Superintendent Suspended

Board of Education places Superintendent Anthony Cavanna on leave pending further investigation into 'district issues.'


Superintendent Anthony Cavanna was suspended by the West Orange Board of Education on Wednesday. 

Cavanna was placed on paid administrative leave pending further investigation into “district issues,” said Board President Laura Lab. The board also voted not to rehire Cavanna as superintendent of the district after his contract expires in June 2013.

Cavanna was not present at the meeting that evening. 

The board had unanimously appointed Cavanna to a four-year term as superintendent in 2009. Before coming to West Orange, Cavanna worked in schools in New Jersey and New York as a teacher, assistant principal, principal and deputy superintendent of schools.

Assistant Superintendent Donna Rando was appointed by the board to act as superintendent during Cavanna’s absence. 

In a prepared statement, Lab said that while Rando serves as superintendent of schools during Cavanna’s leave, the board “expects no interruption to the district’s commitment to serving the needs of the children of West Orange.”  

The board passed all resolutions unanimously and without any discussion. 

Sherley Jean-Baptiste was one of the only members of the community to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting. 

“I don’t know what the issues are ... but I do applaud the board for taking that stand at such a time,” said Jean-Baptiste, “knowing that there might be frictions, but you did take a stand. I applaud you, and thank you for looking out for the district.” 

Lab and Rando were tight lipped about the reasons surrounding Cavanna’s suspension and provided no further comments. 

However, contention between the board and Cavanna seems to have been brewing for some time. 

In July 2011, rumors flew around town and online comment boards -- which proved to be untrue -- that the board was during his yearly evaluation by the board. The rumors caused residents to contact the board, and statements to be issued by school attorney Steven Christiano. 

In addition, the board has also been beset with investigations. Ethics charges were against Lab and board member Megan Brill.

One male teacher, who spoke on the condition on anonymity, said, in his opinion, Cavanna has been a divisive figure in the district and that the board has been attempting for more than a year to get rid of him. 

“There has been a big problem in the district for a very longtime ever since [Cavanna] entered the office,” said the teacher. “It has caused a great division in the district as well.

“My hat’s off to the board for doing what was needed to be done.” 

The next board meeting will be Monday, July 23, at 8 p.m. in the district’s administration building, 179 Eagle Rock Ave. 

