School Board Candidates Debate the Issues

Residents repeatedly bring up conflicts in the district regarding the suspension of Superintendent Anthony Cavanna.


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. 

Adam Kraemer September 20, 2012 at 10:10 PM
Charter schools are not a substitute for public schools. Charter schools can help with in disctrict over crowding as we are at or near capacity in our public schools. It would cost us taxpayers less to send students to charter schools than to pay for new school construction. We have good public schools but they don't address every aspect of educaiton for every student well all the time. Charter offer other educaitonall option ang that is generaly a good thing for students and families. The right partnerships with the right charter schools can improve educaiton in West Oragne. Also, some people only look at one part of the accounting ledger for charter schools. The charter school tution is on the taxpayer but the in district cost of a charter student drops to zero for the taxpayer. So the charter school cost can be a net small additioanal cost to taxpayers, a net to zero corst to taxpayers, or even reduce costs to taxpayers depending on the situtaiton.
Mark Paulson September 20, 2012 at 10:33 PM
John, I will be happy to compare any town with you to West Orange. You can do this yourself at a wonderful website http://www.bestplaces.net/col/ I encourage everyone to see this website. It will show you that if you earn $100,000, you will need to earn $115,673 to have the same standard of living every single year to live in Montclair. Compare any town with West Orange. You will see that only a couple of towns in Essex County are less expensive and you wouldn't want to live in any of them. This is a very informative site. See the results for yourself. On a different matter, Michelle is a competent board member. None of the candidates will be able to be better than her. Cost of Living Comparison: West Orange Township, New Jersey - Montclair Township, New Jersey A salary of $100,000 in West Orange Township, New Jersey should increase to $115,673 in Montclair Township, New Jersey West Orange Township U.S. Avg. Montclair Township » Compare these cities in over 100 categories Cost of Living Indexes West Orange Township Montclair Township Overall 149 173 Food 118 118 Housing 227 310 Utilities 135 135 Transportation 110 110 Health 111 111 Miscellaneous 120 120 100=national average Montclair Township is 16% more expensive than West Orange Township. Housing is the biggest factor in the cost of living difference. Housing is 36% more expensive in Montclair Township.
Gary Englert September 21, 2012 at 12:03 AM
Adam Kraemer: Your support of charter schools continues to be based on broad generalities and so poorly thought out as to be unfathomable. Remove a single child from the West Orange Public Schools, send them to a charter school and you also send with them 90% of the prorated tuition cost (for that student) and you also incurr an additional cost to transport them. Does removing that child save the district a dime? Can a teaching position be eliminated? Can a school be closed or even a single classroom? The answer to all three qustions is "NO!" Ego, the district isn't saving a thing and this simply diminishes the fund from which all current fixed expenses are paid...period. Break out your calculator, consider all the variables and see if you can actually come up with a number as to how many students would have to leave the system for any real economies to be achieved...and you will be shocked by how large a number it is. Charter school don't exist in sufficient quantity to to this now and are unlikely to exist in sufficient quantity in the future to ever have the effect you think it would or could.
john anthony prignano September 21, 2012 at 01:51 AM
Mark Are you saying that Montclair High does better than West Orange High because Montclair is more affluent ?? Let me understand this .Because Montclair is more affluent ,the fact that they spend $4,000+ LESS than West Orange, that their professional staff earns far less than WO teachers and administrators,and that Montclair High provides the hourly equivalent of 30 more instructional days than WOHS, are essentially irrelevant. Montclair schools do better because Montclair. is more affluent, period .May I play devil's advocate? So why does WO spend so much more per pupil than Montclair ,when the rule of socio - economic inevitability clearly states; Per pupil spending is irrelevant { Special Needs Districts }. It's what the pupil's family earns that dictates educational success or failure. Also, I counted approximately 30 LESS AFFLUENT districts that rank higher than WOHS in New Jersey Monthly's latest public high school rankings.Generally speaking, how much more affluent do you think the MH STUDENTS are than their WO counterparts? Are the homes in Montclair pricier because the public schools are superior to WO's public schools and thus the town is more desirable? 30 more instructional days doesn't matter to you. Increases in WO teacher compensation doubling the 7% State average increase over the past 3 years doesn't matter to you. You may be right about the quality of other candidates in comparison to Ms. Casalino, but that in no way means she will do a good job.
