• Kristin Guglietti

Slight school tax decrease


During the May 5 Board of Education meeting, the 2022-2023 Budget was presented by Hammonton Superintendent of Schools Robin Chieco. (Courtesy Photo)

HAMMONTON—During the May 5 Board of Education meeting, the 2022-2023 Budget was presented by Hammonton Superintendent of Schools Robin Chieco.


Board president Sam Mento III called the meeting to order and all board members were present at the Samuel A. Donio Memorial Library except for board vice president Linda Byrnes, board member John Lyons and Folsom Representative John Thomas who were all absent.


“As preparations for the 2022-2023 school year begin, we reflect on the previous year, evaluate existing programs and research enhancements for the upcoming year for a continuous cycle of school improvement. In order to achieve growth, there must be a cohesive plan and continuity of programs to provide opportunities for our students to excel. The school budget is comprised of various sources such as local taxes, state aid and federal funds,” Chieco said.


For the 2022-2023 school year, the total budget is $63,861,820. The local tax levy is $19,982,897. The total state aid for all funding sources is $30,484,297.


“This is an increase in over $3.7 million [$3,771,872] as the state is attempting to correct numerous years of underfunding of our district. As a result, local taxes will be slightly reduced,” Chieco said.


According to Mento, the tax reduction is a “1/2 cent” decrease.


Chieco said the turf field “should be ready for our first games in the fall and our buses with HEPA filtration systems will be on the road in September.”


Board member Luke Coia spoke during the meeting.


“Thank you, Mr. Mento, for giving me this time to speak. Good evening, everyone as I have an obligation to keep the public who elected me informed, I’d like to address the situation that became of last month’s meeting. I received a few text messages and an email from our board president during and then following the meeting when I feel most of us were surprised to hear that all parties involved with were past all legal issues and ready to vote on a long-term deal with regard to the Hawks lease. So that everyone is aware we had a discussion during our executive meeting and the information relayed to us by our solicitor,” Coia said.


“Just a reminder, anything said in executive session is confidential and cannot be aired in the public,” attorney Amy Houck said.


“OK. With that being said, I’ll start with a text message that during the meeting from Mr. Mento saying, ‘I must have wax in my ears’ along with a picture of his statement, which was still being read. After I did not respond he again texted me the morning after at 10 a.m. stating, ‘I’m still waiting for you to tell me what was inaccurate in my statement?’ So I proceeded to explain to him what I along with fellow board members felt was inaccurate. I received no response. Mr. Mento then followed with an email a day or two later making numerous false allegations about me and also advising he will only communicate with me through official school emails. He claimed that I have interfered with the daily operations of the district. I have interfered with quote and ‘bid process’ and that I represented myself as an authority with respect to a municipal shared agreement. With all due respect, Mr. Mento, I am an elected state official same as yourself with oversight authority and I kindly request you to reference in writing every allegation mentioned in your email and sign your name to an ethics complaint if you feel I have done any of these things. Following these false allegations, Mr. Mento goes on to mention that I must have felt uninformed to hear about his dealings with the mayor and the town solicitor. Mr. Mento you are correct. I felt, I feel the entire board felt uninformed and should be kept in the loop of discussions that have to do with a 25-year shared service agreement between the school and any other entity. Mr. Mento also reprimanded me for a so-called circulating an inappropriate late-night email to the entire board without due diligence or even having a total understanding of the situation. Again, with all due respect Mr. Mento, I’m sorry but I feel that if it is OK for me to receive a late-night email concerning our district I think it is OK and only fair for me to follow forward the same email at the same time I received it to the rest of the board members. Secondly are you suggesting that I, a duly elected state official, hide information and or communications from other elected officials? Further, when forwarding this email, I didn’t ask for any reply or response I simply said, ‘see below.’ Ironically Mr. Mento you are the only member who responded and started a defensive conversation. Furthermore, I do not believe there is a specific rule which states there is a time frame when it is unallowed for a board of education member to circulate information pertaining to the district to other board members. If there is I’d like to see it please. Lastly, I’d like to point out that Mr. Mento also removed me from committees, which I was only on three to begin with. Fortunately, he did mention that after I complete NJSBA training I may ask him then to put me back on committees. What I find interesting is that we have another board member who is as new as myself and just completed her NJSBA training about a week ago. I commend you Ms. Donio on your ambition and involvement as a new board member like myself and feel that though we may have numerous inquiries where as Mr. Mento puts it a bombardment of questions your intentions like mine are for the greater good of this district. With all that being said and bringing some of the recent concerns to light, I do hope to move forward in a positive direction and focus on efforts continually to continually better the district. With that being said, I’d also like to thank our teachers for Teacher Appreciation Month. I do know what they go through as everybody knows I have two siblings that are teachers and you know not only that but every teacher puts in a tremendous amount of work not only when they’re here but at home, at night, on the weekends. They do a great job and I just want to thank them for everything that they do,” Coia said.


During the superintendent’s report, Chieco said there will be no changes to the current health and physical education curriculum until the state further clarifies what these standards will be.


“As I’m sure most of you are aware, the Department of Education has revised student learning standards for various content areas including health and physical education. Although these new standards are to be implemented in September, there has been a great deal of controversy concerning sex education. As a result, the governor has sent them back for review to the Department of Education. I want to assure you that as a superintendent I am also greatly concerned about the age-appropriateness of some of this content. At this point in time, we will not be making any changes to our current health and physical education curriculum until the state further clarifies what these standards will be. Parents and guardians should be the primary sources of information for their children regarding sex education. As a parent and educator, I am respectful of a parent’s role. My staff and I are monitoring the information from the Department of Education and will provide updates to the public when a final determination is made. If changes are required, parents will have access to the curriculum through our online platform that I just discussed to review and to continue to have the right to opt out of any lesson on sex education,” Chieco said.


