Clifton School District is Audited - and it's Good News

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Photo credit: Clifton Public Schools

Just the facts, Ma’am

If you don’t have time to read through all the details of the meeting, here’s a super short recap of all the most important bits.

Clifton students are kicking butt and taking names in athletics, academics, and the arts!

March is full of opportunities for the community to see and hear what our students can do – Clifton High School (CHS) will host the spring musical, Beauty and the Beast, followed by the All City Band Concert and the All City Orchestra Concert.

The PBSIS February booster at CHS was a huge success!

Following the expiration of the governor’s in-school mask mandate on March 7, Clifton schools will move to a "masks optional" policy for everyone on school property or in our buildings and buses.

The superintendent gave an update on the referendum. Things are about to get busy, starting with projects at CHS and followed by several of our elementary schools.

Our district was audited, as it is every year, and the auditor found no evidence of fraud, theft, or illegal activity. He said that our district is being run very well.

CASA (Clifton Against Substance Abuse) will be hosting a virtual event for Black Balloon Day on March 6, a day meant to bring awareness to the tragedy of drug addiction and overdose.

Project Graduation will be held at the American Dream Mall this year and, as always, the district will pay for a large chunk of the bill in order to make the event affordable for the most students.

Residency checks have uncovered enough non-resident students to result in over a million dollars that our district saved this year alone. 

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The Board of Education met for a regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday, March 3, 2022 at 7:00 pm in the Board of Education building at 745 Clifton Avenue. This was the first meeting in the newly renovated room, updated and enlarged to accommodate more of the public.

All commissioners were in attendance.

The Board recognized February and March’s Students of the Month from Clifton High School: Freshmen Weyam Yousef and Oskar Klecha, Sophomores Lylah Flores and Gianna Delgado, Juniors Abigail Motyl and Jelyna Reyes, and Seniors Rohan Desai and Lukas Kulesa.

Student Report

Andrew Sieradzki, our senior student representative, had some comments for the community. He spoke about Black Balloon Day, which falls this year on March 6 and honors the memories of those lost to drug overdose. Beauty and the Beast, this year’s CHS spring musical, will debut on Friday, March 11 at 7 pm with additional showings on Saturday, March 12 at 7 pm and on Sunday, March 13 at 1 pm. Don’t miss this outstanding show, featuring the amazing talents of our own Clifton High School and a live pit orchestra. Andrew also reported on the impressive wins from our various winter athletic teams and the academic decathlon team. The Student Council badminton tournament is planned for a new date once the weather warms so stay tuned for that announcement. The high school is also gearing up for a whole month of March Mustang pride with special events and themes and both junior and senior proms return this year for the high school. Upcoming special events at the high school include the All City Band Concert, featuring the most talented musicians from all of the district’s schools. This concert will be on Wednesday, March 16. The following week, on March 23, come out to see the All City Orchestra Concert. Both events will take place in the CHS auditorium.

PBSIS Presentation

Paula Raygoza, district PBSIS Coordinator, shared a presentation which highlighted the PBSIS work being done at Clifton High School. More than 46,000 Mustang points were awarded during a “wear your ID” week-long incentive, which was a targeted booster meant to reduce infractions related to this safety measure. These points represent over 46,000 positive interactions between staff and students and many more students properly wearing their school ID. Students can trade these Mustang points for different rewards and prizes.

Clifton began introducing and implementing the Positive Behavior Support In Schools system of intervention several years ago. You can learn more about this statewide initiative here: https://www.clifton.k12.nj.us/site/default.aspx?PageType=3&DomainID=4&ModuleInstanceID=281&ViewID=6446EE88-D30C-497E-9316-3F8874B3E108&RenderLoc=0&FlexDataID=355&PageID=1.

Dr. Robertozzi’s Report

Starting on Monday, March 7 masks will be optional for students, staff, and visitors in all buildings and buses. He reminded everyone that harassment and ridicule of anyone, based on their choice, will not be tolerated. The superintendent echoed Andrew’s congratulations for the Academic Decathlon team, which has qualified for the Nationals for the third year in a row. He also mentioned three Clifton track and field athletes who will be competing in the Meet of Champions, which features the best of the best in New Jersey. Dr. Robertozzi also invited the community to the All City Band and Orchestra concerts, also mentioned by Andrew.

“I had tried out for the part of the beast, but they told me I was too beastly,” he joked when speaking of the upcoming musical at CHS.

The superintendent gave a shout-out to basketball star Kyle Vellis, who scored his 1,000th point in the final game of the season. This varsity athlete, who also plays football and baseball, has an impressive GPA of over 98. He is an accomplished athlete and an excellent student.

Dr. Robertozzi commented on a couple of outstanding teachers at School 5 who acknowledged the 101st day of school in such a fun way and created programming for Women’s History Month. He noted that history is often taught from a very male-centric point of view and that it’s important for everyone to be able to see role models who look like them as they learn about important contributions and historical events.

Referendum Update: We are very close to going to bid for our first project, which will be focused on Clifton High School. Some areas there were found to have asbestos tiles and will require mitigation before work can begin. The next bid package will be for schools 3, 4, 11, and 16. This work should be starting by summer. All work cannot be completed during the summer months but plans are in place to ensure that construction does not interfere with the normal operation of school. Many of the union workers on this project are Clifton residents, which is a great thing for our community.

