After a year of community events, happenings in the schools and new developments, Cherry Hill is preparing to say so long to 2012.
This year was a time of transformation in the township.
Talks surrounding the Regis Academy Charter School spanned for the first half of the year, as did the proposed Wawa on Haddonfield Road.
Mayor Chuck Cahn, who took office at the start of the year, began his Mayor’s Wellness Campaign in April, and it is still going strong.
Merger conversations with Merchantville went on hiatus in September, after Cahn said he would not commit taxpayer dollars toward a study.
Plus, through the year, there were a plethora of town events encompassing every age group.
Now, as the township prepares to enter 2013, let’s take a few minutes to look back on a packed year.
New leadership brought in the New Year. As January began, Cahn was sworn in as mayor, replacing longtime mayor Bernie Platt.
Cahn, who pledged to be a full-time mayor and take no salary in office, had much on his agenda in 2012, and in January, he outlined his goals, including addressing business needs, taking a hard look at the municipal budget and becoming more sustainable as a township.
“I’m willing to make tough decisions and I have to be creative,” Cahn said. “I’m looking for smart ways to improve services while keeping an eye on the bottom line.”
Later in the month, in his first address as mayor, Cahn delved deeper into his plans for the budget.
“We will evaluate every program and every line item in the budget, just like you do at home and in your business, so that we cut costs and deliver the best services to everyone — from our young, hard-working families, to our senior citizens,” he said. “We will pay attention to the details and focus our energies on changing the status quo.”
Cahn also expressed his opposition to a charter school, Pastor Amir Khan’s Regis Academy Charter School, which at the time was set to be coming into the township.
“My opposition is two-fold. We don’t need a charter school to serve Cherry Hill, and I’m very concerned about the cost to Cherry Hill’s taxpayers,” Cahn said.
Two familiar faces on council returned for 2012, N. John Amato and Vice President Sara Lipsett, while Melinda Kane began her first term.
Cahn named two new members of his senior administration at his first town hall appearance.
Lenore Rosner was named business administrator, and Robert Wright was named solicitor.
The Merchantville-Cherry Hill Consolidation Commission regrouped in January in hopes to merge the two communities.
“This will only work if we get a lot of tough questions and if we get the right information and right judgments,” Chairman Roger Dennis said. “Ultimately, culturally does this work? Will we be a better community?”
Also in January, Gov. Christie signed legislation that would allow school boards to move their elections to November. The Cherry Hill School District took the idea seriously from the start.
“By moving the election to November, it increases participation and engagement on issues critical to our school and voting is significantly higher in November. A con is there is a likelihood for politicization,” Board of Education President Seth Klukoff said in a Jan. 24 meeting.
Residents were filled with angst at the proposal of a 24-hour Wawa to be built on Haddonfield Road. In February, more than 50 residents piled into town hall to address the township’s planning board.
“If I were buying a home, I certainly wouldn’t want to buy one 100 feet away from a 24-hour Wawa,” said resident Edward Madden.
Once all testimony and comments were heard, the board voted to table the decision until March.
Also in February, the school board unanimously voted to move its elections to November, which saved the district thousands of dollars in election costs.
Meanwhile, Cherry Hill residents and officials continued to voice opposition toward the Regis Academy Charter School.
“In Cherry Hill, as in many suburban school districts, funding for public education comes primarily from local property taxes. Yet our local taxpayers have had no say in whether a charter school can open in our district,” Cherry Hill Schools Superintendent Dr. Maureen Reusche said. “The decision to approve the Regis application rested entirely with the acting commissioner of education.”
On the township level, Cahn laid the groundwork for a citizen’s cabinet to be conceived. The cabinet was to be comprised of volunteers to discuss issues facing residents.
“This forum will provide an opportunity for meaningful discussion, incorporating the collective knowledge of our neighbors to work with the administration as we identify, develop and implement plans to move Cherry Hill forward,” Cahn said.
Rounding out the month, Cherry Hill Schools received the news that there would be a boost in state aid.
Gov. Christie announced school aid would increase $135 million 2011’s appropriations, totaling $7.8 billion for schools across the state.
Still, the district was still looking at numbers lower than the 2008–2009 school year, according to spokeswoman Susan Bastnagel at the time.
“Our funding is still lower than five years ago, but we do feel fortunate,” she said.
Merchantville merger talks continued into March, but it was reported that neither township was willing to foot the cost of a study.
While the merger remained stagnant, Wawa received a boost when the planning board unanimously approved a site variance for the proposed Haddonfield Road location.
Members of the board expressed sympathy to neighbors of the site, but said they had to vote “yes” since the applicant met all requirements with the township.
Next, town council had to make its decision.
On March 20, Shelley Adler, a former Cherry Hill councilwoman, announced that she would campaign against Republican Rep. Jon Runyan for her late husband’s former 3rd Congressional District seat in the United States House of Representatives.
