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  • Writer's pictureJoseph F. Berenato

Zero school tax increase

THG/Joseph F. Berenato. To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940. Members of Hammonton Middle School’s Drama Club performed an excerpt from High School Musical Jr. at the May 4 meeting of the Hammonton Board of Education.

HAMMONTON—At the May 4 meeting of the Hammonton Board of Education, Superintendent of Schools Robin Chieco gave a presentation regarding the 2023-2024 school budget.

As preparations for the 2023-2024 school year begin, we reflect on the previous year, evaluate existing programs and research enhancements for a continuous cycle of school improvement. In order to achieve growth, there must be a cohesive plan and a continuity of programs to provide opportunities for our students to excel.

For the 2023-2024 school year, Chieco said that the total budget is $69,330,659, the local tax levy is $20,149,897, and state aid for all funding sources is $33,111,991.

“This is an increase of over $2.6 million. This is the final year of the phasing of state aid provided to underfunded districts. It should also be noted that there is no increase in local taxes in this budget,” Chieco said.

Chieco said that, over the past few years, the school has added additional programs and supplemental tools to assist the students.

“As we want to maintain our current programs, these materials must be purchased each year.

Our staff has done a tremendous job utilizing these resources as we stay the course to improve student achievement. Consistency and cohesive planning will continue to provide the direction for student growth,” Chieco said.

Among new programs, Chieco said, is the Preschool 3 Cohort.

“One classroom of 12 3-year-olds will be added to our preschool program as part of the requirement for the preschool expansion. A lottery for the 12 seats will be held at our June 8 board of education meeting,” Chieco said.

Other new programs include a new science series for Hammonton Middle School students as well as additional course offerings for students at Hammonton High School.

“Next year, we will be offering AP Spanish Language and Culture, AP Computer Science A, two levels of statistics and probability and a semester course on American pop culture,” Chieco said.

To alleviate overcrowding at the Warren E. Sooy Elementary School, Chieco said that the district will utilize federal funds to expand the Early Childhood Education Center (ECEC).

“Eight classrooms, along with additional space for related services, will be added to the current building. There will also be renovations to the main office to provide an entrance similar to the WES building for increased security,” Chieco said.

Chieco said that construction is scheduled to be completed by September of 2024

Chieco said that board continues to look for ways to improve its facilities while remaining fiscally responsible.

“We have submitted three ROD grants to the state. ROD grants are funds provided to regular operating districts to improve facilities,” Chieco said.

Chieco said that the three applications regard improvements to the middle school, consisting of auditorium renovations and upgrades, upgrades to the gymnasium and locker rooms and renovations to lavatories outside of the gymnasium.

“These areas do not have air conditioning, and are in need of remediation and improvements,” Chieco said.

Following Chieco’s report, Board President Sam Mento III read the five resolutions on the evening’s agenda relating to the budget. Afterwards, Board member Ray Scipione made a motion that for board to resolve the following:

• Approve to adopt the 2023-2024 Hammonton Public School district budget, as required by the New Jersey Department of Education process, in the following sums: General Fund, $63,088,271; Special Revenues, $4,198,106; Debt Service, $2,044,282; Total Budget, $69,330,659.

• Acknowledge that the 2023-2024 school district budget represents: General Fund Tax Levy, $18,487,722; Debt Service Fund Tax Levy, $1,662,175; Total Tax Levy, $20,149,897.

• Approve to include in the 2023-2024 Budget a Withdrawal from the Capital Reserve in accordance with NJAC 6A:23A-14.1(h) in the amount $675,934 for: Middle School renovations, $400,000; Transfer to Debt Service Fund, $112,777; SDA Assessment, $163,157.

• Approve to include in the 2023-2024 Budget a Withdrawal from the Maintenance Reserve in accordance with NJAC 6A:23A-14.2(d) in the amount $140,730 for required maintenance activities as reported in the comprehensive maintenance plan pursuant to NJAC 6A:26A-4.

• Approve the Requisition for Taxes for the year 2023-2024.

