A year for the books in Mantua Township

Toast an end to 2018 by looking back on some of people and events that made headlines in the year

By KRYSTAL NURSE

The Sun

The Mantua Sun launched on Jan. 15, and since then, a collection of stories highlighting notable residents, events and daily occurrences has arrived weekly in residents’ mailboxes. As 2019 nears and the world gets ready to ring in the new year, we look back on the biggest stories from the township.

Mayor Peter Scirrotto celebrates 27 years in public service, continues legacy

Peter Scirrotto was encouraged 27 years ago following his son’s Little League game by then-mayor Bill Goode to join the local government board and earn a seat on the committee. He’s served 17 years on the township committee, on various boards; three years as deputy mayor from 2008 to 2011; and was appointed in 2012 as mayor after former mayor Tim Chell announced he wouldn’t seek re-election to the committee.

“My role as mayor, with the help of our council, is to do everything humanly possible to keep us safe and sound every day. I love our town,” Scirrotto said. “Everything starts right here (township government), so it is paramount to have good people who have to step up and govern every day.”

The township was ranked the 38th safest municipality in the state by SafeWise in September.

Additionally, he mentioned roads, infrastructure and littering are the focal points of his legacy and what he wants to tackle in Mantua Township. He hopes to turn Main Street into a true Main Street, much like several neighboring towns, where shops, events and other miscellaneous activities take place.

For littering, he said the township utilizes community service to pick up litter throughout the township, but “as fast as we pick up, more gets thrown out.” Throughout the year, he pushed for keeping the streets and parks clean in multiple committee meetings through public works and the police department.

Township partners with two other municipalities for Rowan University’s Motus project

The township this year partnered with neighboring Harrison Township and the Borough of Glassboro for the Rowan Motus, Latin for “movement,” project taking place where the three municipalities meet on Route 322. It’s expected to be open by March 2021 and to be the new home of several Rowan athletic teams with eight baseball diamonds, 15 artificial turf multi-purpose fields, a 120,000 square-foot indoor sports hall and an outdoor track. Also included is a 5,000-seat multipurpose arena, 60,000 square-feet for retail (food) purposes, a 340-room hotel and more. Most of the operations will be located in Mantua Township.

The partnership allows for development on the land and access to the economic benefits of the facilities, which could include sports bars and pubs, commercial property and retail space, if it falls within their jurisdiction. Additionally, they will have use of the multi-purpose building, technology park and athletic fields, if not already in use by Rowan and available to rent out.

Eventually, a bypass for Route 322 will be created to alleviate traffic congestion.

Township agrees to patrol Wenonah after mayor’s proposal

In the winter, the committee was approached by Wenonah Mayor John Dominy with a proposal to help the borough alleviate its tax burden by disbanding its police force, and requesting for Mantua to patrol it. The police force cost the borough approximately $1 million, annually.

“Our average property taxes in Wenonah are among the highest in South Jersey,” wrote Dominy on Wenonah’s website. “Over the years of my public service to this Borough, I have learned that we, the taxpayers of New Jersey, are our own worst enemy.”

An ordinance passed, unanimously, by the council in the April 12 meeting to disband the police department and adopt a proposal by Mantua to be charged $550,000 for the policing with “predictable annual increases.” Shortly thereafter, signs were displayed around the borough in support of the police. Residents attended the April 26 council meeting to voice their opinions during the ordinance’s public hearing.

In May, following a Superior Court lawsuit filed by the PBA Local 122 (representing five Wenonah police officers) against Mantua Township, Judge Benjamin Telsey ruled the agreement was compliant with state law after revisions were made. Additionally, the police department would be required to hire officers with full seniority and employment status, if they showed up on June 1. William Schnarr was the only officer who showed up and was sworn in at the June 4 township meeting.

Wenonah was to pay $300,000 for 2018, and services will increase to $550,000 the following year. Slight increases are expected for the duration of the 10-year agreement.

Voters re-elect Zimmerman, Layton on township committee, school boards see changes

Committeemen Shawn Layton and Robert “Bob” Zimmerman were re-elected to the township committee as they ran uncontested for the two open seats. Layton earned 4,931 votes and Zimmerman earned 4,949. The two will each serve one, three-year term. Layton has served on the committee since 2017 after a 12-year career as a firefighter in the township. Zimmerman has served since 2008 on the committee after a five-year stint on the school board and 26 years in the Pitman Police Department.

