Three of the six candidates for Hopatcong Board of Education presented ideas Monday about how to move the 2,300-student district forward.
In attendance at the candidates night hosted by the borough’s Democratic Committee were incumbents Clifford Lundin, the board’s president, Joan S. Reilly, and challenger Judith Antonelli.
Others on the Nov. 6 ballot for the three 3-year seats are incumbent Dolores Krowl, and challengers Quashinna Williams and John H. Maine. This is the first November election for the local school board. The annual budget was approved in April and does not appear on the ballot
Reilly and Lundin were in attendance at the start of the event, but left midway to attend another candidate’s night. Antonelli arrived just before the other two candidates left after attending that other candidate’s event.
The incumbents said the district has been hard hit by cuts in state aid, but has worked hard to spend the budget appropriately.
“We find three different ways to spend a dollar,” Reilly said.
Lundin, with Reilly agreeing, said the district struggled two years ago when state aid was cut $750,000, and the state mandated 2 percent tax levy cap was put in place.
While the tax levy increase was held under 2 percent, the impact of the cuts were evident throughout the district.
To offset the decrease in aid, Lundin said, “We went green.”
The installation of a six-acre solar panel field will cut the district’s electric costs $3 million over the next 15 years, he said. The district is paying 5 cents per kilowatt hour for solar powered electricity that supplies all but the Hudson Maxim School.
Lundin said the savings allowed the district to make some needed repairs and take on some long-delayed purchases like textbooks. The district spent $500,000 on new textbooks to replace some that were 15 to 20 years old, he said.
Reilly and Lundin admitted that the district’s reputation has taken some hits recently, especially after the high school dropped 89 places in the New Jersey Monthly magazine annual listing of the state’s schools, and recent applications by eighth graders to attend Lenape Valley Regional High School in Stanhope through the state’s choice school program.
Lundin said in response to the concerns raised by residents, the district has formed a High School of the Future task force that will examine all aspects of the school and seek possible solutions.
“We can do better,” Lundin said. “We want to challenge things.”
Antonelli, a 27-year educator who currently teaches third grade in the Roxbury school district, said she would challenge the board’s decision making processes and transparency.
Antonelli said she would work to develop programs in the classroom that offered greater motivation for students to excel on standardized tests and in classroom work.
“Students respond to a reward-based decision making process,” she said.
Antonelli said the board’s process of discussion and analysis before making decisions could be refreshed. Last spring when the board hired a new high school principal, a dispute over the salary broke out in public. Antonelli said the board should examine the decision that was made before the final discussion took place.
A range of salaries had been presented, she said, and the board should have taken the time to ensure all members fully understood what that meant before a final vote was taken.
Lundin, who was absent for that July vote, and Reilly, who was in favor of hiring high school principal Noreen Lazaruik at the higher end of the offered pay scale, had both left Monday’s session when the question about the principal’s salary came up.
The board hired Lazaruk at a salary of $132,500.