addressed voters in a question-and-answer session sponsored by the West Orange African Heritage Organization at the Thomas Edison Middle School.
Challenger Ronald Charles was the only candidate not at the forum due to a scheduling conflict.
The four candidates are contending for two three-year terms on the board.
Casalino was unable to comment extensively about the superintendent because she is on the board and it is an ongoing legal matter. However, she admitted, “the last two years have been challenging. ... It is understandable that the public is frustrated at this point; I myself am frustrated.”
Sorbino said the superintendent situation is a problem with “accountability,” and the board should ultimately be held responsible for hiring Cavanna, who is still being paid his salary — about $225,000 a year — in addition to hiring James O’Neill as the interim superintendent for $175,000 a year.
“When you are a resident and you are a taxpayer, you get pretty frustrated constantly hearing that it is a personnel issue [which is unable to be discussed by the board],” said Sorbino. “... The fact of the matter is we are paying two superintendent salaries.”
Kraemer agreed, saying the board is largely responsibility for the debacle in the district regarding the superintendent.
“I don’t think we’ve had a healthy process of hiring superintendents in the first place,” he said. “... And I don’t think the relationship between the superintendent and the board was perfectly handled for the last three years.”
Casalino promoted herself as someone who had the experience after six years on the board, specifically mentioning cost saving measures she voted in favor of, especially reigning in custodial overtime.
Sorbino told the small crowd he was an ordinary father in the district with two children in the public schools. He said he wanted to improve classroom technology to increase student engagement and suggested allowing students to bring in their own tablets.
Kraemer said he also favored integrating more technology in the classroom. He said using a new model, students could learn at their own pace by utilizing technology for one-on-one instruction, and teachers would act as facilitators.
He also mentioned partnering with charter schools as a potential option to combat overcrowding, and outsourcing district services to save the district money.