Jake Freivald September 21, 2012 at 03:30 AM
Mike, did you delete Gary Englert's comments? Or did he? Thanks.
john anthony prignano September 21, 2012 at 04:43 AM
Mark "If they want to make the schools better, they should recommend programs for the parents to help their children when they come home.Many parents are not prepared to help their children succeed.Our schools are wonderful but there are serious problems in the homes. If this issues was addressed,test scores would improve. People don't seem to understand where the problem exists.Give me a candidate who understands this, and I will possibly offer my support" You want a candidate who understands that our schools are wonderful, but the parents of the students are the pits.Correct this problem,and test scores will rise.The parents are not part of the problem,THEY ARE THE ENTIRE PROBLEM! The teachers, the administrators, and the School Board,are better than wonderful,they are PERFECT! Anytime I read these kinds of comments, I "go to the video tape",in a manner of speaking. And sure enough, we see that these are the words of a former teacher { Glen Ridge,Montclair Kimberly }, Mark, I strongly believe you are looking for a teaching job in West Orange, so you deify the teachers,and you vilify the parents.You will fit right in the WO Public School system. You will be a WONDERFUL teacher who will teach his students,among other things,personal responsibility. And when students you teach don't do well,you will teach those students that their failures are 100% the fault of their parents, often their hard working,devoted parents. Mark,why don't more people have your dazzling insights?
West Oranger September 21, 2012 at 03:27 PM
I can't respond to Kraemer's response to your note. Parents currently have the option of paying tuition to private schools - what is the rationale for offering another option, rather than improving the existing schools? Also, have there been any proven benefits of charter schools? What proof can charter schools provide that they will offer better graduation rates, scores on testing, and overall learning? Will they pick and choose kids from the district, so that they only represent the top performing, English-speaking, non-special needs students? What will happen to the rest of our schools? Here is an interesting read about the charter school question in Millburn: http://www.nj.com/independentpress/index.ssf/2011/06/superintendent_of_millburn_sch.html I'm happy to support education with my tax dollars, and don't want it wasted on charter schools, especially if it means sacrificing teachers' experience and the unity of the district and town.
Ralph September 21, 2012 at 11:28 PM
"Housing is the biggest factor in the cost of living difference." The problem in West Orange is that in many cases the property taxes are now more than the mortgage. People would rather pay more for the asset than on taxes. 400k home in West Orange is almost $14,500.00 in property taxes. Try and find another home in that price range in any other town with the same tax burden. I happen to think this town has a lot to offer....but our taxes are scaring away many potential new residents....and honestly, who can blame them. If I knew my taxes were going to go up almost 7k in the 5 years we lived here I would have picked another town. I love so much about this town, but its costing my family an extra $580.00 a month to live here in the middle of a terrible recession.
Robert September 22, 2012 at 04:34 PM
Is this a serious post? Blame the families for the school's failure? Creative, intelligent and thoughtful teachers find creative, intelligent and thoughtful ways to reach students of all backgrounds. Others support uneducated candidates who assuage the school's responsibility.
Robert September 22, 2012 at 04:36 PM
PLEASE CORRECT ME IF I AM WRONG- I can't see that Ms. Casalino has a college degree. While certainly it is not a requirement, it would seem to be valuable to have a post-secondary to serve on the Board of Education. If the school budget was staying the same or test scores were increasing, I could see staying with a candidate who has been successful. The issues are too important to stay on this same course.
Danielle Lauren September 24, 2012 at 01:10 AM
Why would I support someone who is practically illiterate? Mr.Kraemer's post is littered with misspelled words. He never even spells "education" correctly.
Franklin Street September 24, 2012 at 03:43 AM
Charter schools are good for competition and competition is as American as apple pay. Why are the New York Yankees good year after year? Because other teams are trying to beat them. Why does Apple make such wonderful products and is so profitable? Because other companies want to eat their lunch. Public schools have nothing to fear from charter schools IF THEY PERFORM. There ARE failing public schools. The parents of these schools deserve a chance to escape the failing schools.
Gary Englert September 24, 2012 at 02:55 PM
Franklin Street: While a case could certainly be made that the Yankees financial wherewithal and vastly more expensive roster contribute as much (if not more) to its success than anything, nobody is suggesting that charter schools do not have a place. Is West Orange such a place and/or would there be any economic benefit to sending our students to one or more of them? The answer to both questions is no and, as to the second, there will never be enough available charter school seats to reduce our student population or mitigate its growth. That said, if private and parochial schools aren't enough of a nudge to satisfy you, I believe there is already considerable competition in public education, both real (academic, arts and athletics) and artificial (NJ Monthly and other surveys). Then too, every school system in the country is in competition to put its students into the vertiable handful of seats available in the country's finest colleges and universities.
West Oranger September 24, 2012 at 03:33 PM
With all due respect to Franklin Street, and parents with children in "failing" schools, public education is a service to the children of our district, and forcing schools to compete with each other hasn't proven to do anything to improve grades, learning, or costs. The Yankees and Apple aren't appropriate analogies, because the only way they are profitable is by either receiving enormous taxpayer subsidies or employing near-slave labor. Sure, there may be innovation and talent, but they afford those things through moral and public financial compromises. Our state poorly manages public school financing (and our tax dollars in general). Charter schools won't solve those problems, but will create more.
