PLEASANTVILLE — Carla Thomas resumed her role as president of the local Board of Education for another year Tuesday and promised to work as a team with fellow board members.
CALABASAS, Calif. — NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash on a steep hillside in dense morning fog in Southern California on Sunday, his sudden death at age 41 touching off an outpouring of grief for a star whose celebrity transcended basketball.
The chopper went down in Calabasas, about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Authorities said that nine people were aboard the helicopter and presumed dead, after earlier putting the death toll at five. Bryant, an all-time basketball great who spent his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, was among the victims, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press.
Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna also was killed, a different person familiar with the case said.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva would not confirm the identities of the victims Sunday afternoon pending official word from the coroner.
“God bless their souls,” Villanueva said at a news conference.
News of the charismatic superstar’s death rocketed around the sports and entertainment worlds, with many taking to Twitter to register their shock, disbelief and anguish.
“There’s no words to express the pain Im going through,” tweeted Lakers teammate Shaquille O’Neal, who won three consecutive NBA titles with Bryant. “ @kobebryant I love u and u will be missed. ... IM SICK RIGHT NOW.”
Retired NBA great Michael Jordan, to whom Bryant was often compared, expressed similar sentiments.
“Words can’t describe the pain I am feeling. I loved Kobe — he was like a little brother to me,” Jordan said in a statement. “We used to talk often, and I will miss those conversations very much. He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force.”
The cause of the crash was unknown. The National Transportation Safety Board was sending a team of investigators to the site. The NTSB typically issues a preliminary report within about 10 days that will give a rough summary of what investigators have learned. A ruling on the cause can take a year or more.
Colin Storm was in his living room in Calabasas when he heard what sounded to him like a low-flying airplane or helicopter.
“Ït was very foggy so we couldn’t see anything,” he said. “But then we heard some sputtering, and then a boom.”
The fog cleared a bit, and Storm could see smoke rising from the hillside in front of his home.
Juan Bonilla of Calabasas said he was working on his roof Sunday morning when he heard a helicopter flying low nearby. He said he thought it was a sheriff’s helicopter on a training mission. He heard nothing amiss with the engine or rotors and said he did not see any mechanical issue with the chopper. It was foggy Sunday morning, but he said visibility didn’t seem to be low at the time of the crash.
Firefighters hiked in with medical equipment and hoses, and medical personnel rappelled to the site from a helicopter, but found no survivors, Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said.
Firefighters worked to douse flames that spread through about a quarter acre of dry brush, Osby said.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer said the downed chopper was a Sikorsky S-76.
Among other things, investigators will look at the pilot’s history, the chopper’s maintenance history, and the records of its owner and operator, NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy said at a news conference.
“The S-76 is a pretty expensive, sophisticated helicopter. ... It’s certainly a quality helicopter,” said Justin Green, an aviation attorney in New York who flew helicopters in the Marine Corps.
Green believes weather may have contributed to the crash. Pilots can become disoriented in bad weather, losing track of which direction is up. Green said a pilot flying an S-76 would be instrument-rated, meaning they could fly the helicopter without relying on visual cues from outside.
NBA players were in tears during pre-game warmups as crowds chanted “Kobe! Kobe!” Tiger Woods was unaware of the news during his final round at Torrey Pines in San Diego when he started hearing the gallery yell “Do it for Mamba,” referring to Bryant by his nickname.
People were glued to their phones and TV screens all around the world as news of the crash spread and networks broke into programming with live coverage. A visibly shaken LeBron James wiped his eyes with tissues and walked away alone from the Lakers plane that had just landed in Southern California.
Bryant retired in 2016 as the third-leading scorer in NBA history finishing two decades with the Lakers as a prolific shot-maker with a sublime all-around game and a relentless competitive ethic. He held that spot in the league scoring ranks until Saturday night, when the Lakers’ James passed him for third place during a game in Philadelphia, Bryant’s hometown.