Report from Auditor

Paul Lerch, auditor, participated remotely to present his findings for the 2020-21 school year. Due to our large district and budget, Clifton is subject to both state and federal audits annually. There were no significant deficiencies uncovered. Grants, extraordinary aid, school lunch plan, federal relief funds, and special education money are all investigated and looked good with one exception regarding extraordinary aid.

Mr. Lerch reported on our finances in some detail; if you’d like to listen to the full report, you can watch the meeting here. His report starts an hour in.

Mr. Lerch found no evidence of fraud or illegal acts but there are three comments and a corrective action plan for some smaller issues. One such issue was related to the total number of hours presented on a grant application for reimbursement under extraordinary aid, which was based on estimates rather than on exact hours worked. Clifton actually underclaimed, causing a mismatch between records and what was claimed. “The district is run very well,” he concluded.

Public Recognition

Mark Brunciak questioned the amount of money budgeted for Project Graduation, how this is different from previous years, and asked what happens to any surplus funds. He voiced his frustration and concern about mask mandates and remote learning, as he has previously, despite the mask mandate coming from the governor (and ending on Monday) and our schools being fully in person since our September opening.

Robbin Gulino, from North Haledon, is the coordinator for CASA (Clifton Against Substance Abuse). She gave some history about Black Balloon Day and asked that people post a picture of a black balloon rather than releasing real balloons. Ms. Gulino reminded everyone that simply posting a picture will not address the issue of substance abuse and overdose, however. CASA’s goals are to remove stigma for those struggling with substance abuse, provide resources for those struggling, and to expand outreach that stresses prevention as the best cure.

Adoption of Minutes

Passed without discussion.

Personnel

All issues were passed without discussion and congratulations were offered to Ryan Mooney, who was appointed as the new Supervisor of Custodians.

Project Graduation

Commissioner Abedrabbo asked about the budget for this trip and what accounted for the cost. Dr. Robertozzi said that the students will be contributing a small amount, between $25-$50 and that this year’s event will be held at the American Dream Mall, including access to the water park, the Nickelodeon theme park, the ice-skating rink, the Tilt museum, black light mini golf, and the mirror maze for a total cost of $150 per student, most of which will be covered by the Board of Education. No senior will be turned away due to financial need. Members of the community can donate money if they would like to sponsor a student in need. Mr. Hamdeh, principal at CHS, will have more information about how best to do that. Seniors also have many opportunities to fundraise to help offset the costs of this trip and prom, too.

Dr. Robertozzi would like a combination of district staff and community volunteers to staff this special event. The mall requires one adult for every 15 students.

Committee Reports

Residency and Security – Commissioner Paris reported on weekly security drills conducted across the district. PreK and kindergarten registration is now open; you can register online. Efforts continue to uncover students who do not live in Clifton but are attending our schools or receiving money to attend charters and since January, 31 such students have been located for an anticipated annual savings to the district of $419,180. Commissioner Awwad added that, adding this to last year’s savings, these investigations have saved our district over a million dollars in just this past year alone.

Unfinished Business

President Smith appointed Commissioner Judy Bassford to be our school board state representative, with Comm. Alan Paris as the alternate and Comm. Paris will be our county chair with Comm. Awwad as the alternate.

Commissioner Comments

Dana Beltran is excited about the move to American Dream Mall for Project Graduation and thinks it’s a great send-off to this senior class, who spent half of their high school time in a pandemic.

Judy Bassford mentioned Read Across America and shared a happy memory about a friend who has passed. She mentioned a virtual event for Black Balloon Day, hosted by CASA.

Joe Canova congratulated all the students whose accomplishments were mentioned tonight. He also talked about the PBSIS program and how positive it is to gamify the changes we want to see in students. He’s happy to see things getting back to normal with many exciting things happening across the district.

Lucy Danny congratulated the Students of the Month and mentioned a bill regarding having a student representative on the Board of Education, which Clifton already has. There is also one regarding hiring retired teachers. Dr. Danny also mentioned that it’s Women’s History Month and noted that March 21 is Human Rights Day. She offered prayers for peace for people around the world. The Ukrainian Church is collecting for Ukraine and baby products are greatly needed.

Alan Paris also offered congratulations to the students and talked about how excited and engaged the students were when he read to a few classes for Read Across America Day.

Fahim Abedrabbo acknowledged Women’s History Month and the importance of understanding where women’s rights came from and the long road still to travel. He offered congratulations to Kyle Vellis and to the various teams who are representing Clifton so well. He suggested a citywide event for celebrating academic and athletic accomplishments.

Feras Awwad congratulated all the students who were honored for their accomplishments. He talked about suffering around the world, particularly Ukraine.

Jim Daley commented on American Dream Mall, which impressed him greatly and said that he is happy that it will be the location for Project Graduation. He reminded everyone about the importance of allowing each person to address the lifting of the mask mandate in the way that feels most comfortable to them without harassment.

Jim Smith noted that many of our staff are Ukrainian and that they have done nothing to deserve the attacks they are enduring. “I firmly stand with…who have family members back there.” He also acknowledged that the Russian people are not responsible for the violence. He echoed the positive remarks about Project Graduation and suggested that everyone should support this great opportunity for our students. He also talked about the renovation to the board room, which is now updated and larger, to accommodate greater numbers of the public.

New business

Ms. Bassford suggested a sort of meet-and-greet where students can meet with board members in a casual setting to bridge the gap between the BOE and the high school students. Mr. Smith said that something like that is in discussion.

There will be a preliminary budget meeting on Thursday, March 24th at 7:00 pm.

The next regular Board of Education meeting will be held on Thursday, April 7th, at 7:00 pm.

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