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Referendum Fails, New Options Eyed for Fields

School board members and residents say they will consider alternative ways to improve athletic field conditions at the town's high schools.

When the vote counts for the Parsippany Board of Education fields referendum started coming after the polls closed at 9 p.m. Tuesday, the will of the people became quite clear very quickly: Most voters said no. And school board members and citizens in attendance, whatever their particular view on the matter, appeared shocked.

The first count shown was for Central Middle School: The yes votes were 119, the no votes 218.

And then Intervale School: 115 yes, 227 no.

"This doesn't look good," said a voice that sailed ominously through the meeting room at the BOE building.

For supporters, the news wasn't good. In the final unofficial count, the opposition had it: 2,373 to 1,745.

"The people have spoken," said board member Anthony Mancuso. "They said that at this time, this wasn't a project that they wanted to fund due to the economic restraints, and I respect that. The taxpayers have every right to feel that way."

He added, however, that he wishes that they had felt differently.

"To do a capital project of this magnitude in today's world costs a lot of money," he said. "Maybe it was too ambitious to do two schools at the same time, but we believed in in parity between the two schools and that's why we approached it this way."

Mancuso said that a future school board will have to decide if it wants to approach another facilities upgrade referendum.

"As for now, the board will do its best within its budget constraints to give our students the best that we can," he said, noting the limited funds for field maintenance in the schools budget and the serious flaws inherent in the playing fields of Parsippany and Parsippany Hills high schools.

Mancuso also said that there could be a "Plan B—if the town is willing to sit down with the board to truly look at possibly converting or renovating Jannarone Park to handle high school football."

Board member Fran Orthwein did not hide her disappointment.

"This was a missed opportunity for the community to make a lasting, positive improvement, and that's a shame," she said, chalking up the decisive loss to "a lot of misconceptions and misleading rumors that may have influenced people."

She said she understood that people could be wary of a tax hike.

"But this really could have been an asset to our community, an asset to their home values, and most importantly, for all of Parsippany's children, families, everyone. I'm sorry it didn't pass."

"I really don't know what to say," said resident Michael Espejo, who lives near Par Hills High and was not a referendum supporter. "I still think the democratic process failed."

Espejo was referring to the fact that some voters from the Brooklawn Drive and Powder Mill neighborhood—Parsippany areas served by the Morris Plains post office—never received either the sample ballot mailed out on Jan. 3, according to the Morris County clerk's office, or a referendum information card sent out by the Board of Education.

Kristen Ritter, a neighbor of Espejo's and a Republican Municipal Committee member, echoed his concerns.

"I'm still [upset] that some people didn't get their [sample] ballots," she said. "Win or lose, that doesn't go away. This is a democracy. Everybody has the right to be informed and to make an informed vote.

"Frankly, I'm surprised the turnout was so high."

Many in the township feared the combination of a perceived lack of information among voters, the January date and the frigid temperatures would keep voter turnout low, but traffic started brisk and remained so throughout the voting period, according to Municipal Clerk Yancy Wazirmas. Board member Mancuso even noted that the turnout was about the size of the usual school board election, which up until last year took place in April.

Ritter said she would continue her mission to find out why the ballots were not delivered.

She added that the need for fields is understood by most of the community, even if the majority of Tuesday's voters did not support the board's plan.

"There are a lot of people willing to work with the board to figure out a solution for the kids," Ritter said. "It may not be a deluxe solution with $7.7 million worth of stuff, but there may be a way to activate motivated people to come up with a way to make safe playing fields."

Resident and former BOE member Robert Crawford said the resounding no vote is the result of citizens' dissatisfaction with the school board, which he said has been less than open with citizens.

"This vote sends a clear message to all of Parsippany's elected officials on the BOE and in the mayor's office and the Town Council that Parsippany residents deserve and expect to be informed and trusted to make the right decision," he said. "Failure to trust the voters with the truth is and will be a losing proposition."

School Board President Susy Golderer, who voiced concerns over the price and scope of the project during the planning stages, said she was surprised by Tuesday's vote.

"I'm stunned," she said. "I did not expect this. I honestly thought it was going to pass."

She said the community wanted an opportunity to decide and did so. 

"Now we have to work within the parameters that we have," she said. "The board has to sit down and go over all the possible avenues to bring our fields up to standards. That's what the community is expecting of us."