Board member John Lyons seconded the motion, which was approved unanimously by all present. Board member Kelli Fallon was absent from the meeting.

During the Finance Committee report, Lyons commented further regarding the budget.

“We came very close to that $70 million a year mark with the majority of that money not being local—most of it being state and federal aid,” Lyons said.

Lyons said that the district has been affected by rising costs.

“We have contractual commitments that go up every year. We have health insurance costs that go up every year and inflationary costs that go up every year, but the board and the administration do a great job of making sure that we hold the line—and that we anticipate spending,” Lyons said.

Lyons said that one agenda item on the addendum released at the time of the meeting was to award the contract for the ECEC expansion.

“We’ll be awarding contracts to our professionals to begin that work, which we’re really excited to do,” Lyons said.

While presenting the report from the Buildings and Grounds Committee, Mento revisited the ECEC expansion.

“I’m happy to say that the numbers came in right on budget what we had anticipated, and well within that money we received from the federal government—that grant—which is essentially going to pay for this entire addition,” Mento said.

However, Mento said, there is an issue with the Pinelands Commission.

“This extends back over 20 years when the building was first constructed. As it turns out, the building itself was a little bit different from what it was drawn on paper and what was approved from the Pinelands. From what we understand, there may be a few additional parking spots from what the Pinelands had acknowledged and approved,” Mento said.

Mento said that an agenda item on the addendum released at the time of the meeting is to hire Adams, Rehmann and Heggan Associates (ARH) to address the issues.

“We’re going to lean on some of our friends in the legislative and the state government to help us get through this situation. Essentially, it is something that we inherited from 20 years ago, and we’re going to fix it,” Mento said.

Mento said that the board has no option but to address the matter, regardless of the cost.

“We’re not going to try to deceive anybody; it’s going to cost a lot of money. The tough part about this is, now, that we have to bring that building—although constructed in 2003—we have to bring it up to the 2023 standards of water and retention, environmental and all that stuff to stay in compliance with the Pinelands, who is the ultimate authority over this area of New Jersey,” Mento said.

Later in the meeting, Scipione made a motion to approve the finance items on the addendum, which included the following:

• Resolution No. 23 05 R: Resolved that the Hammonton Board of Education approve a Capital Reserve Withdraw for costs related to ECEC Expansion: 10-307, Capital Reserve Withdrawal ($53,943); 12-000-400-450, Construction Services, $53,943

• Resolution No. 23 05 R: Resolved that the Hammonton Board of Education approve to accept the bids for the ECEC Expansion Project and award a contract to Fabbri Builders Inc. subject to Pinelands approval in the amount of $4,766,000 based on lowest bid.

• Resolution No. 23 05 R: Resolved that the Hammonton Board of Education approve to award a contract to ARH Associates for Professional Services to resolve Pinelands issues in the amount of $57,120.

Board member Barbara Berenato seconded the motion. During discussion, board member Luke Coia addressed No. 63.

“Did we get any other quotes for this? It’s almost $60,000; we just received this quote at 9 a.m. this morning,” Coia said.

The board’s business administrator, Barbara Prettyman, responded in the negative.

“No, I don’t have any others,” Prettyman said.

Coia continued.

“So, we’re just going to approve a $60,000 quote from somebody with no other quotes?

We’re not going to put it out to bid? We’re not going to entertain any other quotes from any other company? We’re just going to give this out?” Coia said.

According to Coia, such expenditures usually go through the committee process.

“I don’t see this discussed in not one single committee. Again, it didn’t show up on an addendum until 4 p.m. this afternoon; we didn’t get this initial quote until 9 a.m. this morning. Some of us have regular jobs; we don’t get to sit by the computer all day and wait for this stuff,” Coia said.

The quote, Coia said, is 20 pages in length.

“I assume everybody else here read this entire quote, and they’re OK with it?” Coia said.

Mento said that “time is of the essence.”

