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Bellmawr Waterfront Development Update

Prior to the council meeting tonight, there was a meeting in the Borough Hall courtroom about the Bellmawr Waterfront Development.

When Mayor Frank Filipek opened the regular meeting, he said: “It is 95-98% complete. The only thing we are waiting for is the traffic study from the DOT and then it can finally be redeveloped.”

SJO obtained a copy of the updated pictures and maps.

Click below to see the documents:

Bellmawr Waterfront Development BDA & Steering Committee April 28, 2016

*Article updated to indicate that SJO was not aware there was a meeting concerning the Bellmawr Waterfront Development and was not in attendance for that meeting.

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Mt. Ephraim News Recent News

Mt. Ephraim School Board Discusses Superintendent’s Contract

During its April 11 meeting, Mt. Ephraim Board of Education (BOE) discussed the contract renewal terms for School Superintendent, Leslie Koller.

Board member Carl Ingram stated that Ms. Koller chose not to go into Executive Session to discuss the terms of her contract so the discussion was held in public.

Of the contract Ingram stated: “The negotiations committee met with Ms. Koller and we have a tentative agreement. It will be a four year agreement. The terms for the contract are: year one: 0%, year two: 1.5%; year three: 1.75%, and year four: 2%.”

He also stated: “I think this is a win-win for the district. Right now when times are extremely difficult, it shows a little initiative in leadership.”

Financial Manager William Gerson stated that the contract has not been received back from the county.

Ingram provided several details of the contract. He stated that the district will not be paying for three professional organizations for the superintendent and that a cell phone allowance was also taken out of her contract. The superintendent also took a buyout on her medical benefits because she is not enrolling in the district’s health insurance plan.

Several of the board members requested that they be provided with all of the terms of the contract.

Board member, Lewis Greenwood, Sr., asked why the superintendent is not taking a cell phone allowance because she uses her cell phone to respond to phone calls.

Ms. Koller responded: “There was a cell phone in the contract when I was initially hired. I chose not to use that. I chose to use my own cell phone. I have been doing it for three years. A lot of superintendents are using their own phones. The board has no liability with me using my own phone.”

Board Solicitor, Michael Pattanite, Jr., stated: “It is her phone, her proprietary information.”

Board member Nick Salamone questioned the four year term of the contract and stated: “NJSBA (New Jersey School Boards Association) recommends four years. I wouldn’t recommend anything more than three years. Is there any reason why?”

Ingram responded: “We got a year for free and the others at a reduced cost. We are not going to see a 2% increase until the fourth year. The district is in financial straits.”

Salamone stated that the four year contract term was the “first I am hearing about it” and said he expressed concern to Financial Manager Bill Gerson. “I don’t think it’s appropriate that it went to the county superintendent already for approval like it’s a done deal,” Salamone said.

Ingram stated: “It is not a done deal. The contract still has to be voted on. Unless I am wrong, it (the contract) automatically reinstates at a certain period.”

Pattanite stated that the superintendent’s prior contract would have renewed again for the term of her prior contract.

Ms. Koller’s current contract is set to expire June 30, 2016.

Salamone stated: “There were negotiations. Either way, it has to go to the county superintendent and if there is a problem, it has to go back again. Looking at it the other way, why send it if the Board doesn’t agree? It’s a done deal. This is why we are accused of discord. Whether I agree or not agree, I am opposed to four years and I don’t care if it’s 0. The State doesn’t recommend more than three years, but it is what it is. How can I vote when you don’t have information for us?”

Board member, Rocco Vespe, asked the Board if anyone else had an issue with the four year term. No one else responded, but Salamone stated: “Because NJ School Boards recommends three years. I just don’t feel comfortable. I just think three years is enough.”

There was debate among several of the Board Members. Board President, Pat Blaylock, interjected to ask the solicitor for clarification.

Pattanite said: “There was nothing done that was improper that I could see whatsoever. Number two, we could not discuss this at the last meeting because she didn’t receive a Rice notice, from my understanding. Three, the county superintendent still has to approve the contract and then we ratify it. We can’t officially put our Board name on the document now because the county superintendent hasn’t ratified it yet. This is a discussion about what we would possibly would approve.”

Ingram stated: “If we would’ve gone into executive (session), it would’ve been discussed in there. Leslie didn’t want to go in.”

Blaylock added: “On the addendum (for the agenda) it says ‘Discussion for the terms. It doesn’t say we are voting. It says conditions of the new contract. This is ‘the discussion.’”