Robert September 24, 2012 at 04:57 PM
As someone who is almost completely undecided (not voting for Ms. Casalino-unless I am wrong about her complete lack of qualification or the state of the schools), I would be very interested in who you recommend and why?
Robert September 24, 2012 at 07:53 PM
I see the education for Laura Lab, Paul Petigrow and Sandra Mordecai. Neither Megan Brill or Michele Casalino list a college degree. How can this be? Unless West Orange elects people to the Board of Education who have educations, the schools are unlikely to improve. I am not someone who believes a college degree is necessary for success in life. It is helpful however when you have chosen to oversee the mission of the education of others (who the parents presumably hope will go to college). How on earth did this happen? Being new to this debate, can someone tell me if this was an issue in the past? I am fighting making assumptions about political alignments or local popularity as both list themselves as lifelong residents of West Orange and products of the West Orange schools. I have not decided on any candidate. I am decided that the budget should not go up every year and that the schools should be improving. I also think we should be selecting from a qualified pool of candidates.
Franklin Street September 25, 2012 at 05:16 PM
I would not hold the lack of a college degree against someone running for the BOE. I know quite a few people that never went to college that are a lot smarter than college graduates. Some college graduates lack basic common sense knowledge because, they are stuck in theory and are not involved in the real world. That being said I will vote for the candidates that look after the taxpayers hard earned money. The Cavanna affair is a travesty as the taxpayers now have to pay two salaries. Joe Sorbino has a very impressive resume and has stated that he will not be afraid to go after the same old failed policies of the past. Adam Kramer will get my other vote. He is the #1 champion for the beleaguered West Orange taxpayers. He will shake things up. We must have change. We must fix a broken system that spends way too much money only to get medicore results..
Robert September 25, 2012 at 10:16 PM
Dear Franklin St., I am not for a second suggesting that these women aren't intelligent, just unqualified. Certainly a person does not have to go to college to be smart (and many college grads are not) but I want my doctor to go to medical school, my lawyer to go to law school, my accountant to go to business school and the people in charge of educating our children ideally to have a background in education or policy; but I would settle for a college degree (as a minimum threshold). That being said, I really appreciate your feedback and opinion. I also value your analysis of the candidates and will consider what you have written. Thanks.
Kate Farrell September 25, 2012 at 11:05 PM
Just because a person doesn't hold a college degree doesn't mean they are incompetent. From what I can see, Ms. Casalino has saved the school district a lot of money with her push for re-registration and the 900,000 she pushed the board to shave off last year's budget so that no one's taxes went up. She works, volunteers all over town and has raised three children that went through the West Orange schools, all of which have done well academically and in sports. If people are so concerned that a lack of a college degree disqualifies someone for public service, why don't you contact her at mcasalino@woboe.org?
Robert September 26, 2012 at 02:26 AM
Hi Kate. I very respectfully disagree with your post. I don't think I (or anyone) suggested that the lack of a college degree makes a person incompetent or disqualifies someone from public service. My own feeling is that serving on the Board of Education should require (I am aware it does not) some postsecondary education. I am not maligning Ms. Casalino's intelligence, public service or motherhood; but without medical training she would not be my doctor, without legal training she would not be my lawyer and without some college education (where many hope their children will go) I will not vote to put her in charge of the education of the children of our town.
Franklin Street September 26, 2012 at 05:25 PM
What this town really needs is some openess. Why are the taxpayers kept in the dark on the teachers contract talks. We do not even know what their pay demands are? Why? We are the taxpaers that are paying their salaries. In the recent Chicago teachers strike it was public knowledge-teachers wanted 30% raise,city offered 16%(over 4 years). In WO the public is blind. Are the teachers asking for too much? Is the BOE being unreasonable? The public is in the dark. West Orange is truly a banana republic. The taxpayers are not giving any respect. There is no hope for this town when taxpayers are treated with such utter disrespect.
Kate Farrell September 26, 2012 at 07:54 PM
Ms. Casalino did attend college but did not graduate. Her profession in the mortgage business requires lots of financial knowledge and business acumen. My nephew graduated from Rutgers with a Psych and Philosophy degree, but I would not want him as my spiritual leader. For six years she has dedicated herself to providing services to all the children in the West Orange School district and was also instrumental in pushing for grade requirements with the ASAP program at the high school. You say you are not voting for Michelle... but you are voting for Adam Kraemer? Based on what both candidates have actually DONE to benefit the school district, Ms. Casalino is head and shoulders over Mr. Kraemer. But he has a degree, so he is more capable? Mr. Kraemer did little to participate in his children's education when they were in the school district, and now he has taken them out for religious reasons. I appreciate your point of view, but you most certainly are implying that Ms. Casalino is not 'as competent' to be on the BOE over someone who has a college degree. Experience, results, and a proven track record prove otherwise.