“Listen, I know it’s a lot of money, and I’m not arguing with you—and I do believe we did discuss this in Buildings and Grounds, and we were waiting for the proposal. This is a very time-sensitive situation, and, me, personally, what I believe—and I’m just one member—using ARH and utilizing their files and familiarity with the school district, and all the stuff that they have there, would probably be the most advantageous way to proceed for our district,” Mento said.

Mento said that the payment to ARH is not “rewarding bad behavior.”

“There was a different engineering firm who apparently no longer is in business that was a big part of the reason why we’re in this bind right now, trying to correct some of these mistakes from the past,” Mento said.

Coia said that earlier discussions indicated that this issue is separate from the expansion of the ECEC.

“This will not affect the time for the approval of the ECEC expansion, so why are we in such a rush? We just got the letter from the Pinelands April 25. We’re less than 10 days away; we’re giving out a $60,000 contract with no other quotes,” Coia said.

Lyons replied.

“I disagree with the inference that the board’s just handing out no-bid contracts. That’s not what this is; a contract’s not required for the bid. It’s a professional service, and the board attorney can opine on that certainly much better than I can,” Lyons said.

Lyons continued.

“I do agree with you that the 11th hour addendums and all this other stuff like at the last minute, that’s not great; I completely agree with you 100 percent. I think that makes it difficult to want to do your due diligence,” Lyons said.

Coia rephrased his position.

“We’re not just handing money out, but we’re going to agree to give a contract out, right? We’re going to sign a contract for almost $60,000, right? All I’m saying is, I’m not a professional engineer; I don’t know if this is a good price or not, and I would like to make an informed decision—and in order for me to do that, I need a comparison,” Coia said.

Scipione inquired as to how long ARH has been working with the district.

“I know I’ve been here seven years ... If we brought someone in that wasn’t familiar with the school, I don’t know how it could be cheaper,” Scipione said.

Mento concurred.

“And they are the engineer for the actual addition that we’re doing now over there, too, so they’re working on and designing the water retention, which is the biggest problem;

Pinelands’ concern is water retention. ARH has done a lot for us, time and time again,” Mento said.

Board member Kelly Donio inquired as to the scope of ARH’s work.

“They will coordinate every aspect that the Pinelands is concerned about right now in this project?” Donio asked.

Prettyman said that ARH is in possession of information regarding past deficiencies.

“We know that the proper Pinelands approval was not obtained in the year 2000 when that project was completed. We’re now required to meet with the 2022 standards,” Prettyman said.

Prettyman said that it was her belief that ARH is familiar with what is required to meet those standards.

“I believe that their proposal is addressing what they anticipate the deficiencies to be, which will be to deal with the stormwater management and the air quality issues,” Prettyman said.

Donio inquired further.

“So they’ll actually do the testing that’s part of this, or will they have to outsource those additional services?” Donio said.

Prettyman said she believed the testing will be performed by others.

“This will not correct the deficiencies. This will just be the professional services that are required to manage that; to design them, to manage them,” Prettyman said.

Prettyman said that the project will incur more costs.

“If the retention pond needs to be increased, or another one put in—or whatever—those will all be additional costs. If there are other professional-type services that need to be provided, that’s not included in ARH’s proposal. This is just for their engineering and survey services,” Prettyman said.

Board solicitor Wil Donio commented further.

“The state law is that you do not have to go out for getting additional quotes or proposals for a professional service, and any professional service is one that’s licensed by some kind of licensing body,” he said.

Wil Donio continued, noting that the board is currently trying to decouple the approval process for the expansion from this issue.

“We are working on that; they have not been decoupled yet, OK? So, one of the things is, time is of the essence for this kind of report to get there, in particular—I believe—to demonstrate to the Pinelands that we’re working in good faith to address what they allege are deficiencies,” he said.

Wil Donio clarified that approval was granted for the project in 2000.

“It’s just that they’re alleging that what was built then did not match what they believed was going to be built there. That’s really the issue that we’re dealing with the Pinelands now, and that’s something that was supposed to be rectified a good 14 years ago by the engineering firm that was there that’s no longer in existence, as well. It was supposed to be addressed at that time,” he said.

