West Orange residents filed into Pleasantdale Elementary School Wednesday night, to meet their Board of Education candidates and ask them questions face to face during an informal “Meet the Candidates Night,” hosted by the Pleasantdale Parent Teacher's Association.
The four candidates, incumbent Michelle Casalino and challengers Ron Charles, Adam Kraemer and Joe Sorbino are running for two three-year seats on the West Orange Board of Education.
This will be the first year candidates campaign and compete against one another in a November election.
- Casalino is currently running for her third term on the Board of Education. She has helped to balance six budgets and has seen many initiatives and procedures put in place. Her six years of experience on the board makes her a worthy candidate, she said.
- Charles has worked for over 25 years in the Essex County Department of Corrections. He has held many positions in the department including Associate Director and has managed more than 700 people and a budget of over $100,000,000. He is an advocate for all children and wants to see them all do well on a wide spectrum, he said.
- Kraemer was a teacher for six years and has worked in accounting and credit for more than a decade. He will bring practical experience and an understanding of the business world and economics to the Board of Education, he said.
- Sorbino is a Veteran of Desert Storm with 23 years of experience in law enforcement and is a Certified Public Manager. He is the former President of the Edison PTA and an avid community activist.
Members of the Parent Teacher's Association submitted questions which were read to the candidates who were each given an opportunity to answer.
One of the popular topics of the night was the lack of transparency, specifically after Superintendent Anthony Cavanna was suspended by the West Orange Board of Education.
“The question is not about the lack of transparency, It's about what we can do to improve it,” said Sorbino. “We can do this by having all meetings videotaped instead of every other meeting. We can put the videos on the website and transcripts of meetings as well."
The PTA asked candidates how they propose to find a new Superintendent with the experience and talent needed to fill the position based on the salary cap of $175,000.
"I would structure it a little differently," said Kraemer. "I would offer something below the $175,000 and then have a bonus program for the Superintendent based on achieving certain objectives."
"I believe the cap is going to be a challenge and I disagree with Mr. Kraemer about the merit situation, I think it's not going to attract the best talent to West Orange," said Charles. "I think the Board should act extremely diligent in checking references and looking through newspapers and social media."
The PTA also asked candidates about the biggest challenges they have faced as it relates to education.
"One of the biggest challenges has been the battle between our local needs versus our state department's ongoing mandates," said Casalino. "Recently, the challenges we face in our district is an increase in enrollment and we have to look at that and redistricting in the near future."