Fort Lee School Board Faces Heat Over Unresolved Air Conditioning Issues

In a recent Fort Lee School Board meeting, tempers flared over unresolved air conditioning issues at the high school, with residents frustrated over longstanding delays. The session also covered matters such as delays in the preschool program, a looming deadline for $1.5 million in extra funding, and declining QSAC (Quality Single Accountability Continuum) scores for the district. All of this took place against the backdrop of the first day back for school staff and plans for the upcoming academic year.

Margarita Vigodner, a community member, was particularly vocal about the air conditioning situation, claiming she had been raising the issue for 15 years. “I honestly could not understand how they can study there,” she lamented, questioning why the HVAC projects were still incomplete despite previous assurances. The Board responded, outlining investments of approximately five to six million dollars on district-wide air conditioning and promising that missing AC units in the high school would be installed within the next 48 hours. However, they avoided giving a definitive timeline for full project completion.

As the Board noted, technical challenges like supply chain issues have hampered efforts. “Yes, there is a shortage of parts, there’s a shortage of electrical panels that PSEG is aware of, and everyone else,” said a Board member, emphasizing that ongoing efforts are underway. The Board also discussed ongoing HVAC projects.

The Superintendent, Robert Kravitz, provided a general update on the first day back for staff and various academic achievements by students. However, he also reported a delay of “two to three weeks” for the preschool program at 308 Tom Hunter Row due to “unspecified issues,” something parents of young children are keen to understand. On the financial front, there was a clarification that the district has until September 24th to utilize an extra $1.5 million in funding.

Questions over the high school gym’s accessibility and fiscal responsibility for students attending specialized schools like Bergen academies and Bergen Tech were also discussed. Notably, School Number 3 now qualifies for Title One funds, a significant financial marker that will require policy adjustments according to state guidelines.

Additionally, some community members, including Michelle Perez and Amy Coltanka, brought up concerns about district performance metrics. The district’s QSAC score of 82 in the ‘Construction’ domain, which is dangerously close to the passing score of 80, alarmed Michelle Perez. Amy Coltanka pointed to a troubling trend of declining QSAC scores, dropping from 89 to 82 in recent years. “What are the drivers? If it’s declining, the trend isn’t promising,” she noted. The Board attributed the decline partly to changes in testing methods and the impact on health and physical education scores.

Other procedural and policy matters discussed included attendance policies, doctor’s notes for extended absences, and athletic requirements. A new cheerleading advisor was approved for the high school, effective from September 6, 2023.

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