In the Mantua Township School District, voters elected Emily Pedersen, Michael Magilton and Stephen Reiners to fill three open seats. Pedersen earned 4,125 votes, Magilton 3,491 and Reiners 3,452.

In the Clearview Regional School District for Mantua Township, voters elected Lisa Nole to serve a full, three-year term with 1,688 votes. She ran against Amy Gregg (1,635) and Karen Vick (1,119) for the open seat in the township.

Mantua Police strike gold with new K-9

In September, the Mantua Township Police’s K-9 unit was the proud recipient of Boomer, a Golden Labrador Retriever, to sniff out explosive materials and locate missing persons. The unit, Patrolman Kyle Riepen said, is 100 percent self-sufficient and relies on fundraising efforts of the officers and donations. At the moment, Riepen and Patrolman Cody Mroz both have dogs. Boomer will be handled by Patrolman Bill Donovan.

“From day one when we receive a dog until the last day it takes its last breath, we pay for the dog,” said Riepen.

Boomer has been a big hit at several police-sponsored events since his introduction to the department.

“When we go somewhere, such as a supermarket or a school, kids don’t necessarily remember me, but they’re like ‘you’re the guy that has Kade or Bane,’” said Riepen. “Amongst everything else they do, they’re a big public relations tool because they link the department with the community.”

Boomer learned 25 odors from 2,500 yards and can track guns fired three weeks prior. He’s expected to graduate on Jan. 11. He will be used around town and in the schools upon successful completion of his training.

“If we could have a dog on every shift, we could, but it comes as the result of successful fundraising campaigns,” said Riepen. “I’d like Donovan to do a tremendous job with the explosive dog and be able to get another single-purpose dog to put in the schools.”

Mantua School District completes program overhaul, recognized for character education

The Mantua Board of Education transitioned its elementary schools into grade-level settings (Sewell School has preschool through kindergarten, Centre City has first through third grade and J. Mason Tomlin has fourth through sixth) thanks to the help of a transition team consisting of parents, board members and teachers.

“Our goal of assembling and mobilizing the district’s transition team is to involve the entire community in this transition so all stakeholders were involved and voices were heard,” said Superintendent Robert Fisicaro.

The transition was made to provide students with the opportunity to build better friendships at an early age, which would ideally carry through to Clearview Regional. Teachers benefit from the change as they’re able to work toward the same curriculum goal in the same building.

The district worked to prepare Sewell School for a free full-day preschool program, after offering a half-day program that cost parents $3,000 a year.

“There were two ways of entering our pre-k program, one, if you’re classified as special education with any speech delays or a disability, you can come to our half-day program for free; if not, two, you come at a tuition, about $3,000 a year, then we have a pre-k child care program called pre-k extended day, and it was also tuition-based,” Fisicaro said.

The state Department of Education awarded the district a $1.6 million grant for the program, which covers tuition and other necessary costs associated with the program.The board of education says the first of many phases have been completed to accept the young students.

The Mantua School District was awarded the 2018 National District of Character, the highest honor from www.Character.org given to only three other districts in the country, for its importance in students’ development, leadership and engagement in their families and local community for the 2017–2018 school year.

“We are proud of our program which balances the pursuit of achievements with the importance of positive relationships, while influencing students to confidently impact others and become the best version of themselves,” said Fisicaro. “This national honor is a testament to the entire Mantua Township community and one that we will seek to build on while providing an education focused on the most important part of our mission.”

Suzette Gorman, Lauren D’Alessandro and Amy Landis awarded Teachers of the Year

Suzette Gorman of J. Mason Tomlin, who teaches fifth grade, began in the district as a long-term substitute before landing a spot as a permanent fourth-grade teacher.

“I would have to say that my favorite things to teach to my students are projects that relate to the real world,” said Gorman. “Having them use math in projects that relate to something not in a textbook opens a new world for them.”

She later recalled a lesson in which she challenges her students to use $1 million to purchase and furnish a home. The students were taught how to subtract decimals and understand how it relates to balancing a checkbook.

“Knowing that I have the opportunity to shape the lives of my students each and every day, being able to see the students understand something they never thought possible, or learning new things from each and every one of my students is so rewarding,” said Gorman.