Gary Englert July 24, 2012 at 04:31 PM
@Raymond Helfirich: While getting around West Orange, or to one school or another therein, is not the equivalent of a Himalayan trek by llama, what "seems important to you" disregards the very essential cog that neighborhood schools are to the district and that each is essentially a separate community that needs to be engaged. It also denies the practical necessity of the Board (as a group and with relevant staff) periodically surverying each facility within its charge. You are also failing to appreciate that only 19% of the electorate bothered to vote in the last municipal election and that a far lesser number voted in the last school board election; prima fascia evidence that the level of apathy and disinterest is troubling...and that posting videos on-line or local access TV isn't going to change that. Just how, for example, would you drive viewers to watch these things?
john anthony prignano July 24, 2012 at 04:40 PM
Adam, What you heard is correct . Niclola Salese is employed by the Township at a base salary of $104,248. Nicolina Salese is employed by the WO Board of Ed at a base salary of $55,728. Nicola Salese is also employed by the WO Board of Ed at a base salary of $29,480. Doctor Andrew Brafman, D.D.S. did not recuse himself from the Health Plan negotiations with the Teacher's Union , It's a very generous plan.The teachers demonstrably show their gratitude to Doctor Brafman . Former Board member Patti Stansfield teaches in another district . Laura Lab's son works for the Board .Michele Casalino's maiden name is Lemma. Lemma Fencing did the work at O Conner Park . I'm sure that that's her brother's company . Many years ago, there was a front page article in the Star Ledger about declining school enrollments . West Orange experienced a huge decline . Teacher /Board member Pat Urso said "It was really something. There were classes with 9 and 10 children in them ." She wouldn't have advocated for layoffs or class consolidations if there were more teachers than students . When William Paterson Professor William Willis ran for the Board, he said he "would take a hard look at all spending, ....but the teachers HAVE to be paid ." As a Board member , he literally fought for much higher starting salaries . After achieving his goal , he said " We were determined to get those salaries up there "?? It's called paying it forward .A former Board members offspring {s? } teach in West Orange.
Gary Englert July 24, 2012 at 05:01 PM
Clearly, Mr. Prignano doesn't know the first thing about the difference between rumor, innuendo, accusation, fact or actionable proof...as his post is rife with the first three and completely lacking in the last two. First and foremost, just because a Board member is a medical professional does not suggest he would possibly need to recuse himself from negotiations concerning an employee benefits package and, in fact, his expertise might well be invaluable to such negotiations. The question (concerning recusal) would be: Is there a conflict of interest insofar as the Board member reaping any direct benefit from the decisions made in the matter at hand? The answer is clearly, no, he would not...as even if a covered district employee wound up in his dental chair, how Dr. Brafman's fees might be paid for has no bearing on his compensation for the work performed; the patient has some level of insurance coverage or he/she does not. The simple fact of the matter remains that, in response to declining enrollment 25 years ago, the (then) Board of Education took what was the (then) proscribed and drastic action of selling one of the two existing high schools and one elementary school, closed a second elementary school (and converted it to the Board's offices) and leased a third elementary school to a private vendor. This also resulted in a substantial reduction in force; proof positive of either Mr. Prignano's lack of historical perspective or selective memory.
Gary Englert July 24, 2012 at 05:32 PM
Alan, I'd challenge you to qualify "what (you've) heard" as I simply don't see an unpaid position, taking a significant devotion of one's time and being the brunt of the ire of an irrational and often ill-informed public to be a day at the beach. If the "reward" is knowing one had tried to give back and contribute to the greater good, one gives a great deal of time, effort, energy and patience for that scant satisfaction.
Alan Sanders July 24, 2012 at 06:08 PM
Re:"Clearly, Mr. Prignano doesn't know the first thing about the difference between rumor, innuendo, accusation, fact or actionable proof...as his post is rife with the first three and completely lacking in the last two. ..." Gary for someone who was commenting on the lack of civility on this list I'm dismayed that you should strike such a tone. Would it not be possible to make your salient points without such a disparaging tone?
Mary July 24, 2012 at 06:35 PM
Brett, you were referring to Gary and John when you made that comment. Well said Gary! He and John has so many postings attacking each other, they should apologize to the residents.
Gary Englert July 24, 2012 at 06:35 PM