And as president, Golderer said she will ensure that the process is a transparent one that looks at all alternatives, including accepting donations from interested residents and area businesses and corporations that want fields that can "bring pride to Parsippany."

"I want these fields, not just for the kids, but for all of us, so we can have pride in what we have," she said. "We're going to make this happen."

And Golderer offered comfort to those feeling defeated.

"I know there are disappointed people who worked really hard to put this vote in front of the community," she told Patch. "I truly hope that they do not allow this to undermine their spirit.

"I hope that they come forward and use the same resources to see if we can make this happen, but this time with private donations. I know that all the people of Parsippany want our town and our schools to be held to the highest stature possible." 

Scott Dean January 25, 2013 at 07:59 PM
Bob, I attended last night's meeting in part to join this effort that you speak of.How would I go about bringing this to the BOE or trying to be part of the answer for the future. Thanks in advance Scott
Bob Crawford January 25, 2013 at 08:24 PM
Scott The established protocol based on BOE policy is for the BOE to agree to appoint an adhoc Committee and define the make-up of the Committee. For instance 5-7 residents from the Community, one BOE member, one Town Council member and a non voting member representing the Administration could be invited by the BOE President to join the Committee. The President would also invite two of the residents to serve as Chair and Vice Chair or if need be as Co-Chairs. Committee operating rules would be suggested by the BOE President for the whole Committee to review and agree on (The operating rules developed and used by the Traffic and Safety Commission could be a starting point.) The Commitee would have a set period of time to hold meetings and to conduct the required research and would be expected to report to the BOE by a set date with its recommendations. It would then be up to a majority of the Board to decide if it wanted to consider/implement any of the Committee's recommendations. So the next step would be for the BOE/BOE President to consider this or any other idea(s) to move the search for answers forward.
Scott Dean January 25, 2013 at 08:37 PM
Bob, Thanks for the information, I think residents with all different ideas and possible solutions would be best to make up this group,as many agree something must be done at the first thaw..I will reach out to the BOE to propose this if it hasnt been done already.
Monica Sclafani January 25, 2013 at 09:13 PM
Scott - didn't Mrs. Golderer say last night at the meeting that she was going to have a work session in February to discuss the fields issue? Public invited?
Scott Dean January 25, 2013 at 10:10 PM
Monica, If she did then I missed it,thanks for the heads up,Was at the meeting but was behind a sea of blue.I look forward to being part of the solution going forward
Robyn M. January 25, 2013 at 10:26 PM
Don't they have several months of non-use in the summer? As to drainage - I live close to Par High, and I'm betting I have some of the same issues, which is an ongoing project my husband and I are working on. I also have kids and a big dog who love nothing more than trudging through grass seed. I know it's maybe not ideal, whereas turf is ideal, but some simple improvements can't hurt. A lot of things are ideal in life - ideally I would have sprinklers and wouldn't run around my yard getting soaked moving the sprinkler around, but if we're thinking practically and using what we have, we still need seed, soil, etc.
BJNJ January 25, 2013 at 11:57 PM
The question comes down to TRUST. The voters simply do not TRUST the present board. The fiasco about the secret emails indicates there are the board we see and the secret one that we don't see. This secret board will spend anything in attorney's fees to stay hidden. The members of the present board should resign and the poster boy for whats greedy in the educational system should go with them. Parsippany needs a fresh start od people that can be trusted.
Bob Crawford January 26, 2013 at 12:21 AM
Monica and Scott It's time for a different approach. Certainly all of us have learned by now that creditable and creative solutions are not going to come from the back room buffoonery that defined Mayor Barberio's self serving involvement in the FOD initiative. Nor are the needed answers likely to be surfaced by a Board that all too willingly ceded its responsibilities to Superintendent Seitz who demonstrated an inabilty to distribute a self serving infomercial about the Referendum to Parsippany residents. It's time for Referendum proponents and opponents to come together and figure this out. As the BOE is responsible for the fields that independent effort should be initiated at the BOE's invitaion and with their participation. But please no more BOE work sessions and no more closed door secret meetings at Town Hall to figure this out. Let's look to the future, involve people who care and move forward
Jonathan Hemenway January 26, 2013 at 01:05 AM
