UPDATED: 5 Candidates Compete for 2 School Board Seats
Residents will vote in November this year instead of April.
Editor's note: This article was updated on Sept. 18. Incumbent Paul Petigrow has since dropped out of the race.
Editor's note: This story first appeared on June 12, soon after the filing deadline for school board candidates. At the time, the West Orange Patch interviewed four of the five candidates. Joseph Sorbino, the only candidate who was unable to be reached at the time, is now included with the other candidate introductions.
Five candidates will contend for two three-year seats on the West Orange Board of Education this November.
The Essex County Clerk’s Office released the names after the filing deadline on June 4. The candidates are:
• Incumbent Michelle Casalino;
• Challenger Ronald Charles;
• Challenger Adam Kraemer;
• Incumbent Paul Petigrow; and
• Challenger Joseph Sorbino.
This will be the first year in which school board candidates compete against one another in a November instead of April. In addition, residents will no longer vote on the district’s budget this year or in the future as long as it is below the 2 percent state cap. These changes were voted on and passed in January.
Meet Your Candidates
Challenger Joseph Sorbino
This is Sorbino's first time running for a spot on the board, but he has been an active community volunteer in the past, including serving as the Edison Middle School's PTA president.
Sorbino is a former Marine and has been serving in law enforcement for 23 years. He is also a certified public manager and father of two young children.
Sorbino wrote in an email correspondence that he is looking to bring a fresh vision to the board.
"I’m just a dad that cares about our kids," Sorbino wrote in an email. "I’m not a politician and I don’t want to be. I want to serve, and I want to help find solutions."
Sorbino said that his campaign will be focus on three things: student achievement, fiscal responsibility and accountability.
" ... Living in a great school district means: higher property values, not higher taxes," Sorbino wrote in an email. "It also means a higher graduation rate and closing the achievement gap. So let’s close the achievement gap in our elementary schools, where we can be the most fiscally responsible and get 'the most bang for the buck.' That’s good for the kids and the taxpayer."
Incumbent Michelle Casalino
Casalino will be seeking her third term on the board. She said she would like to see many of the programs which were initiated during her time on the board completed, and that her experience will set her apart from the other challengers.
“I still feel I have a lot to offer,” said Casalino. “We have been doing so many new initiatives and rolling so many new programs out that I would like to see them through,” such as the small learning communities program which began at the West Orange High School this year.
In addition, Casalino said she is on the board’s Negotiation Committee which is currently negotiateing with the district’s teachers union over contracts. The union has been working without a contract for nearly 18 months.
While negations are currently at an impasse, Casalino said she was “optimistic” that one would be settled before the November election.
She added that her experience with negotiations is invaluable to the board and something no other candidate -- expect Petigrow -- can offer.
Challenger Ronald Charles
No stranger to township elections, Charles has competed in various campaigns in the past, including the special Township Council election in 2010 when the seat held by current Mayor Robert Parisi became vacant after he was elected to that office.
While Charles ultimately lost that election, he said he sees the school board as a better opportunity for him to make an impact in the town.
“I have four children of various ages,” said Charles, “ ... and I have been in West Orange for 16 years. I want to make a difference and help keep West Orange [pointed] in the right direction and keep it fiscally manageable for families and people in town.”
Charles said his focus will be on the budget and the board’s finances, but he will not limit himself to those those two areas.
“Taxes are ... the biggest worry for people in West Orange,” said Charles. “There is a component that I feel the board has to be fiscally responsible, but also enhance the programs ... across the board,” such as the sports, cultural, and after-school programs in the district.
Challenger Adam Kraemer
Kraemer has run three times for a spot on the school board and once for Essex County Freeholder.
Kraemer, who has two master's degrees in education, said he would like to see things done differently on the board, especially when it comes to the budget, cost savings, union contracts and curriculum reform, among other things.
“I am looking at a school board ... [with] a cost per student at [almost] $21,300, which is substantially above state and national norms,” said Kraemer. “The dropout rate is 17 percent, I have triplets ..., I have a tax bill I can’t afford ... and I just think things can be done a lot better.”
Incumbent Paul Petigrow
Petigrow will be finishing his fourth term on the school board, and will be seeking a fifth. During his time on the board, Petigrow said the district has grown and gone through many changes, including the construction of Liberty Middle School, and additions to the high school and various elementary schools.
Petigrow said he wants to run again because there is still much to be done, mentioning issues such as closing the achievement gap and managing the over-crowding problem in the elementary schools.
“It is not like you can complete things in education,” said Petigrow. “There is constant change and there is constantly new ideas coming out. ... I think I can continue to make a contribution.”
Challenger Joseph Sorbino
Sorbino could not be reached for comment for this article.
A Different Election This Time Around
This will be the first year candidates campaign and compete against one another in a November election, which will create new challenges for candidates. The school board election is nonpartisan.
For one, candidates can expect a larger turnout than the usual April election. Last year, only about 3,700 residents turned out to the polls in April, whereas almost 7,500 turned out in November.
The 2010 April election was an exception. That was the year residents voted down the school budget and about 7,100 people came out to the polls.
However, that substantial increase in voter turnout is rare in April in West Orange. The previous year, in April 2009, only about 2,600 residents went to the polls.
Being one of the first incumbents to compete in a November election, Casalino said she has “mixed emotions” about it.
However, she added it could be a positive for incumbent candidates. “I feel that I may have more time to campaign in November” because the board is always so burdened in the spring with putting together a budget.
“It is going to be a challenge,” said Petigrow about the new election format. “The key is to get your people to come out and vote. In a November election, you know people are going to come out and vote -- especially this November election because it is a presidential election. ... The challenge is going to be to get [residents] to vote on the school board election.”
Charles also recognized the challenges that a larger turnout will bring.
“You are going to have to raise a lot of money, I think; you are going to have to be more out in the public than in an April election,” said Charles.
Kraemer said the move to November was a “great thing,” and he believes the higher turnout will help make a more representative school board.
“This is a presidential year, so you are going to get the vast majority of the voters turning out, and I think it is healthy for the democratic process.”