Alan, Rather obviously, you are unaware of Mr. Prignano's repetitive, personal attacks on myself and others, not to mention his penchant for rambling off topic at every opportunity. My post (above) is emphatic and to the point and nothing more. Does Mr. Prignano connect the dots and offer any proof of nepotism or favoritism being at play here? No, he does not...he is simply disparaging the reputations of people who have done what he never has: contribute positively to the community. The absolute truth of the matter is that the man launched two ill-conceived and poorly executed campaigns for mayor ('94 & '98) and had a dismal showing at each outing. His source of animosity toward me? I ran the victorious 1998 campaign that had him on the losing end of an 80% plurality at the polls. The man holds a grudge and it's no more complicated than that.
Gary Englert July 24, 2012 at 06:43 PM
Mary, It has possibly escaped your notice but, virtually every one of Mr. Prignano's posts veer off topic and manage to attack someone who is actually involved in trying to make a difference in the community...while he himself id devoid of any such credentials of his own. Rather that attacking him, I simply defende myself (and others) from his repetitive and combative nonsense. "Lies unchallenged can become the accpeted truth." ~ Joseph Goebbels
Gary Englert July 24, 2012 at 07:06 PM
Brett, The folks who want to "tear things down" are, in general, anonymous and hiding behind screen names; how such cowadice could possibly make them "feel important" is beyond me. The others who fall into the same category are either bitter, have a political agenda or are abysmally ill-informed but, a least they put a name, face and reputation (good or bad) behind their opinions. The Internet could be source of civil diiscourse and valuable community information but, anonymous posting is surely helping to preclude it from being so.
Jake Freivald July 24, 2012 at 08:34 PM
In short, no. It's really not possible for him. :)
Jake Freivald July 24, 2012 at 08:38 PM
I think Raymond is spot-on in this. Plenty of people watch the council meetings when they're broadcast; there's no reason to believe that making BOE meetings more available could make participation worse, and plenty of reason to believe that untethering participation from a TV time slot or a fixed physical location could make participation better. I'm not sure what primo fascia boards have to do with anything, though....
Jake Freivald July 24, 2012 at 08:41 PM
This is a very important point. Having the actual words spoken by the BOE (or council, or state senate, etc.) members can be very helpful in holding people accountable.
Alan Sanders July 25, 2012 at 01:32 AM
Jake Freivald wrote: 'Having the actual words spoken by the BOE (or council, or state senate, etc.) members can be very helpful in holding people accountable.' Wish I'd said that, Jake. Not only can that be valuable but it can affect the behavior of BOE members. That what sunshine laws are all about. Definition of 'Sunshine Laws' U.S. federal and state laws requiring regulatory authorities' meetings, decisions and records to be made available to the public. Read more: http://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/sunshinelaws.asp#ixzz21as0N6hv
john anthony prignano July 25, 2012 at 02:53 AM
Vicki I would ask you as I as I have asked others; What are the teachers doing in these " off classtime hours ?" It can't be anything important or essential to a good education , right ? Otherwise, it WOULD BE IN THE CONTRACT You say there are 30 UNRULY children in a class of...30 ? Shame on the parents! Shame on our permissive society ! But teachers are not the least teensy weeny bit to blame, right Vicki ? They're going "Above and beyond " right? How could the official student - teacher ratio be half or less than half of that ? I'll tell you why - almost 20% of the "professional educators" at West Orange High School teach no classes . I would be the first to give kudos to teachers for taking on the challenge of teaching our children , IF THEY WERE SUCCEEDING . Unfortunately, they're not : Multiculturalism , Anti- bullying and Tolerance , a Character Curriculum , co-ed gym classes , the S.A.L.E.s program , the D.A.R.E. program , recycling and environmentalism , computer science, health and sex education , music,art,library, Black Hstory, New Jersey Social Studies, days of standardized testing , and now 2 field days , fitness testing and healthy eating lectures. Arbor Day , Autism Awareness , Career Day,Breast Cancer Awareness, etc.etc ad infinitum . Response ? Early dismissals. In - service workshops , Hours lost because of bad weather? Lost. One daily MANDATED free period and MOONLIGHTING. The term "off hours " is pure semantics. Dedication? Professionalism? Nonsense
john anthony prignano July 25, 2012 at 03:07 AM
Vicki I also want to ask you ; These people say "They come early and stay late " What do you think their response would be if you said "Since you're doing it anyway, and it certainly must be important to the children's education , I'm sure you wouldn't mind in the least it we put those hours in your contract, right ? " In fact Vicki , What do you think their response would be if you simply asked for the elimination of early dismissals, IN-SERVICE workshops, the mandated daily free period , and hours lost because of bad weather would be made up ? I bet I know what they would say .
Gary Englert July 25, 2012 at 02:36 PM
