In a recent Westwood School Board meeting, issues related to the district’s infrastructure and strained labor relations were addressed. The most critical concerns revolved around the continuing asbestos abatement and plumbing issues at Washington School. In addition, the board president, Michael Pontillo, addressed an ethics complaint filed against him by the Westwood Education Association (WEA), expressing disappointment with the stalled negotiation process. The board also discussed future budget planning, the achievements of the district’s students, and an upcoming superintendent search.
The meeting kicked off with a report on the district’s ongoing asbestos abatement and plumbing repairs at Washington School. Michael Pontillo lauded Superintendent Dr. Jill Mortimer for her handling of the situation, explaining that the abatement work had been completed, and plumbers were currently addressing a clog and cracks in the sanitary lines. However, the board president’s praise was contrasted by public concerns about the delay in addressing these issues and the potential health risks to students.
During the public forum, residents criticized the board for its perceived lack of communication and timeliness in resolving the Washington School’s maintenance issues. One resident raised concerns about the discovery of asbestos and subsequent emergency removal, questioning the delay and potential health risks. Further, there were inquiries about additional air testing, the need for make-up days, and the board’s response to parents’ complaints.
Another resident, Rachel Aldenberg, raised further questions about the plumbing and sewer issues at the school, citing ongoing problems with sewage-smelling water and the presence of sewer flies. Aldenberg, along with others, demanded a deep clean of the school and voiced concerns about children’s safety. Superintendent Dr. Jill Mortimer assured the public that testing for mold, asbestos, and gases was conducted and that the results would be shared once received. She also acknowledged the public’s frustration and apologized for the inconvenience caused by the short notice given for early dismissal due to the smell issue.
Apart from the infrastructure concerns, the meeting also addressed the impasse between the board and the WEA. Pontillo expressed disappointment with the union’s refusal to return to the negotiation table and criticized them for disseminating false claims about their proposals. He requested that the negotiation documents be made public on the district’s website, aiming for transparency. In contrast, the board celebrated a successful agreement with the Westwood Administration Association.
Superintendent Dr. Jill Mortimer faced questions about her role and relationship with the board and the district staff. She emphasized her commitment to maintaining a positive relationship with all stakeholders and not engaging in political campaigning. Further, she addressed a recent incident where students were dismissed early due to a threat, explaining that the decision was based on input from various professionals and authorities.
Board members also discussed various policy updates, including physical examinations and drug testing requirements for employees. There was some debate about the wording and intention of these changes, but it was clarified that these updates stemmed from the policy company, Strauss SM. A potential amendment to a policy related to the authority of the superintendent and the Board of Education sparked a debate, leading to a decision to seek a legal opinion before making any changes.
The meeting also covered reports from student representatives, financial updates, and the district’s ongoing activities. The student representatives highlighted the achievements and activities at the Westwood Regional Middle School and the high school, including the success of the girls’ soccer team, the implementation of monthly theme days, and positive morning affirmations. There were also updates on athletic events, including the football team’s victory over Rutherford High School and their upcoming state semi-finals match.
In terms of financial planning, the board discussed the budget for the 2024-25 school year, with department heads and principals expected to submit their budgets by December 19th. The Superintendent Search Committee announced that Kathleen Helal’s firm was selected to assist in the superintendent search process.