Salamone also asked if Ms. Koller had received a Rice notice. (State law requires that public employees receive a Rice notice prior to any discussion of their job.)

Pattanite responded: “She was Riced April 4 and Committee as a whole April 11.”

Following the meeting, Ms. Koller was contacted by telephone on April 12 for clarification about her contract. South Jersey Observer reported on February 11 that her contract had been renewed and sent to the Executive Superintendent for approval.

Ms. Koller explained that when the budget deficit was discovered, she went back to the negotiations committee and renegotiated a four year agreement with the first year of the new contract being 0%.

She provided further details of that first contract. She stated that it was a three year contract with the following terms: year one: 1.5%, year two: 1.75%, and year three: 2%, but she stated that because of the budget deficit, she went back to the negotiations committee and told them if she was given a four year contract, she would take 0% for year one.

*Additional terms and details of Ms. Koller’s contract will be available after it has been approved by the county superintendent.

During the meeting, the BOE voted to approve all items on its agenda.

April 11, 2016 Public Agenda

Approved items include:

Bill payment in the amount of $558,795.36.

The interlocal services agreement with EIRC for Business Administrator/Finance Manager, William Gerson in the amount of $104,496.

A donation of 2,880 pencils received from EIRC, which were donated to EIRC by Office Depot.

In other matters, Audubon BOE Representative Joan Greenwood noted in her report that Audubon’s tentative budget in the amount of $11,153,792 was passed. It was approved using the banked cap and a healthcare cap. Once their budget is approved, there will be a presentation on May 4 at 7:00 p.m. The report also noted that the Audubon BOE approved using other tests (SAT, ACT, ASVAB, and PARCC) to meet high school graduation requirements.

Principal Michael Hunter stated that an anonymous Mt. Ephraim resident donated a Smithsonian Association Membership, which includes a subscription to Smithsonian magazine.

One parent addressed the BOE to make a suggestion that Executive Session should be after the public session and that people should not be made to sit and wait. The parent also asked about the delayed openings and stated that delayed openings present problems for parents having to go into work late or miss time from work.

Ms. Koller responded: “In years 2013-14, 2014-15, and 2015-16 we had five delayed openings built in for personal development (or PD). In 2016-17, we will have five early dismissals built in for PD instead of delayed openings.”

During the meeting, retired Mt. Ephraim Police Chief, Brian Beppel, and several teachers were honored by the Board of Education. Head over to the South Jersey Observer Facebook page to check out the video and pictures.

Several teachers addressed the BOE and expressed concern over any potential cuts and how those cuts would impact staffing, programming, the district, the community, and the children.

The BOE did not vote on any budget cuts during the meeting.

Following the meeting, Ms. Koller provided the following updated comment about the budget deficit: “The board hired me with the primary goal of improving and maintaining the educational program for our students. That has to always be my first priority in all decision making. My second priority is to always to try and take care of our teachers and our teaching association to maintain as many jobs as possible in such a situation as we are facing right now. My first priority has to be the students.”

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Bellmawr Gloucester Mt. Ephraim News Recent News

Bellmawr Girl Scouts Assist With Operation Yellow Ribbon

Earlier today, Bellmawr Girl Scout Troops 30215 and 30082 in collaboration with Operation Yellow Ribbon of South Jersey, Warrior Watch Riders, the West Deptford and Thorofare Fire Departments participated in a Welcome Home Celebration for Sgt. Jena Clifford and Spc. James Simmermon at the West Deptford Riverwinds Community Center.

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All photos provided. Warrior Watch Riders help to welcome home Sgt. Jena Clifford and Spc. James Simmermon.

The Girl Scouts coordinated efforts with Dave Silver of Operation Yellow Ribbon to plan the Welcome Home Celebration as a surprise for Sgt. Clifford and Spc. Simmermon, who were under the impression that they had been invited to Riverwinds to speak to the Girls Scouts about their military service.

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Dave Silver (far right) of Operation Yellow Ribbon of South Jersey addresses the assembled crowd for the Welcome Home Celebration.

While Sgt. Clifford and Spc. Simmermon were addressing the Girl Scouts, a motorcade pulled in that was led by the West Deptford and Thorofare Fire Departments and included the Warrior Watch Riders and members of Operation Yellow Ribbon. Gloucester County Freeholder Giuseppe (Joe) Chila presented both Sgt. Clifford and Spc. Simmermon with Proclamations honoring them for their service.

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Spc. James Simmermon (left) and Sgt. Jena Clifford (right) speak to the Girl Scouts about their military service.

