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Teachers Contract, Schools Chief Topics of Candidate Forum

Challengers came out swinging in the first matchup of BOE candidates.

A Board of Education Candidates' Night sponsored by the Par-Troy Council of Parent-Teacher Associations was held Monday night at Central Middle School. Five of the six hopefuls vying for the three open board seats on the Nov. 6 ballot were on hand to answer residents' questions during a spirited event that clearly evinced a heated battle not between individual candidates, but between political tickets representing the old guard and a new one.

Moderator Kathy Damerel of the Morris County Council of PTAs set the ground rules at the beginning: Candidates were allowed three-minute opening statements and then would accept questions from the audience. Each candidate was given a strict two minutes to answer each question. At the end of the forum, the candidates were allowed two minutes for a summarizing statement. 

The event offered another requirement for the candidates, who were seated at a dais in ballot order: Each was expected to state how many Board of Education meetings they had attended, whether they had children in the school district, whether they had relatives working in any school district and whether they had any personal affiliation with a union that would preclude them from voting on contracts.

In addition, the moderator posed a question to the hopefuls: What changes do you see the district making without compromising the education of the children?

James Carifi, in his opening statement, came out strong against stacking, stating his belief that too many non-Parsippany children are attending township schools. The Parsippany Police captain blasted the school district for denying his Open Public Records Act requests to learn the number of students unlawfully registered in district schools. 

"They told me that as a resident of Parsippany and as a stakeholder that I didn't have a right to see the numbers," he said. "That's unacceptable to me.

"I'm for holding people accountable," he continued, reiterating that he was "aggressively" against students "who don't belong."

He added that he had no union ties that would affect his voting as a board member, has no relatives working in the district and has attended "several" BOE meetings.

Frank Calabria, the current school board president and a retired school principal, said that his four grown children graduated from Parsippany schools, adding, "I consider all the children of the district to be mine." 

Calabria noted that he has two daughters and a daughter-in-law working in the school district and listed their accomplishments as educators. He added that he had no union affiliation that would prevent him from voting. 

He floated the potentially money-saving idea of using online textbooks, which he said would save the district around $250,000 per year. He also suggested sharing services between the district and the township and between Parsippany schools and neighboring districts. Another way to save money, he said, would be to stop paying summer stipends for teachers to work on curricula in exchange for adding curriculum work to teachers' contracts.

Regarding how many school board meetings he had attended, Calabria quipped, "I stopped counting at 8,000."

Alison Cogan, who is running on a ticket with Calabria and Frank Neglia, said her five school-age children, who range in ability from gifted to special-needs, give her "a vested interest in keeping quality programs in the Parsippany school district."

She touted her experience running a child care center for more than seven years and working as a certified public accountant. She added that she has no family working in education and no conflicting union affiliations. As to her BOE meeting attendance, she said she has been present at "all but a few" sessions over the past two years.

Cogan said her primary goal is to be part of a board that "communicates well with the public" and benefits from having "independent minds with differing perspectives" who "keep the children and taxpayers in mind with every vote."

Frank Neglia, the school board's current vice president, an area youth sports leader and a 30-year facilities and security manager, spoke directly to the issue of cost-cutting. He echoed ticketmate Calabria's idea regarding online instructional texts and praised the district's energy saving initiatives (being done "at no cost to local taxpayers") and relationships with money-saving consortiums, adding that in bidding on transporation vendors, he has helped save the district money. He highlighted the need to reduce the costs of employee benefits while noting that Parsippany has one of the lowest administrator-to-teacher levels in New Jersey.

Neglia also mentioned Parsippany's No. 15 ranking on Money Magazine/CNN's list of the best small towns to live.

"This feat was driven by the reputation of our school system," he said. "There is always room for improvement, but we're doing something correctly."

He stated that four of his children are Parsippany school graduates and that he has one child who is a current student. He said he has a nephew, stepdaughter and stepdaughter-in-law working in the district and noted that his wife is an educator in Rockaway.