Over the summer, there will be updates to the buildings, according to Chieco. Projects include remodeling the Early Childhood Education Center office area for additional space for related services, renovations to the Warren E. Sooy Jr. Elementary School Library for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) classes, repairing the middle school stage and general painting and maintenance of buildings.


“In order to identify areas of need, we utilize our data to make decisions. Based on the results of the Linkit Benchmarks administered during the past school year, a need for additional instruction and reading and comprehension comprehending informational text was identified. As a result, supplemental programs will be purchased across grade levels to provide additional resources to reinforce these essential literacy skills,” Chieco said.


In grades K-1, Scholastic News will be used to provide informational tech support along with supplementing content in science and social studies.


In grades 2-5, Studies Weekly will be used. Chieco said this is a student-friendly core social studies program that is organized by themes such as civics and government, geography, economics and history. The themes for each grade level are grade 2: I belong to a community grade; grade 3: I am a member of a community; grade four: New Jersey history; and grade five: our nation.


For science content, Mystery Science is going to be utilized in grades K-5. Each lesson begins with a brief video to introduce the mystery.


“By utilizing questioning techniques students are guided to explore their hypothesis and perform experiments to solve the mystery,” Chieco said.


Kids Sparks is a STEM program that will be used in grades 2-8.


“Students will explore applied mathematics, engineering, robotics and coding to develop problem-solving skills and encourage exploration. Both the science and STEM programs reinforce resiliency as students solve problems through trial and error,” Chieco said.


Chieco is also “excited about the additional opportunities for older students to explore courses to develop interest and future studies.”


At the high school, Chieco said students will still be able to select semester courses in forensics, marine biology, creative writing and public speaking along with new options of introduction to guitar, musical theater and digital arts and design.


“The algebra II curriculum will distinguish between STEM and non-STEM career preparations to provide more relevant content for students with an emphasis on trigonometry or statistics. In addition, we are always looking for ways to increase our AP opportunities and will offer AP Statistics,” Chieco said.


“At the middle school, all 8th grade students will be selecting a full-year cycle class based on interest as they prepare for transitioning into the high school. Students will have options of art, band, course accelerated Spanish, conversational Spanish, digital arts, digital cinema and STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics]. Student choice allows for increased engagements as students pursue studies related to their personal interests,” Chieco said.


“As our programs have evolved over the years to include online platforms and resources technology has become as essential to education as paper and pencil. In order for students to navigate the world they must be tech savvy. Hopefully the pandemic is behind us but our need for devices for all students remain an important tool for education. As a result, annually we will need to replenish our supply of Chromebooks to replace obsolete models,” Chieco said.


According to the PowerPoint presentation, 1,000 Chromebooks will need to be purchased annually to maintain the 1:1 student to device initiative.


“In addition, our computer labs for our elective courses need to be updated on a rotating basis. As our technology needs expand, so do our connectivity requirements,” Chieco said.


Because of state funding, Hammonton will be able to fill staff position that were previously left unfilled due to budget constraints.


“As a result, we will be returning positions in high school social studies and special education as well as a new ESL [English as a second language] position,” Chieco said.


Other staffing additions include additional classroom aides at Warren E. Sooy Jr. Elementary School and security personnel at the elementary schools.


“As learning standards change and the need to share information with the community increases, we are purchasing an online platform called Atlas to house all of our curriculum. This will allow teachers and administrators to develop and revise content curriculum as needed as well as be viewable to all parents in a searchable format. District supervisors will have a greater oversight of content and materials as we provide transparency and accountability to our community. Our staff will be trained this summer on the program, and our hope is to have information available to our parents in the fall,” Chieco said.


The district will also be purchasing additional cybersecurity protection for their systems.


Summer programs will also continue.


“Due to the pandemic, schools have received various funding sources from federal and state grants. The funding associated with these grants are very specific. As a result, our ESSER funding will continue to be used to provide our summer programs of Achievement Academy for grades one through five, Summer Excel for grades six through eight, Extended School Year for special education students and a Graduation Assessment Assistance Program for our incoming seniors if needed. In addition, grant funds have been used to purchase summer reading books for all students as well as for curriculum and staff professional development,” Chieco said.


“I am grateful for the past school year we have provided our students with a sense of normalcy and addressed learning loss caused by the pandemic. As we look forward to the 2022-2023 school year, we look we look to build on our successes and provide additional opportunities for our students to excel. I know I speak on behalf of the staff as well as our board of education members that we are ready to meet these challenges,” Chieco said.


For the addendum to the agenda, the board most notably resolved to:


• Approve a revised Lease Agreement between Hammonton Board of Education and the Hammonton Hawks, Inc. for the William T. Capella Field.


• Approve a Capital Reserve Withdrawal for the High School Turf Field: 10-307 Capital Reserve Withdrawal $25,000 and 12-000-400-450 Construction Services $25,000.


• Approve Change Order #01-1 for LandTek Group, Inc. to relocate existing irrigation main running through the turf field in the amount of $8,087.64.


• Approve to accept and award the 2022-2023 milk/dairy/juice bid to the sold bidder Hy-Point Dairy.


• Ratify a tuition contract between Waterford Board of Education and Hammonton Board of Education from May 4, 2022 through June 30, 2022 for student ID #999934 for a total amount of $2,103.92. Income to the District.


The next school board meeting will be held June 2 at 7 p.m. at the Samuel A. Donio Memorial Library.