Superintendent defends dismissal of popular MHS staff member, telling tearful students it’s a budget matter

They were the sort of testimonials usually reserved for wakes, or the movies.

A stream of Morristown High School students–some choking back tears, others delivering eloquent prepared remarks–told the school board on Monday how Steve Woodruff  had taught them not just about radio engineering, but about life.

Sophomore Abby Semple speaks out for terminated faculty member. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Sophomore Abby Semple speaks out for a terminated faculty member. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

More than 250 students signed a petition supporting the audio-visual technician, whose position was eliminated this month after a decade of service. Parents chimed in, too.

But Superintendent Thomas Ficarra gently told them that the move will save the Morris School District $81,000 without sacrificing operations at the high school’s FM station, WJSV.

Citing an equipment problem that knocked the station off the air for three months last fall, he said repairs now will be provided swiftly for $90 an hour by a “highly professional company with highly sophisticated individuals… In the future, when equipment goes down, it will not be sitting there weeks or days.”

Steve Woodruff earned just under $95,000 in salary, overtime and benefits last year, said the Superintendent. Other personnel matters cannot be shared publicly, he said.

“I realize that I cannot replace your friend, or someone that you’re close to,” the Superintendent told students. “But we can replace the services.”

‘HE’S PRICELESS’

Student-engineers mentored by Steve–who did not attend Monday’s meeting– insisted he was not to blame for last fall’s outage.  They warned that once they graduate, the radio station may crumble without a full-time engineer.  Others voiced doubts about how to stage events–coffeehouses, plays, sports competitions–where Steve had been essential for setting up audio, cameras and lighting.

Superintendent Thomas Ficarra and board Vice President Peter Gallerstein listen to student. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Superintendent Thomas Ficarra, left, and board Vice President Peter Gallerstein listen to student. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“Mr. Woodruff always gave 100 percent to what he was doing and he was always accessible,” said senior Jake Goldberg, producer of the Colonial Corner Sports video roundup.

Relying on contractors may prove “more costly than you realize,” said parent Joyce Reilly Ruiz, a former network news producer for NBC and ABC.

Senior Dominic Cupo said he already was pulled from an advanced physics test to help someone plug in a microphone, a chore that Steve would have handled.

“What’s best for the money may not be best for the people,” Dominic concluded.

“It teaches me that money wins out,” said senior Jeremy Herbert, after telling the board that Steve and the station helped transform him from a “once-timid freshman to a “more complete student and person.”

Sophomore Abby Semple choked up during her remarks.

“There are a lot of lessons that you learn in school, like math and science and stuff. And then there are lessons you learn like how to be a good person. And how to do well in life. And Mr. Woodruff really took the time to teach us so much more than he was asked to, and that meant so much to me,” she said.

Junior Helen Burgess remembered being a “lost puppy” as a freshman, until she found a home with the radio club.

“And Woodruff was part of that family, and you guys cut him and I don’t know why,” she said, overcome by tears.

“They say they’re saving $81,000,” said student Sarah Yenesel. “He’s priceless. He’s a friend.”

‘PROUD OF THE STATION’

Steve Woodruff. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Steve Woodruff. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

The Superintendent said no programming will be lost. Broadcasting teacher Michael Butler will receive a stipend to pick up the slack, with help from MHS graduates, the Superintendent said.

He and board member Ann Rhines tried to allay student concerns that WJSV itself–a cherished MHS institution for more than 40 years–would be next to go. Ann volunteered that her daughter anchored the first Colonial Corner video program at the high school.

“We’re a board that really supports and cares very much about the radio station, and all that you do,” she said.

“We’re proud of that radio station, and we’re proud of Morristown High School,” Superintendent Ficarra said. “We have no interest in diminishing services.”

Stay tuned for video clips.

Seniors Dominic Cupo and Jeremy Herbert said they worry about WJSV's future without a full-time engineer. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Seniors Dominic Cupo and Jeremy Herbert said they worry about WJSV’s future without a full-time engineer. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

 

 

 

 

 

 



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