Girl Scout Olivia Allen, 10, felt it was important to be a part of welcoming the soldiers home. “We were able to learn about what it is like to serve overseas. Also, it was important to thank the soldiers for protecting our country,” she said.

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Sgt. Jena Clifford (left) and Spc. James Simmermon with the Girl Scout Cookies to be donated to Operation Yellow Ribbon.

The Girl Scouts presented Sgt. Clifford and Spc. Simmermon with thank you cards of appreciation and the troops donated 16 cases of Girl Scout cookies to be included in care packages that will be sent overseas for active duty servicemen and women.

Of the Welcome Home Celebration, Sgt. Clifford posted on Facebook: “Words cannot begin to express how touched I am by this event today. Thank you so much to the men and women of Operation Yellow Ribbon and Warrior Watch Riders, as well as the Fire and Police department. I am truly humbled (once again) by this experience.”

Article updated at 10:45 p.m. to include a quote from Spc. Simmermon: “I was completely shocked! I am grateful to be a part of this awesome event today and also to hear all of those great and awesome words from everyone. It is wonderful to have these organizations and the support for those organizations – for the veterans and their families to know that they will always be there through the best and toughest times of their military career and life. We appreciate everything you guys have done and will do. This will always be a memorable day!”

*Article updated on April 4, 2016 to delete police and add Thorofare Fire Department.

 

 

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Mt. Ephraim News

Mt. Ephraim Students Recognized for Music Participation

 

During the March 14, 2016 Mt. Ephraim Board of Education (BOE) meeting, Principal Mike Hunter recognized students from Mary Bray School and Raymond Kershaw School for their participation in the district’s music programs.

Because March is designated as Music in our Schools Month® or MIOSM®, Mt. Ephraim School District students were honored for their music, band, and choral participation.

Music In Our Schools Month is celebrated annually in March. The purpose of Music In Our Schools Month is to engage music educators, students, and communities from around the country in promoting the benefits of high quality music education programs in schools.

Music In Our Schools Month began in New York in 1973 as a single statewide Advocacy Day. It has since grown to become a month-long celebration of school music.

On its website, the National Association for Music Education states: “The purpose of MIOSM is to raise awareness of the importance of music education for all children and to remind citizens that schools are where all children should have access to music. MIOSM is an opportunity for music teachers to bring their music programs to the attention of the school and the community, and to display the benefits that school music brings to students of all ages.”

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With Principal Mike Hunter, from left, are Fourth Grade Music Students: Jocelyn Carter, Sean Slattery, Noah Andujar Gary Gable, and Madelin Carter.

 

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Raymond Kershaw Band/Choral Students with Principal Mike Hunter from back left: Alexandria Holton, Cassie Copsetta, Aeriana Gonzales Gilbrook, and Ava Crothers. Front row from left:  Guilanna Mallon, Phaedra Rabeau, Michael Cipolone, and  Zachary Vilardo. (Not pictured: Ricky Henderson)

 

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Matt King (center) is pictured with Principal Mike Hunter and General and Music Technology Teacher, Mary Manion.

 

 

 

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Mt. Ephraim News

Mt. Ephraim School District Submits 2016-17 Budget; Has $443K Deficit

On Monday night, the Mt. Ephraim Board of Education (BOE) voted to approve its total operating budget for 2016-17 in the amount of $9,870,139. The budget did not pass the first time it was voted on.

Before the budget was brought to a vote, the meeting involved a lengthy public portion.

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Following the first vote, the BOE was polled and there was additional discussion among them. When the matter was brought to a vote the second time, it passed and the budget has been submitted to the county for approval. However, there still remains a deficit of $443,552.

School Superintendent, Leslie Koller, was reached by telephone for follow-ups for clarifications. She explained banked cap, why the budget didn’t pass on the first try, and she also spoke about previous instability in the board office.

Can you please explain what the banked cap is?

LK: In 2010, the law changed to allow school districts to raise the tax levy up to 2% without voter approval. If they want to go above the 2%, they must put it out to the voters to approve. However, there is an exception and that is called using ‘banked cap.’ Banked cap is only generated in years when a school district does not increase their budget by the maximum of 2% and the balance remains available for use for up to the next three years.

In other words, if in any school year, a school district budget increases taxes by less than 2%, the difference between the percent that they have to raise taxes and the allowable 2% is “banked” and is available to be generated for future budgets for up to three years, after that it expires.

Banked cap is not money in the bank. When we use the term ‘banked cap’, people assume that it is actual money in the bank. It’s logical that they would assume that, but banked cap is actually the ability to generate money.

