UPDATED: 5 Candidates Compete for 2 School Board Seats

Residents will vote in November this year instead of April.


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. .   

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] , 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.” 

Tom G. June 13, 2012 at 12:16 PM
@Jennifer - even though the state changed the calculation method, I have to assume the numbers posted in the link above for all towns were calculated under the new method. So it's all relative, and the WO schools would still be ranked near the bottom.
Jaime June 13, 2012 at 02:36 PM
I am sorry that I did not run. Paul and Michelle needs to go. I say this with good reason. During Mr. Paul tenure, the High School dropped from 98 to now 140 among high schools in New Jersey. Edison is now on Christie's administration list of focus needy school, one of the lowest rating any schools can receive in the nation. Third Roosevelt, that ranked in the top 100 just 3 years ago is now ranked 400 in the state and Liberty 439. The pass rate for 2011 NJASK were 77% for Language Arts, 62% Math and 71% Language Arts and 51% Math respectively. One of the Board members told me that they are not allowed to call the principals. Ladies and gentlemen it is time for reform, including forcing out principals who are failing. Please read the agenda for the last BOE meeting. Mr. Fitzgerald is asking for more counsellors because the school is now listed as a state focus school. Why not let business people run the schools. The data is available. Please google middle school ranking in NJ. Do you know that if your child is successful and they are placed with failing children their success corelates with the learning pace of other children. Llast year NJASK two schools in Newark was place 2 and 4th respectively. We had schools on the list from urban communities among us that placed much higher than us. It is time to change the school board. I kept wondering why the principal were always selected from within the districts. I will be writing an OPED in the star ledger soon.
Jaime June 13, 2012 at 02:40 PM
No one is trying to berate our school. We needs to see changes. The board should have the aforementioned data. So please show up at the next board meeting and let us ask Dr. Cavanna some serious questions. Children who are making honor roll cannot even pass a basic NJASK test. We need to ask questions. Taxes are not going down in this town.
Jaime June 13, 2012 at 02:44 PM
Well said
Ken June 13, 2012 at 02:50 PM
It's not nearly that high. See the article linked below. Under the new state calculations, every kid who starts high school and then transfers, moves away, or otherwise disappears gets counted as a dropout unless they bothered to officially notify the district they were leaving, which it appears relatively few actually do.
Jaime June 13, 2012 at 02:50 PM
Teacher given a decent a contract? that is interesting, The teachers are the problem. They should not get a contract until we get rid of tenure. When more than 30% of students are failing, it is not the fault of the children. We have a machine in West Orange that higher teacher with a certain look and affiliation, instead merit.
Jaime June 13, 2012 at 02:50 PM
I meant hire.
Jaime June 13, 2012 at 02:53 PM
Why is Paul seeking a 5th term anyway? He is there way too long.
Gary Englert June 13, 2012 at 02:56 PM
@ Tom G.: With the new graduation rate calculation method (which essentially assesses the graduation or failure to graduate of each child to wherever they start their freshman year) has pretty much resulted in a +/- 10% rate reduction across the board...and West Orange does not now, nor has it ever, ranked near the bottom.
Gary Englert June 13, 2012 at 03:00 PM
@ wohopeful & Jaime: This is nonsense and far from "Well said." The incumbents are neither responsible for the burgeoning school population nor the shift in the community's demographics over the last dozen years and these issues are the greatest single driver of tax increases in a township that pays for more than 90% of its school system through local property taxes.
Gary Englert June 13, 2012 at 03:04 PM
@ Jaime: Bar none, Mr. Petigrew has more bonafide business experience and education than any other current Board member, let alone any of the challengers. He also happens to have a genuine interest in public education and maintaining and enhancing the quality programs currently in place...and we should be thankful to have him and that is interest in serving continues.
Jean June 13, 2012 at 04:38 PM
Mr Englert, I see that you are just a talker. What shift in demographics? You are playing the race game now. Many of the minorities that are moving in are very educated. There is a concentration of minority in downtown, whose culture it is to drink from day light to the next ,orning and play loud music, but why not try to rehabilitate them. On second thought, why are you berating other people? You are no scholar yourself. Why are you playing the race game. The children in Newark are successful, check out the NJASK ranking of school. The last I checked, the majority of people living in Newark are black. You see, you guys kept blaming minorities, most of those who live around me in West Orange are very educated. Don't worry we are all planning on leaving WO. We can not stand the results either. I am a shift in the demographic. My household income is among the 2%.