Jake, I am certainly not suggesting that taping, rebroadcasting or the posting on-line of Board of Ed meeting will make participation worse but, I don't see any empircal evidence it will be made any better...and if doing so necessitates the meetings being held in a fixed place, that is surely detrimental. I was among those who (in the interest of transparency) successfully fought to have Council Meetings televised (circa 1996) and, while great in theroy, what has been the practical result? Has voter participation improved? Hardly, the high water mark was 13,000 turning out in 1994 and all other local elections pale in comparison since. Do we have a more informed electorate? Based on the commentary seen here and on other websites (presumably by people with some interest in local affairs) and forgetting any political agendas, the lack of basic knowledge of procedures and protocols is startling. Long story short is that you can lead a horse to water but, you can't make them drink and, based on practical experience (voter turnout) and absent any evidence to the contrary, I don't believe televising local meeting reaches any significant audience...though I remain open minded about it. Prima fascia (Latin for "on first appearance") is commonly used legal parlance suggesting a thing is presumed to be true (voter apathy) unless proven otherwise. One of the few things a 40 plus year lapsed Catholic took with them of value is a some knowledge of Latin. :-)
Jake Freivald July 25, 2012 at 03:43 PM
Gary, the "primo fascia boards" comment was a (probably lame) joke: Fascia boards are an architectural feature, while "prima facie" is what you were going for. While I understand where you're coming from, I still disagree. There are two things to consider. One, increased awareness and participation. I was surprised to discover, when I was running, just how many people watch the town council meetings on TV, and how informed they are as a result. (If you're part of the cause of that, then good for you.) I tend to get my news from web pages, downloads, podcasts, and the like, rarely tying myself to a TV for any particular length of time: Studies show that much of the US is moving in that direction as well, so for the same reasons you wanted TV, it makes sense to want streaming or downloadable video. I can tell you that when West Orange Grassroots was launched, it made it far easier for me to be well-informed; the movement to put council meetings on the westorange.org is a big plus for the same reason (though I wish it were downloadable as well as streaming, so I could watch on the train). The second reason is, as Alan Sanders points out, the research that becomes possible and the accountability that can stem from having your spoken words easily accessible. That alone is a tremendous boon to transparency and accountability.
Brett Kaiser July 25, 2012 at 04:46 PM
I think these are the Board bylaws http://schools.woboe.org/Board/Board%20Policies/Forms/AllItems.aspx
Gary Englert July 25, 2012 at 08:22 PM
Jake Freivald: I stand corrected as to my mangling the spelling of "prima facie," though my knowledge of the phrase and its etymology are accurate...and yes, I am aware that "fascia" is an architectural term. That said, while your experience campaigning (and how ever many people referenced watching Council meetings) is subjective, my conclusions about the efficacy of it all are a tad more objective and based on measurable data over time: voter participation has not increased at all since Council Meetings started being televised. Accordingly, I think some cost-benefit analysis should be undertaken before devoting more time and resources to any more of these intiatives...and, yes, that is coming from a guy who led the charge in the first place. I'd be proud as punch to look at any hard data available that indicates any significant number of people actually view these things (on-line or otherwise) and maintain an open mind that it actually might serve a purpose but, I doubt very many give a damn. Insofar as rotating Board of Ed meetings among the various schools, I maintain that this is a valuable exercise for both the Board and the public alike; the former because it allows them (and their support staff) to survey the buildings they manage and, the latter, as it exposes people from other neighborhoods to facilites they would otherwise never visit and to see the challenges/triumphs as they are, throughout the district.
Brett Kaiser August 12, 2012 at 12:57 PM
OK..SO is the Star Ledger Correct? Is this Farce, about "Legally" Not allowed to say why the BOE suspended Dr. C, actually against the law? To Quote: "State Law allows public bodies to go into closed sessions under *limited* circumstances, including to discuss personal matters. The LAW REQUIRES the PUBLIC Body, BEFORE Entering such a session, to state as PRECISELY AS POSSIBLE, the time when and the circumstances under which the discussion conducted in the closed session of the PUBLIC body can be disclosed to the PUBLIC." Labor Counsel Philip Stern said he HOPES that there will be some level of resolution in place by the NEXT board meeting on August 28th. That DOES NOT Sound like the letter of the law, nor does it seem like there was ANY REASON to keep dragging this on. NOT Only that, it APPEARS that a Date, "As Prcesley as possible" MUST Have been set BEFORE Any Closed sessions or discussion (formal or informal, I guess) where to have taken Place. Or is this ALL Wrong. Oh, and Star Ledger: "Welcome to the Party, Pal. Better Late than Never" -- JM
Gary Englert August 12, 2012 at 01:33 PM
