Hamilton may expand opioid education following election mandate
HAMILTON » Opioid education may become more common in the Hamilton Township School District.
That’s because the winners of last week’s school board election all support increasing student awareness on the dangers of heroin and prescription drug abuse.
As the nation continues to battle the deadly opioid epidemic, newly re-elected Hamilton school board member Susan Lombardo and board members-elect Albert “Al” Gayzik and Cameron J. Cardinale say they all support dedicating more classroom instruction toward opioid awareness.
“My focus for the next three years will continue to include bringing equity and diversity throughout the district, and increasing drug addiction and suicide awareness program/materials for the students and their families,” Lombardo said Sunday in a statement by email. “We need to work harder at educating the community and most importantly the youth of Hamilton on these very important issues.”
Gayzik, who previously served on the school board from early 2013 till the first week of 2016, echoed similar sentiments. “To ensure safe and healthy school environments,” he said Monday in an email, “I plan to press forward on school referendum objectives and increase opioid awareness and dangers as part of the curriculum.”
Cardinale in an email last Thursday talked about working with his colleagues on the school board to address the district’s spending priorities. “I also want to encourage my colleagues to join me in addressing the substance abuse problem that our schools face,” he said. “I am currently building connections with community outreach programs that focus on this issue.”
The nine-member Hamilton Township Board of Education oversees a large public school district that educates more than 11,000 students in grades pre-kindergarten through 12. The opioid crisis has impacted U.S. communities nationwide. From 2000 to 2015, more than half a million people across the country died from drug overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.
At the local level, accidental overdose deaths have sieged Mercer County, especially here in Hamilton, which has lost multiple young men and women over the years to the disease of addiction.
Hamilton’s new Superintendent of Schools Scott Rocco has already demonstrated a willingness and desire to promote drug-free schools.
The Mercer County Narcotics Task Force conducted a scheduled, random drug search at Steinert High School in June during the last week of the 2016-17 schoolyear.
No drugs were found in the search, but Rocco at the time described the action as being “a proactive approach between the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office and the school district,” adding, “We’re trying to provide and are making sure that we provide our students with a safe learning environment, safe and free of drugs.”
The district in the spring also conducted a random drug search at Nottingham High School, with no contraband being found. positive impact in our town.”
Lombardo, who received 6,472 votes as the top-votegetter in last week’s election, also said the school board must “address the overcrowding challenges in our district, and come up with a plan to alleviate them” and “must continue to work together on other important concerns such as curriculum, budget issues, and infrastructure improvements to our aging school district buildings.”
Gayzik, who received 4,182 votes last week as the secondhighest-vote-getter, said he hopes the school board can “work on improving grades pre-K to 3 in both class size and support” and that he plans to introduce or secondsupport a motion of “turning on the cameras again to increase transparency” of the school board’s open public meetings. “I am hopeful that as a cohesive unit the new board will continue to make improvements for all of our students.”
Entire Hamilton school board meetings used to be videotaped and broadcast in full for TV and online audiences, but the board last year began to restrict the recording policy. District officials said members of the public would sometimes showboat in front of the cameras during school board meetings.
Cardinale, who received 4,221 votes last week as the third-highest-vote-getter, also supports turning the cameras back on, among other measures.
“After being sworn in, I will push for the budget to be vigorously examined for waste, starting with the administrative cost per pupil,” Cardinale said in his statement. “When my colleagues and I find and fix the waste problem, we can then pursue the restoration of the aides’ jobs. The governorelect (Phil Murphy) promises to fully fund the schools. What we ask of our legislators is for Hamilton’s funding need to be fully reassessed.”
The current school board passed a 2017-18 school budget that eliminated dozens of lunchroom and playground aides, saving the district $740,000. In addition to seeking a return of those jobs, Cardinale vowed he will be fully engaged with the public.
“I promise to be out there in the schools and community as much as possible,” he said. “I want to build a connection with the students and staff of the district.”
Staff writer David Foster contributed to this report.
(From left) Susan Lombardo, Albert Gayzik and Cameron Cardinale won election to the Hamilton Township Board of Education on Nov. 7, 2017.