Ridgefield Park School Board Tackles Facility Upgrades, Busing Changes, and Controversial Hiring

In a recent Ridgefield Park School Board of Education meeting, chaired by President Dr. Ricardo Martinez, the board tackled a range of issues, from the ambitious timeline for grant-funded construction projects to the loss of a busing contract with Little Ferry. The gathering, however, was not without its share of controversy, particularly surrounding the unexpected withdrawal of a finalized candidate for the position of a business administrator.

Trustee Brian Cooney’s report was one of the more eye-opening segments of the evening. He laid out the pressing facility needs of the district, which includes the imperative replacement of asbestos flooring and necessary HVAC mechanical upgrades. Alongside these concerns, the ongoing construction endeavors such as the Lincoln School heater unit and high school science room projects were addressed. There’s a palpable pressure to ensure the completion of these projects by the school’s opening day, a timeline deemed as ambitious.

Funding these essential renovations is a top priority for the district. The state monitor, Mr. Egan, reported an encouraging financial picture for the district with over $4.3 million in capital reserve and an added $1.5 million in the maintenance reserve. With such funding, prospects like revamping the high school’s fieldhouse have become possible.

The loss of the district’s busing contract with Little Ferry presented challenges of its own. In response, the district has launched initiatives to recuperate revenue by taking on more routes and has planned a comprehensive busing audit this fall. Trustee Bernard Gomes underscored the significance of bus safety and the need to plan ahead for an aging fleet. In a bid to maintain good ties with Little Ferry, speakers gave a brief historical overview of the busing program, ensuring that no bad blood exists between the districts.

The most contentious point of the evening was the abrupt decline by a candidate for the business administrator position, which followed a board meeting in July. Rumblings suggested that some district administrators might have discouraged the candidate from taking up the role. To address the rising concerns, Mr. Egan, in a bid for transparency and fairness, has hired an independent attorney to probe into these allegations. Egan accentuated the need to present a unified front, steering clear of internal discord.

During the public comment period, the “alarmingly low” eighth-grade math scores were a focal point of concern. One attendee, deeply troubled by these figures, expressed fears about the future prospects of these students in advanced courses, like algebra. This person also noted a conspicuous absence of parent engagement in the board meetings, suggesting the introduction of an email blast system to inform parents about upcoming meetings and boost transparency.

In conclusion, Dr. Martinez stressed the board’s commitment to addressing the questions and worries raised during the meeting. He encouraged attendees to reach out via email for any clarifications, and called for increased community participation in the decision-making process, emphasizing the crucial role of public involvement in shaping educational outcomes.

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