Pinelands Regional Begins Interviewing for Superintendent

Construction Schedule, 2018-19 School Year and Budget Await Decisions
Feb 07, 2018

The search for a new superintendent of the Pinelands Regional School District is taking a big step forward.

“We will begin the interviewing process tomorrow,” said board President Susan M. Ernst at Monday evening’s work session meeting of the Pinelands Regional Board of Education.

The New Jersey School Boards Association has been carrying the load for the district in the superintendent search, accepting and processing applications for the position since the end of October. The list of candidates has been winnowed down to seven.

The permanent position has been vacant since Robert L. Blake, under pressure from the board and with a year remaining on a three-year contract, resigned effective June 30, 2016. It has since been filled temporarily by former Interim Superintendent Maryann Banks, who unexpectedly resigned in December 2017; and by current Acting Superintendent Cheryl Stevenson, normally the district’s executive director of curriculum and instruction. The new superintendent will begin his or her job on or about July 1.

That was one of the very few pieces of breaking news to come out of the meeting. Most of the district’s other largest and most pressing concerns, such as the status of the high school roofing project, bidding for the next and largest phase of the $53 million district rehabilitation project authorized by voters in January 2017, the 2018-19 budget and the design of the 2018-19 academic year, seemed to be stuck in limbo.

Board member Thomas D. Williams Jr., representing Bass River Township, reported a meeting of the Building and Grounds Committee had been held last week where committee members received an update of the roofing situation at the high school. The district, he said, was waiting on a roofing company inspection and a municipal inspection and the resulting punch cards before it could proceed.

“Once that punch list is done, that will be the end of it (the roofing project),” said Williams, “and we’ll see where we go from there.”

No mention was made of the legal situation surrounding the roofing project, which is months behind schedule, resulting in the closing of the high school building from October through the middle of January and forcing both high and junior high students to share the junior high school building via split sessions.

Many residents want a considerable amount of the payment to the roofing company, Kobithen Roofing of Philadelphia, to be withheld. So later in the meeting, during the open forum, an audience member asked what was going on with the roofing legal situation.

“The board is discussing it but can’t discuss it in public at this time,” said Katherine M. Morris, an attorney with Cooper Levenson, the Atlantic City law firm that represents the district.

Another man who spoke during the forum asked if it was true that “bubbles” were forming in the new high school roof, possibly necessitating another round of re-roofing.

“It is a Tremco (roofing material manufacturer) product defect that is being looked at,” responded Williams.

“We really don’t know for sure what the outcome will be,” said Ernst. “We’re waiting.”

Regarding the school budget, Karen Poklikuha, who represents Eagleswood Township and heads the board’s budget committee, reported that the committee had met on Feb. 1 but couldn’t accomplish anything substantial because it “has to wait for construction information.” She added that the committee would be meeting weekly from Feb. 19 to have a preliminary budget ready for the county superintendent by mid-March.

The only solid information to come out of the old business segment of the meeting came from the policy committee, headed by board Vice President Patricia Chambers.

In June 2017, the district denied a request by a home-schooled student residing in the district to participate in the high school’s athletic programs. The reason given by then Interim Superintendent Banks was that the district would have to change its policy to allow that teen to play sports at Pinelands.

In September, Chambers said the policy committee had been re-evaluating the issue and had already done some preliminary research. The board directed Banks to contact other schools to see how they have handled similar situations.

On Monday, though, Chambers said the committee, and the district’s director of guidance, still had the same concerns that the board had expressed in June. The question of academic eligibility was a big one, along with attendance and mandatory drug testing. So the board decided not to change its policy, meaning home-schooled students remain ineligible to participate not only in Pinelands athletics, but also in other extracurricular activities.

However, resident Dane Apgar did add a few other issues to the conversation.

He had noticed the district’s schools have a large number of water-based fire extinguishers. Considering the amount of electrical wiring that runs through school buildings in these days of modern technology, he asked if the district could look into replacing them with dry chemical extinguishers. Water can’t be used to extinguish an electrical blaze.

Apgar also asked about the status of the “internal investigation” of the roofing fiasco.

Finally, he brought up an issue from the past: Canada geese.

“What’s being done?” he asked. “There’s goose feces all over the fields. Do you want your kids rolling around in goose poop? I don’t! I’ve been addressing this issue for years.”

Apgar suggested hiring Geese Police dogs or setting up predator silhouettes.

Ernst said she would have the acting superintendent check out the fire extinguisher issue.

Amy Houch, the board’s attorney, answered the investigation question. It wasn’t an internal investigation. Instead, the district had asked the state of New Jersey to conduct the investigation. She said she had received a phone call from the state asking for additional information.

“It was really just ‘we got your letter (requesting an investigation), we’re looking into it, we will get back to you.’ ”

As for the geese, Ernst only responded with humor, saying, “I’d be happy to lend my dog – he loves to chase things.”

A reporter inquired about the 2018-19 academic year. The district’s building professionals had recommended the high school be closed for the entire year while brickface replacement was being conducted. Stevenson, reacting to parental concerns once that recommendation was made at the last BOE meeting, had said all options were still on the table, so the reporter asked what the other options were.

Stevenson laid out only two major propositions. The first was to indeed close the high school for the 2018-19 year. The second was to instead have the work done during the summer. Considering the magnitude of the project, it would seem she was talking multiple summers.

— Rick Mellerup

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.