Mento further explained how time is a factor for the project.

“This project is being built with grant money, and this grant money is good until September of 2024, so we would hate to lose $4.7 million in grant money that’s essentially paying for this expansion, so time is of the essence—but I do understand your concern, Mr. Coia,” Mento said.

The items were approved by all present, with Coia voting against No. 63.

Also during committee reports, Berenato said that the School Culture and Climate Committee is beginning to explore use of a dress code that entails a uniform.

“Please, just give us some time. No phone calls; just give us some time to work this out and see what we can come up with—and if the board thinks that it might be feasible,” Berenato said.

Berenato said that the committee is attempting to locate other schools that use dress codes and ascertain both how it is affecting them, and if it is worthwhile. Berenato also said that Prettyman will be investigating potential uniform costs.

“We also discussed that it doesn’t have to be an actual uniform. You could just say the students will either wear black, brown or navy blue pants, black, brown or khaki shirts, skirts, whatever,” Berenato said.

Berenato said that the committee also discussed phasing such a procedure in as opposed to enacting it all at once.

“Even though the school year is almost over, we are still enforcing our dress code—and we will continue to enforce the dress code that we have on the books,” Berenato said.

Under the report from the Safety Committee, Coia said that an additional School Resource Officer (SRO) will be posted at the ECEC.

“We’re going to run a little bit of a trial state in hopes that it works out, and then, in the springtime, we’re going to look to get one more additional, so that would be two new SROs,” Coia said.

The new SRO, Coia said, will posted at the ECEC for “a majority of the day.”

“Some specific times where we may have some heavy traffic over at the high school, he may shift over there for a couple hours, but then come right back to the ECEC. We’re going to try it out and see how it works for a month or so, and we’ll address it then—and see what we can do to further support our security there,” Coia said.

In other news, Hammonton Middle School Principal Dr. Kimberly Rudnesky gave a presentation to the board regarding activities at the school.

“I am privileged to be the principal now of the Hammonton Middle School. Over the last four months, the staff, teachers and students have been so welcoming, and I am humbled to be among them,” Rudnesky said.

Rudnesky said that she wanted to provide the board with a “snapshot” of the last four months regarding clubs, academies, activities and more.

“If you wonder the difference between a club and an academy—I’ve often wondered this as well—a club is a full-year event, and our academies are broken into sessions, either spring or fall semester,” Rudnesky said.

Rudnesky detailed accomplishments of each of the school’s clubs and academies, including Art Club, Robotics Club, Think Team, eSports, bands and more. The HMS Media Center, Rudnesky said, has been “very busy,” with 4,000 students having logged in.

“I think that was only in the month of March,” Rudnesky said.

Rudnesky also spoke about sports at the middle school, including volleyball.

“This was the first year, and we’re so proud of Coach Burton and all the students. We even had staff; they volunteered to be the line judges,” Rudnesky said.

The program, Rudnesky said, is co-ed, and made up of seventh and eighth grade students.

“Approximately 30 students ended up as the final total, and it was a successful first season,” Rudnesky said.

Rudnesky said that Team Up day for Hammonton and Waterford Twp. sixth grade students will return on June 1, with a rain date of June 2.

“We invited the students and staff from Waterford Elementary to join our own sixth graders to participate in team-building activities on our campus. Each of the six stations that students rotate through will be team-based, and be reliant on both communication and cooperation,” Rudnesky said.

Activities, Rudnesky said, will include an escape room, island challenge, a pipeline and the opportunity to interact with future classmates.

“Team Up day marks the beginning of peer relationships between Hammonton and Waterford that will last the next six years and beyond,” Rudnesky said.

At the end of Rudnesky’s presentation, members of the drama club—under the direction of Alix Macri and Courtney Daniels—performed a selection from High School Musical Jr.

During the meeting, the board also notably resolved the following:

• Approve the Board Minutes of April 13, 2023 (Open & Closed Sessions).