"None of these relations preclude me from voting once a memorandum of agreement is approved," he said, adding that he had no conflicting union affiliation and that in the past 6 1/2 years, he has missed only one board meeting. 

Anthony DeIntinis, a retired police officer and school resource officer running on a ticket with Carifi, said he has two children in the school district and no relatives working in schools. He said he is running because he questioned how his tax dollars were being allocated.

Looking at the current school board—he said he has attended "numerous" meetings—DeIntinis said he did not like what he saw: "a divided board, the district in costly litigation [over the contract of Superintendent of Schools LeRoy Seitz], teachers working without a contract, and children suffering due to a political agenda."

He called for a forensic audit of all salaries, bonuses and stipends. 

DeIntinis also mentioned the differences in statewide rankings for Parsippany Hills High School (No. 23) and Parsippany High School (No. 86) and wondered aloud if there was an instructional gap, whether there was a fair allocation of resources between the schools and if the superintendent was addressing the gap.

"I know enough that it's time for a change," he said. "I've observed reckless spending accounts and a lack of straight answers from the board. Changes have to be made, and changes should start at the top."

With the opening statements completed, it was time for residents' questions to be asked.

The first questioner, Hank Heller (reading his wife's question, he said), asked whether the candidates would keep the current nepotism policy in place. Carifi said he would strengthen it immediately. Calabria said the law already exists and that, according to attorneys with whom he has spoken, his familial connections do not prevent him from voting on contracts, though he has in the past recused himself. Cogan agreed with Carifi that even the appearance of nepotism was to be avoided and said the district must make sure everyone is aware of the policy. Neglia said the law could be strengthened. DeIntinis agreed with Carifi, saying the policy should be reviewed and made stronger.

Resident Stephanie Burke asked the candidates what traits each had to foster positive working relationships on the school board. Calabria said that despite disagreements, the BOE's voting record is "very good." Cogan said different viewpoints are necessary, adding that discussions should be civil.

She noted her experience running a business and successfully managing employees. Neglia said it is possible to disagree as long as the main focus remained "the community at large and the children." DeIntinis modified the motto of the wrestling team he coaches: "One Team, One Town; One Town, One Board of Education." Carifi mentioned his 25 years as a law enforcement officer and criticized the board's recent hiring of former Supreme Court Justice Gary Stein to mediate a board dispute. 

Heller appeared again to ask his own question: whether the candidates were for or against retaining the services of Superintendent Seitz.

Cogan said that Seitz is under contract, which must be honored. She added that she believes he has "done a good job in bringing the district forward in technology and has a plan for the future" to improve the high schools. Neglia said Seitz was doing "a decent job" and has done "lots...to benefit the district." Calabria, alluding to the legal action underway, noted that the state will decide what happens with Seitz. DeIntinis railed against the superintendent, accusing the board of trying to circumvent the law by approving the disputed Nov. 2011 contract and costing the district thousands in litigation.

"If [Seitz] is not willing to take $177,500 [to comply with Gov. Chris Christie's superintendent salary cap], we'll definitely find somebody else," he said.

Carifi agreed with his running mate's accusation.

"The school board negotiated the contract a year before it was set to expire," he said. "Why don't teachers have a contract and settle it a year in advance?"

Resident Roman Hoshowsky asked: "Is it ever okay for a board member to lie to the public, and what would you do if one did?"

All the candidates agreed that lying was not acceptable. DeIntinis said lying was grounds for ethics charges and charged the board with showing a lack of transparency. Carifi criticized the BOE over the recent controversy surrounding the alleged circulation of secret emails between board members.

Resident Roy Messmer asked why the school board negotiated the Seitz contract a year before its expiration. Calabria said the law mandated doing so. 

"There was no intent that we were trying to circumvent a rule or anything," he said. "We had heard about a $177,000 cap coming, that was rumored. But other districts were doing what we were doing, negotiating their contracts. We had an individual we knew who was very good.