I would love the opportunity to help and be on a committee that would work together to bring a solution to this issue. These comment from the people of our town have truly bothered me. I think a group formed by the people of this town would be good for us all. Too much separation in this town right now on more then one topic.
Monica Sclafani January 26, 2013 at 01:15 AM
Robyn M - While you may have a couple of kids and a dog that run through your backyard, you have 80 to 100 high school boys/men running, with cleats on, across the high school fields playing football. And that's the only sport that can be played on the fields - football. The purpose of the referendum was to turf the fields so that other sports could be played on the fields - like field hockey; so that the marching bands could play on the fields; so that PE classes could be held outside, etc. The fields do not hold up to this kind of abuse and some topsoil and grass seed is not gonna cut it. Take a look at the architect's plans for prepping the fields for turf. From what I've heard, that prep work would still need to be done whether you turf or put down grass. It truly isn't a simple fix.
Monica Sclafani January 26, 2013 at 01:29 AM
Bob - Stop playing the blame game. You say you want a different approach and to move things forward, yet you keep repeating over and over and over the same old lines. The Mayor, the BOE, the Superintendent - let it go already! Yes, let's look to the future and move things forward! You seem so passionate about the issue, how about taking the lead! Show "them" how it should be done! Now there's an agenda many people will support!
Bob Crawford January 26, 2013 at 03:42 AM
Monica I would be happy to work with the BOE to bring together a committee of citizens to figure this out. I happened to have served on the Traffic and and Safety Committee when I was on the BOE so I have some ideas But I, or anyone else, can only begin to organize that effort at the invitation and with the cooperation of the BOE which correctly has the ultimate responsibility for solving this issue.
Beth Bluj January 26, 2013 at 02:22 PM
Yesterday's Star Ledger. http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2013/01/feds_disabled_students_must_ge.html
Scott Dean January 26, 2013 at 03:14 PM
@BJNJ, I would have to agree that the trust is lost but from the former BOE,We now have some new faces and should afford them a (little time) to regain the trust of the populous here in Parsippany.So much passion for this project can make it obtainable I believe.The past and present cheerleaders should not (pass) on the issues at hand, strong leaders find solutions,let's hope we dont fumble again.
Carol M. January 26, 2013 at 05:09 PM
Mr Crawford I remember the committee you are talking about but it wasn't a resident that was invited to chair or co chair; you were a BOE member at the time and you were the chair. I also remember the same format was used with the demographics committee and it was a member of the BOE that chaired that one too; I think it was Mrs Sheike. I remember hearing you report about the committee and it seemed like it worked well so the suggestion is a good one but I'm surprised that you don't remember that both times a committee like that was used, a BOE member was the chair.
Carol M. January 26, 2013 at 05:31 PM
Thank you for the link Mrs Bluj. I don't mean to harp but it truly is sad that when most communities are moving to improve the involvement of students with disabilities, our community won't even approve the funds to provide barrier free access to fields for these students and consider ADA compliance with restrooms a luxury.
Bob Crawford January 26, 2013 at 06:05 PM
Carol M If having a BOE member serve as the chair of a citizens' committee to find a solution for the fields' issue is a key to getting the commitee up and running, then by all means may BOE President Golderer call upon one of her colleagues to assume that leadership role as soon as possible. As I recall Ms Sheike, throughout her tenure on the BOE, set a high standard for leadership and diplomacy which, if mirrored by the BOE member selected, will do much to ensure the sucess of the citizens' committee
Beth Bluj January 26, 2013 at 06:42 PM
Thank you Carol. This article clearly shows the importance athletics plays in a school system for ALL children and that was our message the entire course of this. Instead, we were accused of being crazy sports parents who wanted to make sure that our 'little johnnys' had luxury sports stadiums to play on at the expense of academics. The BOE has an obligation, now more than ever, to bring these fields up to today's norm.
Scott Dean January 26, 2013 at 06:55 PM
Beth I am one of many who admire your efforts to this project,believe it or not if you are thinking people are calling you crazy it is not because you care so much.or because you are a sports family.I think it was that your efforts were hooked to the wrong wagon.The majority of people I have spoken to are not behind the way this was force fed thru and by the people pushing.Dont be so hard on yourself this decision shouldnt be a reflection of your and others dedication rather a result of transparency from the start.
Scott Dean January 26, 2013 at 06:56 PM
oops Lack of transparency
Beth Bluj January 26, 2013 at 07:00 PM