“Continuing to move the game forward (at)KingJames,” Bryant wrote in his last tweet. “Much respect my brother.”
Bryant had one of the greatest careers in recent NBA history and became one of the game’s most popular players as the face of the 16-time NBA champion Lakers franchise. He was the league MVP in 2008 and a two-time NBA scoring champion, and he earned 12 selections to the NBA’s All-Defensive teams.
He teamed with O’Neal in a combustible partnership to lead the Lakers to NBA titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002. He later teamed with Pau Gasol to win two more titles in 2009 and 2010.
Bryant retired in 2016 after scoring 60 points in his final NBA game.
Bryant’s death was felt particularly painfully in Los Angeles, where he was unquestionably the most popular athlete and one of the city’s most beloved public figures. Hundreds of fans — many in Bryant jerseys and Lakers gear — spontaneously gathered at Staples Center and in the surrounding LA Live entertainment complex on Sunday, weeping and staring at video boards with Bryant’s image.
“Kobe Bryant was a giant who inspired, amazed, and thrilled people everywhere with his incomparable skill on the court — and awed us with his intellect and humility as a father, husband, creative genius, and ambassador for the game he loved. He will live forever in the heart of Los Angeles, and will be remembered through the ages as one of our greatest heroes,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said.
President Donald Trump tweeted condolences to Bryant’s family, saying that “despite being one of the truly great basketball players of all time, (Bryant) was just getting started in life.”
Along with his work boosting women’s sports, Bryant opened a production company and entered the entertainment field in retirement. He won an Academy Award in 2018 for his contributions to “Dear Basketball,” an animated short about his relationship to the game. He also produced content for ESPN.
In 2003, Bryant was charged with attacking a 19-year-old employee at a Colorado resort. He said the two had consensual sex, and prosecutors later dropped the felony sexual assault charge against Bryant at the request of the accuser. The woman later filed a civil suit against Bryant that was settled out of court.
Rosalie Simon left the United States on Thursday for Auschwitz. It’s the first time she has gone back to the concentration camp in Poland since she was a prisoner there in 1945.
She was supposed to be sent to the gas chamber three times but escaped.
“I feel like I’m going back as a survivor,” she said. “I won over the Germans. It’s going to be sad, but it’s going to be worthwhile. I want that satisfaction that I survived.”
Auschwitz was the largest concentration camp constructed by the Nazis during World War II. It consisted of three camps, a gas chamber and a crematorium, used for the mass murder of European Jews, Poles, Gypsies, Soviet prisoners of war and others.
It operated for five years before the Soviet Army liberated the camp Jan. 27, 1945. On Monday, a ceremony commemorating 75 years since the liberation will be held at Auschwitz. About 120 Holocaust survivors and more than 50 world leaders are expected to attend, according to Auschwitz.org.
It’s unclear how many Holocaust survivors settled in South Jersey, “but it’s certainly in the hundreds,” said Gail Rosenthal, director of the Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center at Stockton University. About 70 survivors are left.
Simon, 88, who lived in Margate for 55 years before moving to New York in 2017, was taken to Auschwitz at 12 years old.
“We were immediately separated from our family,” she said. “My sisters went to the right, I was sent to the left with my mother. They thought I was too young and my mother, at 44, was too old for labor.”
Unbeknownst to her, the people on the left were to be sent directly to the gas chambers. But Simon wanted to be with her sisters, so she slyly joined them on the right. Her mother stayed on the left.
“I felt very bad for leaving my mother. I felt terrible,” she said.
Before being sent to another labor camp, they were ordered to get undressed and were examined by a doctor. Simon lied about her age, saying she was older, but the doctor knew better and sent her away. She was locked in a room and screamed for someone to let her out, knowing she was headed to the gas chamber.
“I kept jumping up and down in the window for anybody to let me out,” she said. “I wanted to live, but nobody seemed to pay attention.”