“In the end, this campaign is not for me. And it’s not for John. It’s for you, the people of New Jersey who deserve better in Congress, and better from their government,” she said.
Runyan defeated Adler in November’s election.
As April came into view, so did a new township website design with plenty of fresh features.
“This new website will serve as our online town hall, providing access to my administration and our township government at any time,” Cahn said. “We designed the site with a focus on providing our residents, visitors and businesses the ability to easily and quickly find the information and answers they are looking for.”
Cherry Hill has remained active on the web, with consistent tweets from @CherryHillTwp and a Facebook page to relay pertinent information to residents.
Cahn hit his 100th day in office in April and said he was ready to look for more cost-saving measures for Cherry Hill.
“That budgetary review, a long and in-depth process, is well underway and has already sparked initial changes,” Cahn said. “In the coming months, we will continue to develop ways that Cherry Hill can change government and identify potential savings.”
The mayor launched his wellness campaign at the Art Blooms Earth Day Festival, which was back in its third year.
“Launching the Mayor’s Wellness Campaign at this year’s Earth Festival combines a great township event for the community with an exciting new initiative to engage our residents and promote a healthy lifestyle,” Cahn said. “Promoting healthy, safety and wellness will help our families, our businesses and our community better and enjoy all our community has to offer.”
On April 24, the citizen’s cabinet, comprised of 30 residents, met for the first time.
Many of the members, it was reported, spoke out at many town meetings in the past, including the Wawa proposal and the charter school proceedings.
“I was born and raised in Cherry Hill. I raised my family in Cherry Hill,” resident and cabinet member Marsha Wachman said. “I want to see it be the community like I saw growing up.”
Also in April, Cherry Hill Schools were in the limelight after parent Stu Chaifetz posted a video on YouTube that went viral titled, “Teacher/Bully: How My Son Was Humiliated and Tormented by His Teacher and Aide.”
Chaifetz detailed a day in the life of Akian, his son, in his five-student, self-contained autism classroom at Horace Mann Elementary School.
He had placed a wire on his son on Feb. 17. The audio he heard changed his life, he said.
“What I heard on that audio was so disgusting, vile, and just an absolute disrespect and bullying of my son,” Chaifetz said.
Bastnagel said the school acted in February and that it was a personnel matter.
At the April 24 school board meeting, Reusche said, “Although this is a personnel matter and there are specifics that I cannot legally address publicly, I want to assure our parents that the individuals who are heard on the recording raising their voices and inappropriately addressing children no longer work in the district and have not since shortly after we received the copy of the recording.”
In May, some Cherry Hill students received a special lesson.
Neil Burti, the principal of the 60-student Cherry Hill School District Alternative High School heard about Mount Peace Cemetery in Lawnside’s deteriorating condition and decided to take action.
Nearly 80 African American Civil War veterans are buried at Mount Peace, it was reported.
Burti, staff and students took to the cemetery, braving rain, to take away bags and bags of trash and debris.
“Students are more interested in history here. It’s more tangible than textbook learning,” Burti said. “This opportunity allows us to show our students the connection between our character development and cultural competence initiatives and the common core standards for social studies.”
Also in May, the third annual Jeremy Kane 5K Benefit Run was held at Cherry Hill High School East.
The Sun reported that more than 300 community members participated in the 3.1-mile run in honor of Kane, who was killed by a suicide bomb attack while on patrol in the Helmand Province in Afghanistan in January 2010.
Jeremy was the son of councilwoman Melinda Kane.
The money raised from the run, which was expected to be more than $50,000, was put into the Jeremy Kane Scholarship Fund.
“Jeremy never received any assistance toward his college education. Despite training every summer and one weekend a month, that did not make him eligible for benefits,” Kane said. “Had he not been killed in combat and if he returned to Rutgers, he would have only been eligible for 50 percent of the GI Bill benefits since he was a reservist.”
As the school year wound down for local students, the state Department of Education released its annual report cards for the 2010–11 school year.
In all, the district faired quite well.
“Our board of education, administrators, teachers, and support staff remain committed to providing each student a preeminent education, one that includes academic challenges, character building, social growth, promotion of civic responsibilities, and the development of a foundation for lifelong learning,” Reusche said.
On June 18, almost 900 students moved on from Cherry Hill, graduating at Temple University’s Liacouras Center.
Camden Catholic High School had a point of pride in June.
Graduate Michelle Vittese was selected as one of 16 field hockey players to represent Team USA at the London Summer Olympics.
“Representing our country, I’m so proud and honored. It’s exciting to share it with best friends and people who have been supportive up to this point,” Vittese said.
A couple months before the Olympics, Vittese reported that she was busy practicing and conditioning six days a week.
“To have the Olympic experience…I’ve never experienced anything like it,” she said.
In more June sports news, the Oakland Athletics selected Cherry Hill West graduate Vince Voiro in the 15th round of Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft — 469th overall.
“It’s really exciting. My goal was to continue playing baseball, and now I’m able to realize that dream is coming true,” Voiro said.