Here is an example: Let’s say for 2015-16, a school district’s budget raised taxes 1.5%. Since they could have gone to 2% without going out to voters, the ability to use the remaining .5% gets put aside. Not the actual .5%, but the ability to generate it. Then, say, in 2016-17 the school district’s budget requires taxes to be raised 2.25% in order to make their bills, the school district can raise taxes the allowable 2% plus another .25% because they had .5% “banked” without having to go to the voters. This would leave .25% “bank” and this .25% would remain available for use in 2017-18, 2018-19 and then it would expire.

*Note, the board passed a motion during Monday’s meeting 7-2 in favor of using the banked cap in the amount of $140,946. Voting yes were Pat Blaylock, Carl Ingram, Robbin Malinowski, Joan Greenwood, Mario Alibrando, Rocco Vespe, Lewis Greenwood, Sr. Voting no were Nick Salamone and Diane Vilardo.

The Budget Was Rejected at First.

A motion was made to adopt the tentative budget for 2016-17 and when it was first brought to a vote, it was unanimously voted down. Why?

LK: At first, we didn’t know. I asked the Board President (Pat Blaylock) to poll the Board members and it was pretty much across the board that they felt very rushed to make that decision. At the time, they also assumed that they had to make decisions right on the spot as to what cuts would be made in approving that budget. By polling them afterwards, we discovered that they actually didn’t have to make decisions as to what they would cut. They just had to make the decision on Monday night with the amount of the operating budget. So they voted again on just the operating budget and that time, it passed.

The Deficit

LK: The Board will make plans at a later date as to how to make up the deficit. I am going to make recommendations and have already made recommendations. I wanted to provide the Board several options and I have done that. They feel that they didn’t have time to really process them. The Board has very tough decisions to make.

When Mrs. Koller first came to the Mt. Ephraim School District:

LK: When they brought me on board, they wanted to move the district forward educationally, not only because they just wanted to make the district better, but also because of all of the new mandates that were being put upon them. They had a superintendent who had just resigned and they were with an interim. They had a lot that they wanted to accomplish and that costs money. I brought them proposals. We put together a three year plan and planned to do it in steps, which is what we did do.

Instability in the Business Office:

LK: Unfortunately, we had some instability with business administrators. We had to keep getting interim business administrators, all very qualified people, but the turnover caused instability. I think that because of that instability, mixed messages got sent and that is where the communication broke down. People were wondering why. They may not have known this was happening. I think it was due to the instability in the business office, which was just a very unfortunate situation, which they are trying very, very hard to rectify.

Corrective Action Plans

LK: At the meeting, I was asked if there were any corrective action plans. We are for participation in PARCC and also for curriculum with QSAC (The Quality Single Accountability Continuum), which is the Department of Education’s monitoring and evaluation system for public school districts.

I was also asked if there were corrective action plans for financial. At that point, Bill (Gerson) took over. He said there were four recommendations for corrective actions in our audit. They are all being rectified. They were discussed and being addressed. Those actions came about due to the instability of the business office.

*The Corrective Action Plan was previously provided by Mr. Gerson and reported on here. Below is a copy of the Corrective Action Plan:

Corrective Action Plan

No Fraud or Unethical Activity

William Gerson (finance manager and board secretary) was also asked during the meeting if there was any fraud of any unethical behavior and Mr. Gerson responded that there was not.

What’s next?

LK: We have two meetings scheduled in April: a work session on April 4 and an action meeting on April 11. The Board and I have not talked since Monday’s meeting, but I am going to assume that we are going to discuss the plans of how to come to that $443,552 cuts at those meetings.

What if the public has any questions?

LK: If the parents want to ask any questions, I encourage them to send me an email: lkoller@mtephraimschools.com.

On Tuesday, Principal Michael Hunter received an email from a parent saying her child had heard things that were so off the mark, but it gave him the opportunity to answer her with facts. I would encourage any parents who have any questions or whose kids come home with anything that they said they heard, I ask them to please contact me to get the facts. I would much rather be contacted than to see it on social media.

Right now, the children can’t be coming home with any facts because there has been absolutely nothing decided.

Final Remarks:

LK: The Board cares about the kids. There are ten different ways to solve every problem. Each one of the nine members of the Board has a different opinion of how they think that a problem should be solved and they vote their consciences, but always with the kids in mind. That is how they will solve this upcoming problem: by working as a group in the best interest of the kids, the teachers, and the programs that we put in place and not wanting to lose any of those. These are really, really hard decisions and the public shouldn’t take the responsibility that is on these Board members lightly. It is very, difficult for them.