Lauren D’Alessandro of Centre City, who’s been in the district for five years, utilizes her lessons to teach students how to “turn their mishaps into creations beyond their imaginations,” which directly relates to her path to teaching. She was previously working toward a nursing degree before changing her major.

“[It] was a beautiful mishap because it led me to change majors and embrace the arts, which I feel was a natural fit, and I later realized I should have just followed my passion for the arts from the get go,” said D’Alessandro.

Within her classroom, D’Alessandro exposes her students to learn how to create on several different media such as screen printing and mosaic journals.

“I want them to leave not being scared to try new things and be themselves,” said D’Alessandro. “Not being afraid of an idea that may be deemed outlandish by some, but to embrace their creativity and understand that it’s OK to mess up along the way. I try to celebrate mishaps and paper rips. Turn it into a new problem for the students to solve.”

Amy Landis of Sewell School, who teaches in the first-grade inclusion program (aimed for students with learning needs and abilities), “instills integrity in her students” and starts every day on a high note to encourage learning in her students by reviewing the calendar, morning message and singing songs on her classroom’s carpet.

“The major ways I would most want to influence my students’ lives would be to help them believe in themselves, to understand that failing is just the first attempt in learning,” said Landis. “They learn the most from their failures. Sometimes failures make us stronger. I try to use examples in my life to help them better understand this concept.”

She teaches her first graders how to read, write, learn the basics of math and more while also stressing the importance of character and relationship building.

“I want my students to be kind, and to always choose love in everything they do,” said Landis.

What makes her the happiest in her classroom is witnessing her students’ success.

“I love to sit and watch them read aloud and see how proud they are to achieve this goal,” she said. “The students start the year writing simple sentences and end the year writing their own stories.”

Two families help raise awareness and funds for relatives with rare disorders

Anthony Mirigliani, 14, has Pitt Hopkins Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder characterized by developmental delays, episodic hyperventilation and recurrent seizures among others.

His family has been raising funds for him and others for the past six years on their front lawn. Funds have come in the way of donations, T-shirt sales and on-site raffles.

“I started the first year on my lawn, and I rallied up the neighbors, and we had 200 people come out,” said Claudette, Anthony’s mom. “We put a donation box outside, got lemonade and we raised $2,888 just from people coming and sharing the awareness for Anthony.”

Anthony receives treatment at two Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia programs and takes prescribed medication to ease some of the characteristics.

It is unknown how much the family raised from the Sept. 20 event. During the event, they were presented a proclamation by the township committee officially recognizing Sept. 18 as Pitt Hopkins Awareness Day.

Klara Pedersen, 8, has recessive Central Core Disease, commonly called RYR1, ryanodine receptor 1. It affects all of her skeletal muscles. She gets around by use of a motorized wheelchair.

“We don’t have a rancher, we have a ramp to get her in and out of the house and a door opener,” said Emily, Klara’s mom. “She is able to get around independently. We are looking at getting a lift so she can get upstairs more independently.”

Emily created the “Dine out for Klara” event at Landmark Americana in Glassboro where money from corporate sponsors went to the RYR-1 Foundation, and funds that night went to RYR1 and Klara to “help improve her home to make it more independent for her.”

Klara receives treatment with therapeutic horseback rides and outpatient physical therapy directed by her neuromuscular specialist at CHOP and a pulmonologist.

Residents saw flat, decreased taxes from township and in-town school district

Mantua Township residents saw a flat tax rate this past year as the shared service agreement with Wenonah helped the committee keep taxes flat for the 2018 fiscal year. The original budget was delayed several weeks due to the agreement. The agreement generated roughly $350,000 for the township from the Wenonah borough.

“We had to wait for a couple of revenues to come to fruition in order for us to get to the zero,” Jennica Bileci, the township business administrator, said during the budget presentation at the June 18 committee meeting.

Collecting property taxes and dues on abandoned homes also played a part in the township seeing a flat tax rate for 2018. Some $150,000 was collected from abandoned homes, and the township’s tax delinquency decreased by $90,000.

In the Mantua Township School District, an increase in state aid and decrease from the debt service, according to Fisicaro, allowed for the district to decrease the school tax by an estimated $14 for taxpayers with an average assessed home value of $204,500. The state provided the district with a 1.6 percent increase in aid, which allowed for it to operate on a bigger budget.