Gary Englert September 26, 2012 at 08:12 PM
A great many very well respected and eminent people, in many walks of life, have achieved extraordinary success without benefit of their completing their college education; our own Thomas A. Edison among them. Despite the fact he did meet the then minimum requirement to hold an undergraduate degree, NASA selected John Glenn to be one of its orginal class of seven astronauts and the nation's wealthiest person, Bill Gates, is a notable college dropout. I'd opine that Ms. Casalino's years of dedicated service to the district represent more than sufficient on the job training to render criticism concerning her not having a degree a moot point.
john anthony prignano September 26, 2012 at 09:06 PM
West Orange High School provides the hourly equivalent of 14 less instructional days than the State average,and the hourly equivalent of 30 less instructional days than Montclair High School. Based on salaries and length of service,I can find no District with higher compensated teachers and administrators than West Orange. Average statewide teacher compensation rose 7% over the last 3 years. Over the same period of time, West Orange teacher compensation rose 14%. Teachers often boast how they "come early and stay late, how they go above and beyond, how they often work on the weekends, in the summer " etc. So the School Board puts 12 early dismissals in the schedule,and they keep reducing the number of instructional hours.Why hasn't the Board insisted the teachers put up or shut up, i.e. A longer school day and year, some evening programs,some weekend programs,some summer programs etc.The teachers ARE DOING THAT NOW, so what would be the objection to putting those things in the contract? By putting the children on a curriculum starvation diet, this creates the "need" for often pricey, paid for out - of - pocket "private tutoring, " "enrichment programs" " and the like.If someone doesn't think educational failure is BIG business,all they have to do is look at the Special Needs Districts. WOHS has dropped more places in NJ Monthly's annual High School rankings. Lemma Fencing did the work in O'Conner Park. Isn't that company owned by a very close relative of Ms. Casalino's?
Franklin Street September 26, 2012 at 09:40 PM
Kate, where do you get off saying Adam Kraemer did not participate in his children's education? That is rude. I bet that Adam and his wife spent a lot of time helping their children at home with their homework. That is a lot more than what many incompetent parents in WO do. And what is wrong with religious schools? You have been drinking too much kool-aid. Adam will fight for the taxpayer. We are overtaxed and there is a lot of waste and bloat in the schools.
Robert September 26, 2012 at 10:37 PM
Hi Kate. To use a school analogy, I am saying that all Board of Education members should have a college education. I am not saying that all people with a college education should be on the Board of Education. As for Mr. Kraemer, I am not convinced but I am willing to learn more. I also would never judge a parent for doing what is in the best interests of their child (private or religious school). I think you have suggested the first thing about him that resonates with me and that is that he does what is in the best interests of his children regardless of political fallout. I would be more concerned with someone who did not do what was best for their child out of concern for their local political ambitions.
Robert September 26, 2012 at 10:53 PM
For Gary- If you are saying that Ms. Casalino's practical "success" on the Board of Education is the functional equivalent of the successes of Thomas A. Edison, John Glenn and Bill Gates in their respective fields, then I agree with you... For those who don't think so, it may be time to consider someone else.
Kate Farrell September 26, 2012 at 10:57 PM
Sorry Franklin, I worded it badly... it had to do with involvement at the school, PTA, etc. and not personal involvement with their own children. I don't believe anyone criticized anyone's choice of putting their children in a Yeshiva, did they? And btw, I don't like kool aid, but I do believe in community involvement and being part of a solution rather than complaining.
Ann Aly Ahmed September 29, 2012 at 07:01 PM
I do not feel that a person needs to have a college degree to be on the BOE, I do however feel that the person that is on the board or plans to run for a seat, should have had(children that have graduated) or does have children in the West Orange School System to honestly know how to improve our schools and insure that our students get the quality education they deserve. Also, with regard to test scores, some students are great at taking test and others freeze when taking a test. I do not go by a national test to gauge if my children did well or are doing well in school. I go by their report card. I guess I am old school and I want to know what my child is doing here and I really do not care if he matches up to someone in LaJolla California or NYC with his knowledge.
Ann Aly Ahmed September 29, 2012 at 07:05 PM
Robert, I can only speak on what I know personally of Michelle, but the reason she does not have a college degree is because she needed to help her mother raise her siblings and put food on the table. And even though Michelle does not have a college degree, she is very pro education and is a professional that does very well wtihout a degree. So I ask you Robert, do not hold this against her, but come out and learn about her and what she has done not only for our schools but our town and maybe even speak with her and you will see for yourself how well-rounded she is and how passionate she is about education and educating our youth.


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