A Jewish woman helping the doctor heard Simon’s cries and saved her, giving her clothes and telling her to run. She then found her sisters and boarded a train.
“I thought to myself, ‘Where we’re going could never be worse than Auschwitz,’” she said.
But when they arrived at a third camp, a sub-camp of Dachau in Germany, the conditions were worse than ever.
“There were piles of dead bodies, like piles of snow. More piles every day,” she said.
About a week later, she and her sisters were put on another train. Luckily, they never made it to the next camp.
“In the middle of the trip, the train stopped,” she said. “All of a sudden we saw the American army running towards the train. You have no idea how we felt when we saw the American soldiers coming close to us.
“The soldiers said, ‘You don’t know how close you were to being killed,’” she added. “I couldn’t believe it. I started to cry. That’s when I relaxed. We were finally free.”
‘I’ll never go back’
Most survivors settled in South Jersey by way of chicken farms in the area, according to Rosenthal.
For Atlantic City resident, Bertha Borowick, it was the ocean.
Borowick, 100, was sent to Auschwitz at 20 years old. Her four brothers and two sisters were all murdered in the war. She remembers arriving to the camp in frigid temperatures and being put in a shack to sleep.
“In the morning they would wake us up and take us to work,” she said. “They would give us the picks on the shoulder and (we would) work and work. There were dogs that used to bite us and (the guards) would tell us to run. They just punished us.”
She immigrated to the U.S. in 1949 with her husband and settled in Philadelphia, visiting the shore every weekend before permanently moving to South Jersey.
She hasn’t been back to Auschwitz, and has no plans of visiting as a survivor.
“I’ll never go back,” she said. “I don’t like what they did to us.”
Doug Cervi, professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at Stockton, also went to Poland for the 75th anniversary. He went with his good friend, and survivor of Auschwitz, David Wisnia.
One last time
Wisnia, 93, of Levittown, Pennsylvania, was 16 when he was brought to Auschwitz. His singing abilities saved him as Nazi soldiers made him sing German songs for their entertainment.
After escaping from a train and walking for four days, he saw tanks and trucks bearing white stars and ran toward them for help. It was the American 101st Airborne Division, and they gave him a job.
“He was an official interpreter and paid by the U.S. government, but he couldn’t become a soldier and receive veteran benefits because he’s a foreigner,” Cervi said.
While Wisnia has been back to Auschwitz multiple times, this visit is a little different.
“His health is not good; he knows this is the last time,” Cervi said.
But the history teacher feels it’s his duty to continue Wisnia’s story.
“I feel an obligation to the people who were killed, and also the survivors,” he said. “I have all of this knowledge, and if I don’t use it, shame on me.”
And while educating the younger generation on the Holocaust is important, so is research.
Dienke Hondius, history professor at Free University in Amsterdam and a staff member for international educational projects for the Anne Frank House in the same city, is a visiting professor at Stockton for the spring semester. She’s also working on a project, Mapping Hidden Places, which her Stockton students will help her with.
The project is to map out all of the Jewish hiding places in Europe during WWII by combing through interviews, testimony and memoirs of survivors. She also plans to talk to local survivors or children of survivors for her research.
“There are not many survivors of Auschwitz anymore; most of them have died,” she said. “But there are still quite a few hidden children. They are still with us.”
But there are many correlations between those in hiding and those in camps. Jewish people who were in hiding were usually found and then taken to a camp.
“The idea is to bring all those individual histories together and then look at the patterns,” she said.
And even though Auschwitz survivors are dwindling, most of those still alive continue to tell their story.
For Simon, telling her story and going back to the camp after 75 years is a feeling of triumph over tragedy.
“They tried to kill me, but I’m alive,” she said. “I want to go back as a survivor and look back on what I went through. I want to go back as a human being and not an inmate.”
PLEASANTVILLE — After a financially tumultuous two years, the Pleasantville School District generated an additional $1.6 million above its budget last year.