In the Clearview Regional School District for Mantua, however, taxpayers were hit with a 1.53 cent increase ($31.50 annually) from 2017 for residents with an averaged assessed home value of $205,513, as the district is operating on a smaller budget ($367,126 decrease) with fewer students coming in. Mantua residents paid for 48.33 percent of the budget and Harrison Township, where the district is located, paid for 51.67 percent.

Clearview Regional was one of two districts, Harrison Township being the other, to receive zero increases in state aid in Gloucester County.

“It’s unfortunate, we are on the other side of the equation this year,” said Esther Pennel, business administrator, noting the district looks to keep taxes down whenever possible. Deferring or completing several construction projects helped the district cut costs.

Two major events help CRSD raise money for local families

More than 400 volunteers helped pack more than 2,000 hoagies for the Clearview Regional School District’s fourth annual “Hoagies 4 Hope” fundraiser on Feb. 4. The event raises money for district families facing difficult medical situations.

“Principal (Keith) Brook came to me a few years back and said we need to do this at Clearview,” said counselor and Hoagies 4 Hope lead Paul Sommers. “Since that time, we have seen the program just continue to grow with the full support of the students, faculty and the generosity of the community.”

Support from faculty and students — who are the backbone of the event — and sponsorships from more than 100 local businesses and the community help the district hold a successful event year after year. Student volunteers from the district and its sending districts came together at Clearview Regional High School on Super Bowl Sunday to pack hand-crafted hoagies of all varieties.

“We know how important this is to everyone involved,” said Brook in January. “There are more students than seats, so we actually have two sessions of students coming in to make the hoagies. It is truly amazing to see the Hoagies 4 Hope effort come together each year.”

After the initial date of Nov. 14 was snowed out, Clearview Regional High School hosted its annual Mr. Clearview event showcasing 12 male students’ talents and to raise money for a local family on Nov. 20. They collected around $7,000 for an unidentified family who experienced a financial hardship.

Brian Sheahan was crowned as Mr. Clearview after a night of laughs and applause from the audience on the men’s performances. He spoke after the show saying it was “an honor beyond any [he] could ever ask for.”

“To my fellow Mr. Clearview month men: I couldn’t have asked for a better crew to work with,” said Sheahan. “Honestly, I wish I could have talked to some of these guys more beforehand earlier on in my high school career, but I’m very happy I was able to share this incredible experience with them.”

Local veterans honored in events big and small

Petty Officers Tom and Michele Leonard of the Navy were honored during Gloucester County’s annual military medal ceremony on Sept. 15. The two remarked how nothing would have been made possible without the Navy.

The Leonards met each other during a deployment more than 30 years ago in Nea Marki, Greece, during the Iranian Hostage Crisis. Tom worked in the construction battalion (“Seabees”) and Michele worked in the communications station for the Seventh Fleet.

“We fell in love in the Aegean Sea — not many people could say that,” said Michele.

While deployed, they said being apart was difficult as they missed each other as they weren’t always in the same place at the same time.

“I cried every night,” said Michele. “You just have to get through it because you have no choice.”

Michele said the best part about the Navy was that she was able to find herself and meet people from places she and Tom could never imagine.

Sgt. William “Mick” MacMullin, 94, of the U.S. Army was honored with a proclamation from the township and a medal of military service from the county. His granddaughter, Kim Tillman, said prior to the ceremony, it was the first time MacMullin has been honored individually.

“This is the first and only one,” she said. “It’s a great way to bring our family together to celebrate a man we all admire and love.”

She added he received awards for the Army of Occupation medal with a Japan clasp, Korean service medal with two bronze service stars and the United Nations Service Medal.

Born on “Mischief Night” (Oct. 30), Tillman said her grandfather was a lover of practical jokes and always sought to make people laugh. She recalled a time when they were on a boardwalk near a haunted house and he acted as if he was going to toss her into the people in costume to get a scare out of her.

Of all, she said MacMullin was a family guy who cared for his family, especially his daughter Sandy, who has Down syndrome and who he’d take to the Mantua VFW from time to time.

“As a family we have fond memories of going camping with him to Lake and Shore campground,” said Tillman. “He enjoyed fishing and crabbing.”