"And if you think it's easy to find another superintendent, don't be too sure  about that."

Neglia added that the board was also dealing with the prospect of losing four of its five top administrators.

"We followed all rules and regulations at the time in accordance with the law and the advice of legal counsel," he said, adding that he was the one who made the motion ultimately to rescind Seitz's contract.

DeIntinis scoffed at the incumbents' statements.

"Most of us saw the news when Gov. Christie made Parsippany the poster boy of greed," he said. "There are plenty of qualified individuals who would love to come to Parsippany as superintendent."

Carifi agreed, suggesting that the district promote from within.

"I'm sure there would be many happy to step up and serve," he said. "It took them four times before they rescinded—under threat of losing state aid."

Cogan declined to answer, saying she was not on the board at the time.

Resident Nancy Snyder directed her quesion to Calabria: "Can you specify why you have found it 'not easy' to bring someone [a new superintendent] into the district?"

"If you're looking for a superintendent, it's going to be tough to get someone with experience [at $177,500]," he said. "This is the largest school district in the county and one of the largest in the state. We have two high schools, two middle schools, a wonderful special-needs program...

"Can we find someone? Of course we can. But it's very difficult to find good ones."

Snyder asked Neglia, the other incumbent, for his thoughts.

"We were losing four out of five key administrators," he said. "In hindsight would we have done things differently? Probably, but we did what we did."

He added that he has no problem with the capped salary of $177,500.

The other candidates were then permitted to share their opinions. DeIntinis accused the current board of being "uninformed" and disinterested in the taxpayers. Carifi asserted that "everyone's replaceable." Cogan said that as a parent, she wants a qualified person to run a district of Parsippany's size.

The final question of the night dealt with smoking and drug use on the premises of Parsippany's high schools.

Carifi said the incidence of such activities is "not that bad." He suggested bringing in the Morris County Sheriff's Department's K-9 unit to "sniff out problems" and added that lockers can be searched at any time.

"Even if they don't catch anybody, kids will know they can't bring it to school and that people are checking."

DeIntinis agreed, citing his experience as a school resource in a high school with more than 3,200 students.

"The administrators are not being held accountable," he said. "If they were, we would not be having this discussion."

Calabria noted his experience as a high school principal and how he had an undercover state narcotics police officer pose as a student in his school for three months.

"A week after we initiated the program, I heard an officer in Texas was killed doing the same thing," he said, adding that strong administrators and vice principals could play a valuable role in reducing on-campus smoking and drug use.

Cogan admitted that this was not her area of expertise.

"There must be policies in effect ... to reduce the number of these incidences," she said. "People need to be held accountable."

Neglia called Carifi's plan to bring in dogs "a great idea," and agreed with Cogan that administrators "do need to be held accountable." He noted that the number of students caught with illicit materials is not high, but added that with resource officers and police, the district must remain vigilant.

"We cannot tolerate it," he said.

Candidates then presented their summations.

DeIntinis reiterated his goal to bring his wrestling club's "One Team, One Town" philosophy to the Board of Education.

Neglia talked of his "passion for kids and to give back to the community."

Cogan spoke of her belief in the power of public education and her desire to be an independent and informed voice for the board.

Calabria noted that education reform coming out of Trenton will have an impact for the next 10-15 years, which he said requires people with experience, knowledge and insight to bring positive change.

Referring to himself, Neglia and Cogan, Calabria said, "We three are the ones who will be able to deal with the issues coming."

Carifi reminded the audience that it took four tries for the school board to finally rescind the controversial superintendent's contract. He also reiterated his anti-stacking cry.

"We need to stop the children who don't belong in Parsippany from coming to our school system," he said.

Candidate Joanne Mancuso was invited to attend the forum, said the moderator, but never responded.

The five candidates will face off again next week at a debate sponsored by Parsippany Patch. (Mancuso has not responded to our invitation.) Township Council candidates Jonathan Nelson and Judy Tiedemann will participate in their own face-to-face debate as well. That event takes place Friday, Nov. 2 at 6:30 p.m. at the Lake Parsippany Clubhouse, 701 Lake Shore Drive. All residents are encouraged to attend and to listen to what the candidates have to say.

Roman Hoshowsky October 28, 2012 at 06:25 PM
C. I don't think anyone is attacking the relatives of Board members. Generally speaking, nepotism is a bad idea. I'm sure some of these relatives are fine people with excellent qualifications; but when you can count at least eight relatives of past and and current Board members working in the district, you're going to raise some eyebrows.
Carol M. October 28, 2012 at 07:35 PM
I just got a really good view of the character of one of our BOE candidates while at the Fall Festival at Knollwood and if this is an example of what's to come, I'd suggest everyone run clear of supporting Mr. DeIntinis. He showed up and started handing out his election materials at the festival and when members of the Knollwood PTA asked him to stop because it's against school rules to distribute political literature on school grounds or at an event having to do with students, he got in their face and told them that he can do what ever he wants because he's not a boe member yet so he doesn't have to play by those rules. He completely ignored their request and kept handing out flyers in a grand forget you attitude until the Principal told him he needed to stop. Even then Mr. DeIntinis tried to say that school rules don't apply to him! Thankfully the principal held her ground and didn't let his bully attitude interfere with her job but it's a scary thing when someone thinks the rules only apply to others. Heaven help us if someone like this gets on the board and thinks he has even the slightest bit of power. He already thinks he can do what ever he pleases and he's only a candidate!
Natalie Davis (Editor) October 28, 2012 at 08:31 PM
Donald, as a matter of fact we have coverage of Alison Cogan. Search the site. One of the things you will learn is that she is running on the ticket with incumbents Calabria and Neglia. As to patchitup1's identity, no one knows for a fact save the anonymous poster, but it doesn't seem wise, if one is curious, to rule anyone out. What's the old adage... suspect everyone and trust no one?
Roman Hoshowsky October 28, 2012 at 09:33 PM
Carol M. I need your advice on whom to vote for: Romney or Obama, Kyrillos or Menendez, Frelinghuysen or Arvanites? Also, how would you like me to vote on state questions 1 and 2 ?
Natalie Davis (Editor) October 28, 2012 at 09:38 PM
Roman, clearly the question you're really trying to ask regards her party affiliation. Why is that your business? How one votes is supposed to be a personal matter. And what does her revelation regarding the candidate's behavior have to do with anyone's political party?
Roman Hoshowsky October 28, 2012 at 09:50 PM
I'm just saying I don't need anyone telling me how to vote! As far as a candidate's behavior goes, I'll just say none of us are perfect and we all have our moments. The day I turn to Carol M. for political advice is the day when pigs learn to fly.
Natalie Davis (Editor) October 28, 2012 at 10:07 PM
Of course you don't. You are an intelligent fellow capable of making your own decisions. But the question you asked her was how to vote. It's nice that you now state your real point—defending Mr. DeIntinis—directly. And good, all POVs should be heard. Don't understand why the insult was necessary, though. I'm not from around here: Is the meanness, which I see so often here, a NJ thing? A Parsippany thing?
Roman Hoshowsky October 28, 2012 at 10:27 PM
I'm sure Mr. DeIntinis does not need me to defend him as I'm sure Carol M. does not need you to defend him or her. I was not present at the incident to witch Carol M. refers. I do know there are always two sides to every story. I can tell you about the faults of some of the other candidates. But, like I said: no one is perfect. I don't know why anyone would take political advice from someone who chooses to hide behind a pseudo-name. That's silly. That's what I was trying to point out.
Roman Hoshowsky October 28, 2012 at 10:33 PM
PS Welcome to New Jersey!
Natalie Davis (Editor) October 28, 2012 at 10:38 PM
I am not defending anyone. Of course there are two sides (or more) to every story and in covering this one I intend to cover all sides. My interest here is purely in the ever-present meanness, snarkiness and nastiness in comments. You would have been ever so much more effective had you simply stated your point clearly at the beginning. Which takes me back to my question: Is this a NJ thing or a Parsippany thing, this need to be mean or sarcastic rather than to communicate clearly and concisely and effectively?
Natalie Davis (Editor) October 28, 2012 at 10:44 PM
Thank you for the information, Roman. Have been wondering a lot about that lately.
Roman Hoshowsky October 28, 2012 at 10:47 PM
Generally It's a New Jersey thing, but you'll notice it's more amplified in some towns more than others. We are communicating, just in our own way. Yes, I can be concise, but how boring would that be!
Roman Hoshowsky October 28, 2012 at 10:59 PM
Oh and by the way, even though we sometimes fight and disagree, that does not mean we would not come to the aid of someone we did not always see eye to eye with, when it really counts.
Natalie Davis (Editor) October 28, 2012 at 11:09 PM
I know that is true. Doesn't make me feel better, though. How we treat one another each and every day matters.
Par4theCourse October 29, 2012 at 12:55 AM
Roman, about helping each other...let me read you a bedtime story....its called "Ralphie the Sailboat"...
Jacqueline Breyers October 29, 2012 at 02:21 AM
Carol M. WHY ARE YOU LYING??? I was there and Mr. DeIntinis did nothing of what you wrote. Are you that desperate to help Calabria, Neglia and Cogan that you would lie about a man that has coached and helped our kids! If the principal lies too, I'm sure there will be plenty of parents that are going to ask her about the truth. What PTA member asked him to stop??? We wanted him there, this is so out of control and pathetic. We need to pay attention and help our neighbors in Lake Hiawatha, you are so sad!
Robyn M. October 29, 2012 at 02:55 AM
Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I happen to agree with this one. When you have an incestuous relationship, wherein people adhere to "group think" mentalities, you end up in precarious positions. Like being irresponsible and not following state rules regarding salary caps. Like kicking out members of the public who have other opinions. Like filing inquiries against other members of the school board, rather than being an adult and working it out. Oh - and, there was that little secret "Field of Dreams" society - a weird relationship between people "in the know." All this disgusts me. I'm hoping to move in a few years, and am praying for a recovery in the housing market.
Robyn M. October 29, 2012 at 02:58 AM
I wasn't there and don't know the man. If I went to a public event and handed out my business card, whether it had to with window washing or running for public office, I don't see how that's breaking any laws, though. I am curious as to what really happened. I have no idea who Mr. D is (never heard the name before), but if he is the type of guy who questions authority, he may get my vote. I am going to check him out now. Thanks!
Monica Sclafani October 29, 2012 at 03:05 AM
Roman, believe it or not, I agree with you. I think it was Mr. Carifi who raised this issue at Candidates' Night. If I remember correctly, a nepotism law was passed in 2009 or 2010 that a relative of a sitting Board of Education (BoE) member cannot be hired by a school district. Also, a person may not run for the BoE if a relative already works in that district. Relatives of BoE members that were hired before the law was passed were grandfathered in. Of our present BoE members running for re-election, Mr. Neglia's relatives were hired before he even became a board member and are grandfathered in. Dr. Calabria's daughters were hired as he sat on the Board for the last 30 years and are also grandfathered in. I don't know what past board members you're referring to. Eight relatives out of a district that has over a thousand employees is not a bad track record. I have a bigger concern though. BoE candidate James Carifi is a Police Captain with the Parsippany Police Department. His brother, Paul Carifi, is on the Town Council. The Town Council votes on the town budget which includes police salaries and benefits. Now Paul Carifi may not vote on police salaries and benefits per se, but if we're looking to avoid any impropriety or giving that impression on the BoE, shouldn't that also be the case for BoE candidate James Carifi and the Town Council? Shouldn't that also raise an eyebrow?
Roman Hoshowsky October 29, 2012 at 04:08 AM
Monica In this part of New Jersey, there are hundreds of applicants for every opening in a public school. I can count at least eight people related to five past and present board members. There may be more. That number does not include people working in the district whose mother, father, aunt, wife, or whatever worked for the district (and there are many). But, lets just take eight people, and lets say there were four hundred applicants for those jobs. What are the chances of those eight people getting hired. Pretty good if you're related to someone in the district. Otherwise, I'd like to take these folks to Atlantic City with me. Oh and yes, I think Paul Carifi should recuse himself in any matters that have to do with his brother.
steve revette October 29, 2012 at 09:07 AM
Monica we're dealing with the Board of Education not the Town council. Also if they're a good teacher I couldn't care less who they're related to. I've heard Dr. Calabria's daughters are excellent teachers and I know Frank's nephew Ray is an excellent teacher as well. I mean I've had some AWFULL teachers over the years and I did question how many applicants they are getting. One of those Teachers( can't say any names) gave me the impression that being a Teacher is the easiest job in the world but the irony is she wasn't very good at it. So I rathger hire a good teacher whose related to a board member then hire some of the teachers that are teaching right now.
Monica Sclafani October 29, 2012 at 03:10 PM
@Steve R. - I have to disagree with you. Nepotism is an issue that should be handled by the BoE and the Town Council. As I said above, there is already a law on the books regarding nepotism, as well as a district policy. As a BoE candidate, Mr. Carifi thinks this policy needs to be strengthened so that there isn't even an appearance of impropriety. Okay, but if this is part of the platform Mr. Carifi is running on, shouldn't he be sure there isn't an appearance of impropriety or nepotism on his part? That's why it's also a Town Council issue.
steve revette October 29, 2012 at 03:45 PM
So are you saying that James or Paul should step down? Also I didn't exactly know our school district was one to follow rules. I mean our board of education voted on a contract THAT to this day hasn't gotten written approval that's breaking rules right there. Why even have rules if you're not going to follow them? James was already a cop when his brother got elected to council. Also there's a difference James reports to the Chief who reports to the mayor who is an elected official. The Town council doesn't hire the mayor in Parsippany he's elected where as the board of education hires the superintendent somebody they appoint that's why it is different then the town council situation.
Monica Sclafani October 29, 2012 at 04:12 PM
No, I'm not saying James or Paul should step down. I just saying be sure your own house in order before before implying there is some wrongdoing. And Steve, everything is not about Dr. Seitz's contract. Enough already!
steve revette October 29, 2012 at 05:24 PM
It has nothing to do with the contract I was just using it an an example. The school district wasn't following the rules when they did what they did. I'll even use a different example banning Pat from the meeting. It was against the rules but they did it anyway. Rules are in place to be followed you don't decide which rules you want to follow and which ones you don't.
Roman Hoshowsky October 29, 2012 at 05:34 PM
Monica I think Mr. Neglia's relatives were hired while he was on the board. Anyway, there would not have been a need for a nepotism law if abuses weren't occurring. Ideally when there is a job opening, you let the chips fall where they may and you hire the best applicant. It seems that there are many people who would be tempted to manipulate the hiring process.
Monica Sclafani October 29, 2012 at 07:12 PM
Roman I would agree with you about the need for a nepotism law. My point is that if Mr. Carifi, whose brother is on the Town Council, is implying that there is nepotism on the Board and, as part of his platform with running mate Mr. DeIntinis, he wants the district's nepotism policy strengthened so there isn't even a hint of an impropriety; then he needs to be sure that his position doesn't conflict with his personal situation. @Steve - "Rules are in place to be followed you don't decide which rules you want to follow and which ones you don't." That applies to the Town Council too.
Roman Hoshowsky October 29, 2012 at 09:15 PM
Well Monica, we'll just have to keep on eye on them!
steve revette October 30, 2012 at 12:02 AM
Okay please enlighten me Monica which rules have the town council broken?
Monica Sclafani October 30, 2012 at 02:26 PM
Steve ~ read my posts. I'm not accusing anyone of breaking any rules.

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