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Nutley BOE Candidates Explain Their Views

Challengers, incumbents take part in forum last month

Clarification appended Oct. 17 at 6:15 pm.

The candidates seeking to fill three Nutley Board of Education seats up for election next month met for a forum a few weeks ago* at Washington Avenue School, where the topics of discussion ranged from nepotism in hiring to school overcrowding.

Incumbents Tom Sposato and Deborah Russo and challengers Kevin Georgetti, Ryan Kline and Alan Thomas answered questions prepared by the League of Women Voters, which sponsored the 90-minute forum, and also took questions from the audience. Some of the prepared questions were modified for the challengers and the incumbents when the question touched on policies approved by the current board.

On a few questions, there was a clear divide between those who already serve on the board and those who wish to.

The incumbent candidates were asked to defend their vote this past summer to rehire Frank Pomaco as board attorney, while the challengers were all asked what they would have done had they been on the board. The decision was controversial because Pomaco advised the board during the years-long litigation with Tri-Tech, the district’s former construction manager, legal action which cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Both Russo, an office manager and former member of several PTOs, and Sposato, a lifelong resident who owns a service station in town, said Pomaco was recommended unanimously by a committee from among 11 attorneys seeking the work, then chosen by a majority of the nine-member board. Russo also said that Pomaco is only advising the board on educational matters, an area where his credentials are “impeccable.”

The challengers all said they would have voted against the hire, however. Georgetti, an attorney and trustee of Alvenia University in Pennsylvania, said he “would have voted no based on what he knows now” but also said his answer might be different if he were “privy to the selection process.” Kline, a psychologist with the Belleville public school system, said it was “time to turn the page” on the “Tri-Tech debacle.”

Thomas, an attorney and member of the adjunct faculty at Rutgers law school,  spoke most strongly against Pomaco’s rehiring. In the wake of Tri-Tech, “the district changed construction firms,it changed auditors, but it doesn’t change law firms?”

Thomas, referring to Pomaco’s reserving the right to sue the board during the Tri-Tech matter and that he had filed a claim against the board,*  asked “what kind of outfit would hire someone who would sue you? Would you do that? I would not.”

Incumbents and challengers also diverged on the question of changing the board of education election date from April to November, a move allowed following a change in state law. The change also means the district budget will no longer go for a vote if annual spending increases remain below 2 percent.

Sposato and Russo both supported the change as a cost-saving measure. Elections each cost several thousand dollars, so combining election days saves taxpayer dollars, the two said.
 
“My decision was to keep costs down for the taxpayer. It was definitely an economic decision,” Sposato said.

But Gerogetti and Kline criticized the move -- which Sposato said was adopted by 90 percent of districts -- because it denies citizens the right to vote on the budget. Thomas would have “waited a year so the public could be heard” on the matter.

“Disallowing the public to vote takes away from the democratic process,” Kline said.

The candidates were also asked what they would do if a friend or relative sought a position or a contract with the Nutley public schools, a question touching on concerns that the district’s hiring has been plagued by nepotism and favoritism in the past.

Russo spoke for most of her fellow candidates when she said she would suggest to a friend “to look elsewhere”.

“Anything beyond that touches on micromanagement,” she added.

Russo and fellow incumbent Sposato also noted that there are new procedures in place, including an online application process, to ensure that hiring is fair. Thomas and Georgetti also noted that it’s illegal to hire the relative of a sitting member of the board, although Georgetti said that if a friend sought a job, he would neither help nor actively discourage that person.

“As for friends, so long as they don’t give you a resume, you allow them to go through the process,” he said. 

The candidates also touted their accomplishments and described their goals. Sposato said in his three years on the board he worked with member Steve Rogers on the district’s anti-bullying policy, oversaw the implementation of new curriculum and the hiring of a new superintendent. Russo said she helped with expanding the district’s day care program, oversaw the hiring of a new director of technology and the completion of construction projects throughout the district.

Thomas said he would push for the acquisition of materials and added professional development so staff “know what’s going on in the world and they can impart that to our students.” Kline said the district has been “stagnant” academically, adding he would work to make Nutley schools “blue-ribbon schools” and to “push academics in all areas.”

Georgetti, referring to his experience as a university trustee, said he would help the district craft a strategic plan without getting bogged down in “micromanagement.”

*Clarification: Thomas's reference to Pomaco's filing a claim was originally omitted. Also, we have decided to re-feature this article, which was originally published Oct. 17, on Nov. 4, so as to provide Nutley readers a refresher on the views of the board of education candidates.  

Jeanne K. Van Steen October 19, 2012 at 12:38 PM
Thank you for attending the Forum and publishing such a good article. The Board of Education election is being overshadowed by the Presidential, Senatorial & Congressional contests. This is right here at home and most important to Nutley residents. We appreciated your coverage, Jeanne Van Steen, Voter Service Chair, LWV of the Nutley Area
Paul Milo (Editor) October 19, 2012 at 02:18 PM
My pleasure Jeanne! It was the first debate I'd seen in weeks where the moderator was actually able to keep the candidates to their allotted time. Maybe the LWV should handle the presidential d's in 2016?
Joseph Russonella October 20, 2012 at 11:19 AM
48%.That is the percentage of your real estate taxes that directly support the school district. It is more than you pay to the municipality and county. We must vote on Nov. 6th 2012 on the Nutley Board of Education election. It is MOST important to your pocketbooks. We are so lucky to have three new candidates running. Mr. Alan Thomas, Mr. Ryan Kline and Mr. Kevin Georgetti. Each have skills that would be valuable to the Board. Mr. Thomas, and Ivy league educated attorney, who has not missed a meeting in five years and does ask the tuff questions provides attention to academics, support to teachers and attention to compliance issues that has beleaguered the Board in the past, (Law suits, sanctions and numerous fines from the State of NJ). Mr. Kline is a great school psychologist who could bring his experience to support Special Services programs. Mr. Gerogetti is an attorney and very active in the community. These honorable men are running against cronyism and the back door dealing of this present board. I have met all three men they are honest men with strong morale values. They are free thinkers and will not be directed by outside influences. They know they must be fiscally responsible with your tax dollars and understand the need for transparency and accountability. The time is now to stop the cronyism, conflict of interests and back door dealings. Just remember ownership belongs to the voting people. Please put your trust in these three men and give them a vote. PLEASE!

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