Gary Englert June 13, 2012 at 05:19 PM
@ Jean: Not only am I not "just a talker," I'm not hiding behind a screen name either. I am also not playing the "race card" as I very much believe (as Dr. King did) that people should be judged on the content of their character and not the color of their skin. The demographic shift I refer to is not limited to race but, cultural, lingistics and special needs as well; all of which create challenges to school system serving a diverse population...and saying so isn't berating anyone. Still, the biggest single driver of increased education expenditures has been the need to expand classroom and instructional capacity due to a burgeoning enrollment. This is due to the turnover of existing single family housing by the WWII generation (who are in their peak mortality years) and their children ("The Baby Boomers") who have reached, or shortly will reach, retirement age.
Gary Englert June 13, 2012 at 05:37 PM
Perhaps the most concise and articulate article on the subject of ranking schools (and one I wholeheartedly agree with) can be found here: http://blog.nj.com/njv_kathleen_obrien/2012/05/where_your_high_school_ranks_-.html
wohopeful June 13, 2012 at 06:09 PM
But they were responsible for the budgets and authorizing the spending which has caused our property taxes to escalate beyond the imaginable. It is only now that we see minimal results if any from the excessive spending Petigrow and Casalino authorized. We need change and not the same tired old policies of tax and spend that Petigrow and Casalino bring to the table.
wohopeful June 13, 2012 at 06:16 PM
Spot on Jaime...the tired old policies of politicians who occupy a seat are destroying our community. We have seen it over and over again, the 10+ years of the failed politics of John McKeon, Rob Parisi carrying those same tired old tax and spend practices forward, Paul Petigrow unable to produce negotiations with Unions that are favorable to the taxpayers, etc. WO is screaming for change. We have seen that in the most recent elections and must fight for change and new ideas if we are going to preserve our town and families.
john anthony prignano June 13, 2012 at 06:37 PM
Livingston spends $17,716 per student .The High School provides an average of 5 hours 52 minutes a day instructional time . Average class size 22.9 .Administrators average $120,801 after 21 years . Teachers average $80,562 after 10 years . Livingston High's Great Schools rating is 10 . Nutley spends $15 ,973 per student . The High School provides an average of 6 hours 15 minutes instructional time . Average class size 17.3 students . Administrators average $120,021 after 18 years . Teachers average $66,152 after 9 years . Nutley High's Great Schools rating is 7 . Montclair spends an average of $17,806 Montclair High provides an average of 6 hours 33 minutes of daily instructional time . Average class size 17.6 .Administrators average $123,687 after 24 years .Teachers average $69,376 after 10 years . Montclair High's Great School rating is 5. West Orange spends $21,236 per student . There is one computer for every 4.8 students .W. O. High provides an average of 5 hours 26 minutes daily instructional time . Average class size is 23.3. Administrators average $131,716 after 13 years . The average teacher's salary is $82,392 after 9 years .W.O. High has a Great School rating of 4 . W.O. High - Highest per pupil costs, highest salaries, lowest amount of instructional time, fewest computers per student, lowest Great Schools rating . School Board contract B.S; " Below County average raises, longer school day ,benefit reductions " Not one thing I've listed above will change .
Gary Englert June 13, 2012 at 06:47 PM
Anonymous negative comentary, devoid of substance, shows not only a complete lack of the courage of conviction but, a dearth of intellect and insight to boot.
wohopeful June 13, 2012 at 09:16 PM
Two known individuals, Petigrow and Casalino, is hardly anonymous. And the records of their votes in favor of increased budgets and spending are well documented providing plenty of substance for your review. This is why WO needs change.
Jean June 13, 2012 at 09:29 PM
Mr. Englert, I click on your link to see how West Orange ranked but I saw a blog. West Orange high ranking has become a thing of the past. Why not get rid of the BOE, unqualified Administrator, A doctorate does not mean that you are qualified.
john anthony prignano June 13, 2012 at 10:11 PM
This is how the School Board and the Teachers Union will play it :The salary raises will be below Essex County average . The average teacher's salary in Montclair is $69,376 with 10 years of service. So let's say Montclair teachers get 8% for 3 years,i.e. "County average ". West Orange teachers make an average salary of $82,392 with 9 years of service. Their raises will be something like 6.5% for 3 years, i.e. "Below County average " Ah, but the dollar increases of the two contracts are virtually identical, and West Orange's average length of service is a year less than Montclair's . There will be "concessions " on the. health plan, higher co -pays and the like . The School Board will say they saved the taxpayers several hundred thousand dollars .But the health plan will still be one of the most , if not the most expensive in the State and the huge annual increase will cost the taxpayers millions .There will be more instructional time at the High School. When the dust settles , the average daily instructional time provided. will still be 8 to 10 days less than the State average. There are 45 clubs and 57 sports teams at the High School . Coach , mentori, moderate, coordinate, and a 30 year old teacher can easily make over $100,000 in salary and stipends.West Orange High School has a Great School rating of 4 out of a possible 10 . Winning !! .