• Ratify the purchase order lists for April 2023 in the amount of $303,916.50.

• Approve the bill list for May 2023 in the amount of $1,190,999.06.

• Ratify the check lists for April 2023 in the amount of $122,321.82.

• Ratify the April 2023 payroll in the amount of $3,732,786.26.

• Approve an Extraordinary Unspecifiable Contract with RX Alliance and Benecard Services Inc. for employee prescription insurance benefits with Hardenbergh Insurance Group as Broker of Record effective July 1, 2023 and the employee shall contribute to the cost of the plan as required by law.

• Approve a Capital Reserve withdrawal for renovation of tennis courts: 10-307 Capital Reserve Withdrawal ($1,045); 12-000-400-450 Construction Services $1,045

• Approve the increased costs associated with the Middle School Tennis Court Renovation Project. Change Order will be issued to American Athletic Courts for the estimated amount $15,850 to increase the base course pavement from 2” to 2.5” thickness. The District will share the costs 50 percent with the Town.

• Approve a request to reduce the fee to $23,000 for Gloucester County Services Migrant Program to use the middle school from June 20 to July 21

• Approve to award a contract to Classic Sports Floors to add volleyball lines to the Middle School court in the amount of $3,376.70 based on ESCNJ Co-Op.

• Approve the Chapter 226 Nonpublic Nursing Services agreement with Homecare Therapies, LLC (dba Horizon Healthcare Staffing) in the amount of $68.00 per hour for a Registered Nurse(RN) from September 1, 2023 through June 30, 2024. Amount paid to Bayada shall not exceed the nonpublic nursing allocation established by the NJDOE.

• Approve to award a contract to CDW-G, LLC for the purchase of 68 Lenovo ThinkCentre LED monitors and 68 Lenovo ThinkCentre Ryzen 5 Pro desktop computers for the Middle School for a total amount $68,463.08 based on ESCNJ cooperative pricing.

• Approve to award a contract to CDW-G, LLC for the purchase of 12 Lenovo ThinkCentre LED monitors and 12 Lenovo ThinkCentre Ryzen 5 Pro desktop computers for District staff for a total amount $12,580.06 based on ESCNJ cooperative pricing.

• Approve to award contract to Frontline Education for absence and substitute management software for the 2023-2024 school year in the amount $12,858.52 based on lowest quote.

• Approve an agreement with Burlington County Special Services School District for various educational services and evaluations required for students receiving special education services for the 2023-2024 school year.

• Approve to dispose of antiquated unused library books located in the High School.

Ratify the March 2023 Latchkey Program bank reconciliation.

• Approve to award a contract to Starlite for WES stage lighting upgrades in the amount of $16,344 based on lowest quote.

• Approve to send to salvage a 2001 Chevy Bus, VIN #1GBHG31F111129495 due to the age of the vehicle, cost of replacement parts and time invested to keep the vehicle running

• Ratify a jointure between Greater Egg Harbor Regional School District and Hammonton Board of Education to transport one student to Pyramid Healthcare from April 19 to June 15. Income to the District: $7,346.53.

• Approve the transfer of personnel effective May 5.

• Approve the school psychology internship for Leslie Miles, a student from Georgian Court University, in the high school.

• Approve a letter of resignation from Kelin Jimenz, middle school part-time bilingual aide, effective June 15.

• Approve the re-employment of the certified staff for the 2023-2024 school year.

• Approve the recommendation of re-employment of the district substitute teachers, home instructors and substitute office workers for the 2023-2024 school year.