Brett Kaiser: There's no "farce" that I can see and I believe gave a date for "possible resolution/public discussion" as "precisely as possible." These things are dnegotiated and concluded behind closed doors to protect everyone's rights and position...both the employee's and the school board (read taxpayers).
Brett Kaiser August 12, 2012 at 03:09 PM
My Biggest Fear, is that BOE is playing a game, that they are bending the rule of law, and that the township is going get sued. Not to mention the fact that it might just be a personal thing between the 2 parties. It had better be strictly Business. and they had better not have overstepped their bounds. I would put good money down, 8/28 goes by with out resolution.
Brett Kaiser August 28, 2012 at 02:29 PM
Well, today SHOULD be the day....Anyone want to place a friendly wager? I'll bet NOTHING is said tonight. Any takers? >> Labor Counsel Philip Stern said he HOPES that there will be some level of resolution in place by the NEXT board meeting on August 28th.
Sue Freivald August 28, 2012 at 04:59 PM
Um, I believe the next BOE meeting is tomorrow, Aug 29.
Deb Harvest August 29, 2012 at 01:52 AM
The Board of Education, with the assistance of their labor counsel, and a few good friends will offer a buy-out (more than 3 month) to our former superintendent and sweep it under the rug as a personnel issue. This way, the town will be lead to believe that Dr. Cavanna committed some mysterious illegal activity. Note, to the community, if the former superintendent was a part of some type of illegal activity the DOE would have suspended him. At any rate, the community has a right to know the exact amount that the BOE has offered for the settlement. Hope to see you at the BOE meeting scheduled for Wednesday, August 29.
Tolstoy September 28, 2012 at 05:51 PM
My teen is new in-district & to the hs though we've lived here about 15 years (was in a parochial school previously). I was impressed with Mr. Agliomento's impact as principal and am sorry he retired. Was his retirement related to Dr. C's leadership? I have no facts just wondering. I do not know if it's accurate but heard Dr. A. had been brought in to 'clean up' the high school. I'm sorry he retired before my child graduated. My concern regarding Mr. Moore is not paper qualifications rather real-world ones. WOHS is a big place with lots of upper management/administration, and home for our kids for 4 years. We need someone who's been in the trenches and can keep the discipline and standards at a adequate level & work to upgrade them. I disagree with others about the riff-raff there - these are our kids & we as parents must share the blame/successes for their learning and behavior. Parents DO need to be involved, daily. I am. But we also need an experienced leader at the helm. I am glad my child is willing to work hard and qualifies for honors courses - we learned (and told by other parents) early those are the 'only' good classes. it's the day to day learning us parents see that really matters. I'm glad my child is almost done there as I worry how Mr. Moore's inexperience will impact the school to maintain/upgrade its performance-for our kids sake. It affects our kids learning not only here but where they go in their educational lives next.
Vicki Russo September 28, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Mr. A's retirement was planned when he took the job in West Orange. Dr. Cavanna was removed by the Board members with no explanation to the parents, citizens or anybody. The taxpayers are paying for 2 salaries in the Supt. position. I do not understand why you feel Mr. Moore is inexperienced. He has been in the district for over 15 yrs. He was the Asst. Principal during Mr. A's tenure and Mr. A & Dr. Cavanna choose Hayden Moore for the next principle. I have met with Mr. Moore and his concern over the kids welfare, education and future for the kids is the foremost issue for his job at the High School. Before the parents or new residents condemn him why don't you see how Mr. Moore operates in his new position. By the way, the staff at the HS is happy Mr. Moore was promoted to Principal. It seems to me if everyone who works or has worked with this man is complimentary and pleased with his appointment, we as residents should watch Mr. Moore excel WOHS in the community until we start throwing stones.
Kate Farrell September 28, 2012 at 06:37 PM
Mr. Moore was the assistant principal and handled a multitude of responsibilities, including discipline, for the past several years. He has the respect of the students and has a new assistant principal team in place. He is putting in 12 hour days to make sure things are being addressed, whether schedules, personnel issues, or student issues. And what you have heard is not accurate... the honors classes are more challenging and contain a higher percentage of kids that want to do well academically, but the regular classes and teachers are also good. By the time a kid gets to high school, they've decided if they want to do well academically or not. While this challenges the school district in many ways, at the end of the day, they can't replace parent involvement or make students want to learn.
Vicki Russo September 28, 2012 at 06:49 PM
Why are you responding that I have heard something incorrectly? I think you need to respond to Tolstoy not me. I am a FAN of Mr.Moore's.
Kate Farrell September 29, 2012 at 01:24 PM
I was responding to Tolstoy! You must have posted at the same time I was posting my response. :)


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