Custodian Issue at Pinelands Regional Getting Nasty

Junior Prom Locale Also Topic of Discussion
Nov 21, 2018

The good news for Pinelands Regional School District custodians is two of the five who were laid off this past summer have been rehired. The bad news for Pinelands custodians is the two openings were created by firings.

At its September meeting, the Pinelands Regional Board of Education approved the re-hiring – officially the reinstatement – of Louise DeFeo. At that same meeting the BOE approved the termination of another custodian, Gustavo Montenegro.

At its Nov. 14 meeting, the board approved the reinstatement of Matthew O’Connor. He would fill a job made available by the termination of Christian Sanzari.

When the floor was opened to public comment at the November meeting, one man, a Pinelands custodian whose name was garbled when he announced it, said Sanzari had taught him everything he knows and asked why he had been fired. When told the board never discussed personnel matters in public, he smacked the side of the lectern and stormed out, mumbling under his breath.

Later in the evening Jamey Carnes, a district resident and parent, said if that custodian had a “history,” he should be investigated.

“What I saw before was scary,” said Carnes. “My daughter is in school with someone who clearly looked unstable to me.”

The situation with the custodial staff at Pinelands has been tense since the former supervisor of buildings and grounds resigned last spring and was replaced by John Bellone. There have been reported incidents of sabotage, blamed on an actor unknown at that time, possibly a dissatisfied custodian, necessitating thousands of dollars’ worth of repairs. Morale was rumored to be low. An evening supervisor is to be hired to assist Bellone. In spite of this, a few board members said the junior high school had never looked better. (The high school is closed for renovation.)

In other business, a fairly long discussion took place about an event that usually draws little notice – the junior prom. The board was to approve the prom being held at Ocean City’s Flanders Hotel. But board member Stephen Kubricki had serious reservations.

Kids, he said, would have to drive “40, 45 minutes” to attend the prom, raising safety concerns. Plus, he would like to see the prom held at a closer location, helping a local business and installing a tad of community pride. Still, safety was Kubricki’s major concern.

“There’s a safety concern that I’m not willing to accept,” he said. “I would not be able to serve as a member of the board if something tragic happened.”

Superintendent of Schools Melissa McCooley said student representatives had originally been planning on holding the prom at a local business, one that she didn’t want to name. It was, she said, only 15 minutes away. But the business raised its price and finally gave the time slot away to host another event.

Board member Thomas Williams Jr. shared Kubricki’s concern about safety, especially when somebody suggested that the kids would carpool. Statistics show, said Williams, that carpool situations often lead to even more tragedy.

Williams also had concerns about cost.

“The gym will be open by then,” he said. “I just think a junior prom should be held in the school.”

But McCooley said the gym probably wouldn’t be large enough to hold the 11th-graders and their guests.

High school Principal Shaun Banin joined the conversation. The kids, he said, loved what they saw when they scouted out the Flanders. Its food options were much better – “Instead of nachos they get crab cakes” – and it offered multiple stations.

An option would have been the Carriage House in Galloway Township, but that’s where Pinelands’ senior prom is held. The kids, Banin said, didn’t want the same experience twice.

Then he tossed in a valid point that limited safety concerns. The Flanders, he said “is a dry venue in a dry town.”

In the end, the board approved the location, although Kubricki, Williams and Karen Poklikuha voted no. McCooley, following suggestions from the public and board, said she would check into the price for luxury buses and ask students if they would take the bus instead of driving if one were provided.

— Rick Mellerup

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