@Bob - in all honestly, how long do you think this entire process would take? There are 3 months before spring track begins and 7 months before football starts. Also, you cannot compare this committee to a traffic safety committee. You were not looking to spend millions on safe walking routes. I don't think this is going to be a simple and straight forward as you think it is. I see nothing more than talks, studies, talks, studies and then.........back to square one. The BOE needs to find some serious money and fix this NOW - not in another year.
Carol M. January 26, 2013 at 07:28 PM
I agree with you and my point exactly Mr Crawford; if you have a blueprint for success, why leave out some of the details that lead to that success? You have first hand knowledge of the format used that ended well, why not volunteer to share the entire format that worked so that the BOE may possibly realize the same results? I also share your opinion about Mrs Sheike; I do believe she is everyone's fondest due largely to the diplomacy you mention and that her priority as far as I could see was always, and only, about what was best for the children and our schools.
steve revette January 26, 2013 at 07:40 PM
I think it's great that this is coming down but Parsippany will never follow it in my opinion. And I understand the It's from Washington and they HAVE to follow it. I would have hope for this if our school District followed the rules we already ahve in place regarding kids with disabilities. There are times where the CST has to fight with the administration to allow certain kids be allowed to walk at graduation.
Beth Bluj January 26, 2013 at 07:53 PM
Scott - let's end this right here. I will not even begin to entertain talk about what happened in the past. My efforts are now hooked on making sure the BOE provides the kids of this town safe playing fields for THIS season.
Carol M. January 26, 2013 at 07:54 PM
Sometimes people have their minds made up well in advance or are too quick to focus on one specific stumbling block rather then see the whole picture or recognize that many before them have come up with the same ideas that have just not worked so it's time to move on from there. Those who have been paying attention for a long time could easily see that you and the others working with you were on a mission to benefit all children; I only hope that the BOE remembers that should be the goal when they get around to solving this problem and the article you linked to is a perfect reminder of what the whole picture looks like and what it should be all about.
Scott Dean January 26, 2013 at 08:15 PM
Beth, I agree and look forward to that goal as well.
Bob Crawford January 26, 2013 at 08:28 PM
Carol M The blueprint is in the BOE office as is the final report Beth I believe it's about sequencing and about choices. For the sake of this discussion, let's agree that the PHHS football field and the PHHS visitors' stands need priority attention and that replacing those stands and turfing the PHHS football field are this year's top priorities for consideration in the budget the Board will begin crafting shortly. So no lights and no new track at PHHS at least for this year. Let's also agree that the BOE will provide the community with some specifics around when the fields will be used and by whom. Next year the focus could be on replacing the PHS track as the PHS football field is in much better shape than the one at PHHS Also this year's budget already contains $100,000 to replace the PHS home stands. Work by a citizens committee should begin to explore other funding opportunities (private or grant) and work should begin to prioritize what needs to be repaired/replaced and when and how those initiatives might be funded by the annual 2% budget increase the BOE will award itself. The all or nothing approach was voted down last Tuesday. Perhaps a less is more approach might work
Robyn M. January 28, 2013 at 12:30 AM
I could never vote for a plan that was pushed at me this way. I am the type of person who does her homework - I would want to hear multiple perspective from professionals about how the problem could be addressed. I don't care about what laypeople think (including me - I'm not an expert, just a person who wants to know the options) If we had multiple professionals come out and give different ideas, and it led us to saying grass would never work, then OK. But honestly, I don't think this could possibly be true - we live on Planet Earth, not on Rubbermaid. How much would it cost? What would it look like? Inquiring minds want to know. Given options, I could draw a conclusion. But, without information, I can't make an informed decision and, therefore, I voted no. I would never take the advice of a single contractor about a major home repair and this situation was presented just that way. And, now that the plan has failed perhaps we need to get down to basics and do more simple fixing up.
Mike January 28, 2013 at 02:27 AM
Do not trust Carifi or the other four that vote. These 5 will never be on the same page as the other four.
Good luck February 01, 2013 at 06:00 AM
Parsippany has zero pride in athletics. The super stated "we're not here to hang athletic plagues on the walls." The place is a mess.

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