Gary Englert June 13, 2012 at 10:45 PM
@ Jean: The link provided is to an Op-Ed piece in The Star Ledger. Don't you think it rather bad form to be criticizing anyone for anything, let alone identifiable human beings, without presenting your own credentials for scrutiny?
Gary Englert June 14, 2012 at 12:21 AM
@ wohopefull: The anonymous, negative commentary of which I speak is yours, wohopefull...and Jean's and Jaime's...and anyone else who hides behind a screen name while taking potshots at real human beings who have enough courage and class to contribute to the community in the public eye.
Jack Durschlag (Editor) June 14, 2012 at 03:51 AM
Folks...Once again I must remind you Patch Terms of Service do NOT allow for personal attacks. Please refrain from such attacks. Stick to the facts and be kind to each other or I will have to start deleting the attacks and closing out comments for stories.
Alf June 14, 2012 at 12:15 PM
Jack, Have you noticed that these "personal attacks" happen whenever 1 (or 2) of the posters are involved. Maybe said poster(s) should be banned, you have given them enough warnings. I, for one am sick of trying to keep up with what's going on around town and having to deal with the bickering!!
wohopeful June 14, 2012 at 12:18 PM
Thank you Mr. Durschlag. While these topics are of great interest certain persons need to learn to keep their emotions and bravado in check.,
Jean June 14, 2012 at 03:53 PM
Jean June 14, 2012 at 04:02 PM
"Jack, Have you noticed that these "personal attacks" happen whenever 1 (or 2) of the posters are involved. Maybe said poster(s) should be banned, you have given them enough warnings. I, for one am sick of trying to keep up with what's going on around town and having to deal with the bickering!!" . Please let us check the facts. In all essence taxes are too high for us to continue down the path of failure. Would you truly recommend your friends with young children to live and send their children to the public school? I came to WO at the time when the education system was top notch, now when I see that the middle school is on Christie's list of needing remediation I would not recommend people to educate their children here. I got a good education here. Paul Pettigrov and I went to NYU law. I am only younger, but back then we could boast of the education system. I do believe though that we will get that opportunity soon. Only after we let go of the leadership, who have been fired from so many other districts. Ooops! I am sorry, I forgot no personal attacks. Again a doctorate does not translate into great leadership. "I love West Orange, and that is why I speak up".
john anthony prignano June 15, 2012 at 11:31 PM
wohopeful I agree with you about the incumbents ; Livingston spends $17,716 per student . An Assistant Principal at Livingston High School with a Masters and 14 years experience makes a base pay of $115,728 . Livingston High School provides approximately the State average of instructional time . Livingston High School provides 1 computer for every 2 students . Livingston High School has a Great Schools rating of 10 { The highest rating } . West Orange spends $21,236 per student . An Assistant Principal at West Orange High School with a Masters and 12 years experience makes a base pay of $126,000. Another Assistant Princiipal at West Orange High School with a Doctorate { but NOT highly qualified or Nationally Certified } and 11 years experience makes a base pay of $159,611. West Orange High School provides the equivalent of 14 days a year less than the State average of instructional time . West Orange High School has 1 computer for every 3.8 students .West Orange High School has a Great Schools rating of 4. westorangehopeful, I want you to look at the challengers to the incumbents . Look at what they and/or the people closest to them do or have done to make a living. Then tell me what makes you think any of them can lead us to the land of milk and honey .
Adam Kraemer June 16, 2012 at 10:48 PM
@ Protmanteau: Yes: State funding has a lot to do with how much your school property tax will be. However, the B.O.E. has the ability to impact the tax rate. The B.O.E. sets budgets. The Board of Education signs off on all union contracts and all other contracts. The B.O.E. decides who the top managers of the schools are. In that way they can impact taxes and educational policy in positive or negative ways. While I like much of what goes on in our public schools and my three children have a basically good experience in the schools, I would say we have a mixed bag of results in West Orange fiscally and in terms of education. As a taxpayer I think the cost structures are more then they should be. While clearly good schools are not free, I think we can have good schools at a lower price then they are now with smart contracting and being lean in areas outside of the classroom. While my triplets do well by the West Orange Public Schools, the high drop out rate is an issue. The curriculum needs to change and teaching methods need to change. I would advocate for more time on task for basics. I would advocate for our professional West Orange teachers to designed texts and curriculum to download to E-readers or tablets as opposed to buying of the shelf text books from oligarchical publishers. While a B.O.E. or an individual board member can't fix all problems they do make a difference and who the people ultimately elect is an important thing. Thus I urge people to vote wisely.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »