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School Board Sends Scaled-Back Fields Plan for DOE Review

Member Gary Martin passionately urged colleagues to submit all options—and added that a new high school should be built.

The collection of an estimated $11.5 million in athletic improvements for Parsippany's high schools is off the table.

Rather than risk the ire of taxpayers and voters, the Board of Education unanimously decided to submit a reduced-option package of items to the state Department of Education for its review. If approved, the board will be able to move forward with plans to draft a referendum and, in January, the board hopes, put the idea before voters.

The package, as proposed by school board member Anthony Mancuso, contains the following options for both Parsippany and Parsippany Hills high schools:

  • artificial turf fields
  • storm water management systems (mandated by the state)
  • new 6-lane track ovals
  • new fencing
  • modernized lighting.

Member Deborah Orme made a motion to also include restrooms, which also won unanimous passage.

It was clear from the start of the meeting that board members—President Frank Calabria, Vice President Frank Neglia and member Deborah Orme are running for re-election in November—were very aware of strong public opposition to what some characterized as an excessive and expensive plan.

Superintendent of Schools LeRoy Seitz reminded the board that it was voting only for what improvement options, if any, would be submitted to the DOE and that any final decisions would not need to be made until Nov. 23.

After discussion and questions, Mancuso made his motion for the board to submit a reduced list of options to the BOE, offering up a plan that would run an estimated $6.8 million and bore some resemblance to the controversial $4.5 million township turf field proposal the BOE rejected earlier this year.

There are some dissimilarities, however. The price for the Mayor James Barberio-backed plan did not include legally mandated costs for storm water management, Seitz acknowledged, which would bring the two estimates much closer together.

Board member Gary Martin spoke against Mancuso's restraint.

"I agree with having six lanes rather than eight, but bathrooms, water cannon, grandstands… I want all this in there," he said. "Let the people vote. If the people want it, we'll do it. If they don't, we won't.

"The bleachers are garbage; we need new," Martin continued. "We're not doing anything that other schools are doing. The piecemeal approach and not giving
 the kids a place to go to the bathroom? Let's do it right. Let's not do things half-assed."

Member Michael Strumolo agreed with Martin.

"My fear is if this doesn't pass, we go back to square one and the kids go back to playing in conditions that none of us on the board want," he said.

"I don't feel comfortable sending an $11.5 million plan to Trenton," Orme said, explaining that it would create a perception in town that the board was throwing its support behind all the items.

She also added that the public should get to weigh in on the issue of adding new restrooms via a second question on the referendum. (In a referendum, architect Greg Somjen of Parette Somjen explained, multiple questions may be offered, however, if any question is rejected, any questions that follow it are rejected.)

Martin practically exploded in response.

"Now we're going to piecemeal this and leave the problem for the future?" he insisted. "We've gotta start here, this is bare bones!"

"We've had several meetings and we have listened to our public and our own hearts and mind," said member Fran Orthwein. "It comes down to what we want and what we can afford. Even cutting back, it's still a lot of money."

Orthwein added that it was wise for the board to put forward a plan that had a chance of being "embraced and supported by the community."

Martin argued that dealing with improvements one by one over a long period of time and patching repairs would grow increasingly expensive in the future. He then elicited some gasps with a suggestion that a new high school building should be constructed.

"What do you want, I'm a big old liberal," he said.

Resident Bob Venezia responded from the audience.

"You didn't say that when you were running for the board," he said. "You promised to keep the taxpayer in mind!"

Member Susy Golderer said that even the scaled-back plan was tough for her to accept.

My personal [limit] was at most $6 million," she said.

"What about existing repairs to bleachers," asked member Sharif Shamsudin. "They're wood and a lot of it is rotten. People might say it's safe, but if you're stepping onto wood rather than metal…"

Seitz sought to reassure Shamsudin that the bleachers may be worn, but that they are safe.

"However, the supervisor of Buildings and Grounds is working on replacing those bleachers at both schools," the superintendent said, adding that $100,000 was budgeted specifically for bleacher repair

Martin officially moved to submit all 11 improvements to the DOE.

"If we put all 11 in, we have a few months to hear how the people feel," he urged."If we pass all 11, we don't have to worry about going back to the state."

Somjen, whose firm handled the research, agreed with Martin.

"I recommend submitting the maximum," he said. "Then, it's easier to get it reviewed from the state in the event of a change that forces you to have to resubmit. It's easier to take things out than to put then in."

Unlike Mancuso, Martin demanded that the board vote on his motion prior to public comment.

President Calabria balked, saying that it would start a bad precedent.

Orme agreed.

"We've been inviting the public to comment throughout the process," she said. "It would be a disadvantage to this board to move forward on a motion without giving the public an opportunity to weigh in."

Resident Beth Bluj thanked Mancuso for his small-package approach.

"Sending all 11 will only fuel the fire [of public anger]," she said, adding that components such as Americans With Disabilities Act-compliant bleachers should come out of the boards regular operating budget. "I think the people have spoken on what they want: lights, fences, tracks and fields.

"And we want no more delays."

"A lot of towns already have a lot of these bells and whistles," said Venezia to the board. "If these towns did all those things it's because they elected to do it out of their budgets. If we don't, it's because you elected not to do it. You decided that other things were more important than fixing fences and tracks."

Resident Hank Heller put the blame for longtime poor field conditions on Seitz and angrily urged him to "pack his saddlebags and leave."

President Calabria called Heller's comment out of order and asked him to leave the microphone.

The board voted in Mancuso's plan, 9-0. Martin's all-or-nothing idea went down, 6-3.  And Orme's plan to add restrooms as a referendum second question was approved, 8 to 1.

In each instance, Golderer voted yes with a caveat that when November comes, she will not support any plan that exceeds a $6 million total cost.

Bob Crawford August 24, 2012 at 05:27 PM
Congratulations to the BOE for backing away from the crumbling cliff Superintendent Seitz had led you and the community to and thank you for not submitting to the Superintendent's misguided efforts to create fear and division in the community by issuing self serving threats to cut teachers and classes. Now is the time to sharpen your pencils and constructively challenge the architects to find smarter and more cost effective ways to bring about the improvements you have agreed to. The first step would be to reach out to the FOD Committee to better understand the thinking and cost projections that were behind the proposals the Mayor secured. The second step would be to immediately define which non-school organizations will be allowed to use the turf fields and when and ask for public input regarding those important issues. Don't wait until the week before the referendum to invite the public's participation because that approach builds neither trust nor engagement. Shed the shadow of Superintendent Seitz and communicate often and openly and you might be pleasantly surprised by the results that will be delivered by the referendum
Todd J August 24, 2012 at 06:00 PM
I may have missed this from a previous article on this subject, but how many companies provided an estimate for this project? Is the $11.5 million estimate from just one company or was it the best of several estimates?
Beth Bluj August 24, 2012 at 06:12 PM
Thank you to all board members who took the time to listen to the majority and put together something that, I feel, will be embraced by the community. Please note, that I was misquoted in the article, the quote should read, "the people want: lights, fences, tracks AND fields". I am looking forward to working to see this happen and I beg the BOE to stay focused and get this done in a timely fashion.
David Comora August 24, 2012 at 06:18 PM
although some of the "people" are still trying to work through the "lights" issue.
clyde donovan August 24, 2012 at 06:57 PM
Vote down this bond issue even it's it for $10.00. The cost of the school system in Parsippany is completely out of control. Vote out the clowns on the school board.
Carol M. August 24, 2012 at 07:05 PM
Mr Crawford you are a dark, ugly cloud hovering over everything that is going on in Parsippany and your festering hatred of Dr. Seitz has poisoned your ability to have any rational thoughts what so ever and made you absolutely toxic. I watched every step of this field project from the beginning and while Dr Seitz has always remained professional and from what I saw, did exactly as he was asked to do by the boe, you on the other hand have acted like a lunatic from the onset. As a former boe member you should have at least a minimal understanding of what a 2% cap means and that if the budget can’t support reinstating full time media specialists now, what do you think will happen if it had to support replacing and resurfacing tracks, reseeding and restructuring football fields, fixing or replacing large fences? There was no division of the community other then what you worked so tirelessly to create and what you continue to perpetuate with your inflammatory remarks. Your hypocrisy is sickening!
Natalie Davis (Editor) August 24, 2012 at 07:14 PM
Sorry, Beth, missed that and will fix it.
Bob Crawford August 24, 2012 at 08:32 PM
Carol M Why so protective of the Superintendent? Care to reveal who you are to folks who don't already know, as that information will provide some insight into your extraordinary need to protect a Superintendent whose stay is well past welcome. As for you calling me a "a lunatic" and "a dark ugly cloud": sticks and stones... Carol... sticks and stones...
Roman Hoshowsky August 24, 2012 at 10:22 PM
Bob, you better listen to Carol M ! If anyone on Patch is an expert irrational thought and lunacy it's Carol M.
Beth Bluj August 24, 2012 at 11:13 PM
As Mr. Espajo stated last night, whether lights at the Hills can even happen has yet to be determined. If that determination is made, and lights can be done, I feel with open minds, common sense and compromise, an agreement with the residents can be made. If it is determined that they can't happen, then they can't happen. This is something that has yet to be finalized.
Angela August 24, 2012 at 11:39 PM
it does not take a genious to know that behind Carol M's comments hides a coward. Name calling and the fact that no one can express their opinion in this forum without being attacked by the vicious dog with the name Carol M is a give away. Bob is right. If anyone here shows signs of mental illness is you Carol M. I place my trust on Bob before any BOE member - and I concur with him that Seitz's stay in this district is not longer appropriate. As matter of fact is illegal. He has no contract. He is shady and macchiavellian and no one trusts him. I hope he does not sleep at night and he will get what he has sowed. No one has forgotten the massacre of teachers two years ago.
VietNam Vet August 26, 2012 at 05:12 AM
Angela, That is what seitz is hoping for, that you did forget. Hank Heller is correct this jerk has out lived his usefulness around here, and his services are no longer needed or wanted, so pack your crap and leave NOW!!!!
VietNam Vet August 26, 2012 at 05:22 AM
You are so right Bob, don't let one idiot get to you, I agree Carol M should reveal who she is and where she works and for whom. This woman is only trying to protect her job, and has no intelligence or compassion for anyone but herself. The is going to come a day when she will be a senior in this town and I hope the people treat her the same way she wants to treat the rest of us.
VietNam Vet August 26, 2012 at 05:41 AM
We all must remember that Calabria, Neglia and Orme are coming up for re-election in November and we have got to get these people off the board, because they just showed their true colors just as Gary Martin has shown us he really doesn't care about the people in this town, so we'll remember that when he comes up for election just as we will with Mancuso and Orthwein. Its time for them to go unless we want more of the same again next year from these idiots who are clearly not worring about the people.
Hank Heller August 26, 2012 at 04:27 PM
#1 At the BOE meeting on Thursday, I asked Dr. Calabria (since we are only allowed to address the President) why we are not getting presentations and ideas from at least two other architectural firms with expertise in the building of turf fields and sporting facilities. Dr. Seitz answered later that it was a costly and unnecessary exercise to engage with more than the architectural firm that has done good work for this BOE in the past. It is exactly this kind of thinking that causes me to be wary of Dr. Seitz planning and this BOE's directions. They were entirely willing to spend $11 1/2 MM (or more, depending on how bids come in, as said by Mr. Gary Somjen, the name partner who attended on Thursday) of Parsippany taxpayer money without checking to see if there are cheaper, better, smarter, more useful ideas. If any of us were going to build an addition on our houses wouldn't we talk to at least 3 or more professionals to make sure that we were getting the best thinking for the design and pricing that we could find???
Hank Heller August 26, 2012 at 04:32 PM
#2 This is the way this administration always behaves. It isn't their money they are spending, it is ours. And they are planning to spend it without making sure that we are getting our money's worth. Dr. Seitz and his associates on this BOE ought to be ashamed of their lack of care and professionalism. We have a BOE with almost no business people on that Board. This BOE makes decisions based upon what Seitz puts before them with very little critical discussion. Now that the project has been reduced in scope, it still demands getting the constructive ideas of other professional architectural firms. Why could we not have scheduled a presentation of ideas by the BOE to a half dozen noted professional firms so they could tell us what they think the scope should be and what would be the most sensible way of going about it as they work to earn our business? If a group of 6 professional firms were solicited for their ideas and willingness to bid on this project, I am convinced that we would have gotten some good and useable ideas as well as the best price for both the architectural plan and the construction management of the process. As it is, we are beholden to use Parette Somjen because Dr. Seitz decided to do it that way and the current unsophisticated BOE members were once again dominated by Seitz instead of having managed Seitz.
Hank Heller August 26, 2012 at 04:52 PM
#3 If we followed BOE member Gary Martin's view that we should build a new high school, would we also just ask Parette Somjen Architects, LLC to design it for us and let it go at that? Probably, based upon Dr. Seitz’s frankly unacceptable answer to my question. For the record, I am not against building fields that could have multiple uses for the school children, if it is built well and at fair cost. I am against "hoping" that things work out well, as opposed to a disciplined and professional approach to managing our way toward success. That is not what we are doing in this case, and via Dr. Seitz approach and many members of this BOE's willingness to follow Seitz like puppies, I suspect that if the taxpayers vote to do this reduced project, we will still spend much more than we needed to. I think the "water cannon" discussion is a great example of my points here.
VietNam Vet August 27, 2012 at 04:20 AM
Hank, I am against these fields being built at all. In this bad economy we have no idea where the next dollar will be coming from, if they want to do this so bad save up for it like everyone else has to do, and wait until this economy turns around...if ever. Seitz wants to use this Parette Somjen is probably giving seitz a nice kick back to make up for any losses he's had from the salary cut,...if it was even cut, which I still don't believe otherwise I don't think this greedy crook would be hanging around here.
Hank Heller August 28, 2012 at 12:47 PM
I understand Mr. Brown's position above, and I am not sure what the most correct answer is. What I do feel, however, very strongly, is that we have never gotten a clear and understandable explanation of what happened to the $5+ MM in excess funds that Mrs. Wendolowski reported on her last meeting at the Parsippany BOE. Yes, Dr. Seitz told us that the moneys reported by Mrs. Wendolowski were not $5+ MM but something much less. And those left-over funds were, by law, allocated to other budgetary lines in the 2012 budget, per Dr. Seitz. I never understood Seitz' logic or explanation, nor frankly, do I believe it. If we could get an unallied (with anyone) forensic CPA with real experience in NJ school accounting, to examine all of the Parsippany BOE books, I personally feel sure that we would/could find the money needed to build proper turf fields using funds already collected and in the hands of the BOE without a tax increase or the need for new bonding. If that were the case, the high schools could have what they need and the people of Parsippany would have done the right thing without being abusively taxed and we would not have to have a referendum at all. I also believe that the majority of this BOE (Dr. Calabria, Mr. Mancuso, Mr. Neglia, Mrs. Orme and Mrs. Orthwein) and Dr. Seitz would never allow an unallied expert, who they could not control, to look at the districts finances. Back to square one.
Adam Gragnani August 28, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Hank, I agree with you. Left over funds, by law? Does anyone remember the nursing home priviliges that were given out by the school board to certain administrators and their families? Once it blew up in their face by the state, they back tracked on it. Am I wrong here? If I am, I will apoligize.
VietNam Vet August 29, 2012 at 01:01 AM
Hank, I may not have made myself to clear through my anger at certain members on this board, but you are saying basically what I should've made a little more clearly, if this board wants to do things, they should use that $ 5 million { that many are telling never came about} and the seitz says there will be a surplus of another million dollars, thats 6 million in surpluses and then this guy wants to raise taxes somemore and put this burden on the backs of the seniors who cannot afford it anymore. This admin and the BoE doesn't want to hear about that. They already have now $ 6 million in surplus dollars, thats a good start to get most of this stuff done, but seitz wants more... just like a greedy jerk.

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