• Approve the following personnel to provide instruction for our Title I/ARP-ESSER summer 2023 programs. ECEC/WES Achievement Academy: Program Administrator ($5,750)—Melissa Durham; Nurse (3 hrs/day, $2,550)—Teresa Christopher; Teachers ($3,400 each, plus $240 for six hrs of planning each)—Ashley Peterson, Beth Bugdon, Jorge Carde, Kathy DiGiovanni, Jennifer DiMarco, Gina Giralo, Dawn Palermo, Joseph S. Martino, Andrea Mikula, Shauna Pazzato, Nereida Rosado, Lisa Ruiz, Gina Silipena, Andrea Silipena, Karen Viruet, Dana Magnana; Instructional Aides (Six at $20/hr for 3.5 hrs/day for 17 days)—Waldina Diaz, Mandi Fisher, Darcel Smith, Nayadet Gonzalez-Ortiz, Lisa White and Katelyn Clark. HMS Summer Excel: Program Administrator ($5,750)—Adam Preim; Teachers ($50/hr for four hrs/day for 17 days, plus six hrs of planning at $40/hr)—Steve Adirzone, Matt Arena, David Brough, Melissa Busch, Isabella Cabibbo, Cari Coia, Yolanda DeAngelo, Alison Fedga, Donna Gallo, Janice Grasso, Averi Olive, Reginald Ramos, Bonnie Ricci, Steve Salvatore, David Thompson, Rebecca Thompson, William Willman and Kimberly Zuccarello; Nurse (3 hrs/day, $2,550)—Kim Scavo.

• Approve personnel for the summer 2023 special education programs (Extended School Year).

• Approve the Support Staff Supervisors to participate in the 3-day vacation buyback option: Sharon Murray, Toni Mazza, Frank LaSasso and Heather Triboletti

• Approve the adjustment to the following personnel for the 2023-2024 school year: Nancy Parzanese, from 11 month LPN Aide to 10 month LPN Aide

• Approve the corrected salary for the following personnel for the 2022-2023 school year: Colleen DeSilvio, Part-Time Clerk Typist, Step 1—$24,969 (pro-rated)

• Approve the following personnel pending receipt of all necessary paperwork (current substitute pay schedule approved by the Board January 20, 2022: Regular County Substitute Certificate—$125 per day, Regular Standard State Teaching Certificate—$150 per day; substitute nurse pay schedule approved by the Board October 14, 2021: School Nurse—$225 per day): Amy Clauhs, district (replacement T.F.) supervisor of content area/instruction effective August 1; Ashley McClave, district (replacement E.C.) school psychologist for the 2023-2024 school year; Substitute teacher(s) who is applying for a New Jersey substitute certificate: Luca Berenato; Substitute custodian(s)—$15/hr: Patricia Vitalo.

• Approve the recommendation and board resolution to Establish a Special Education Program or Service for the 2023-2024 school year at the Early Childhood Education Center for Learning/Language Disabilities, mild/moderate

• Affirm the Superintendent’s HIB recommendation as discussed at the prior month’s meeting.

• Approve the following policies for 2nd reading and adoption: P 0144 Board Member

Orientation and Training (Revised); P 2520/R2520 Instructional Supplies (M) (Revised); P 3217 Use of Corporal Punishment (Revised); P 4217 Use of Corporal Punishment (New); P 5305 Health Services Personnel (M) (Revised); P 5308/R 5308 Student Health Records (M) (Revised); P 5310/R 5310 Health Services (M) (Revised); P 6112 Reimbursement of Federal and Other Grant Expenditures (M) (Revised); R 6115.01 Federal Awards/Funds Internal Controls – Allowability of Costs (M) (New); P 6115.04 Federal Funds – Duplication of Benefits (M) (New); P 6311 Contracts for Goods or Services Funded by Federal Grants (M) (Revised); P 7440 School District Security (M) (Revised); P 9140 Citizens Advisory Committee (Revised)

• Approve to award a contract to Eastern Lift Truck Company Inc. for the purchase of a used 2018 Propane Forklift in the amount of $29,900 based on lowest quote.

• Approve a letter of resignation from James Eccles, middle school part-time hall monitor, effective June 30

• Approve the following: Gabrielle Attanasi, Supervisor of Special Services (replacing S.D.) effective July 1 at a salary of $96,500.

The next meeting of the Hammonton Board of Education will be on June 8 at 7 p.m.


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