But despite the surplus, the district must continue to chip away at a lingering deficit in its food service budget that is one of the major reasons the district continues to have state oversight.
The 2018-19 audit report presented to the Pleasantville Board of Education on Tuesday by Harvey Cocozza of Ford, Scott and Associates in Ocean City showed a $329,481 deficit in the food service fund, down about $55,000 from last year, and an excess surplus of $5.8 million overall, $746,347 of which has already been budgeted in the current year’s 2020 budget.
PLEASANTVILLE — Carla Thomas resumed her role as president of the local Board of Education for another year Tuesday and promised to work as a team with fellow board members.
Board President Carla Thomas asked Cocozza why the district can’t use any of the surplus to pay off the food service deficit. Cocozza told the board that the state regulations bar them from spending that surplus to pay down the deficit.
State Department of Education spokesman Michael Yaple said the statute, which applies to all districts in the state, dictates a self-sufficient food service fund as an efficient administrative and noninstructional cost.
“So a transfer to the food service fund would indicate the fund is not self-sufficient, and that would be an inefficient expenditure of funds,” Yaple said.
For nearly 15 years, Pleasantville School District has been whittling down what began as a $1.9 million deficit in its food service budget. The deficit came about in 2006 due to a change in budget rules requiring salaries and health benefits for cafeteria workers to come from the food budget and not the general fund.
Business administrator Elisha Thompkins said that is when the district privatized its food service program.
Last year, the food service fund broke even.
Thompkins said he would speak with the county superintendent to come up with a plan to pay down the deficit in food service, and added that a new law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy regarding school meals might help.
The law, signed Tuesday, requires the state to pay the difference between the federal allocation and total cost of reduced price breakfast or lunch, appropriating $4.5 million to do so.
“If we receive a portion of that funding, that will eliminate the deficit in itself,” Thompkins said.
Of the 34 school districts to apply for emergency aid this year, Commercial Township in Cumberland County was among the 13 that received additional funding.
Thompkins, who is in the midst of the budget process for 2020-21, said after the audit he was optimistic on next year’s budget, especially because of the increase in the district’s fund balance.
The total fund balance, including excess surplus, is $8.2 million, Cocozza said. The increase of $1.6 million was due in part to additional extraordinary aid from the state and close monitoring of expenditures, he said.
The audit news was uplifting for the district, where last year, the audit revealed a $2 million decrease in surplus. A budget deficit led to more than a dozen layoffs over the summer.
Thompkins said that in last year’s budget, the district had to account for an increase in teacher’s salaries as well as back pay, including for health benefits, after a new contract was approved. This year, the district is seeing the benefits of a significant reduction in the anticipated cost of the state health benefits plan.
He said the district is also facing significant workmen’s compensation claims from last year.
“We anticipate that number being lower next year with several training programs and safety measures that we’re putting in place,” Thompkins said.
About $2.3 million in state funding for the heating and air conditioning replacement at the North Main Street School was also approved, reducing the debt service on that capital project.
“There’s a lot of positive things coming for next year,” Thompkins said.
He said the district is also anticipating state aid to remain flat for next year’s budget.
PLEASANTVILLE — The school board here will resume its meeting from last week with a vote on whether to cut at least 11 positions to balance its budget for next year.
Even if the district is eventually able to shed its deficit in food service, Thompkins is not certain that would mean the exit of at least one of the district’s two monitors. He said it was a “possibility,” but he said even with the deficit in the food service fund, the program operates efficiently, usually makes money and feeds all the children.
In addition to the food service deficit, Cocozza also noted that an additional issue raised in the audit was related to purchase orders. He advised the school board that items were being purchased for the district before a purchase order was generated.
“It’s not permissible, and it also puts the administration in a bind,” he said.
PLEASANTVILLE — Leadership turnover and alleged financial irregularities have long plagued the Board of Education, which voted Tuesday night to lay off 21 staff members to close a $1.5 million budget hole.