Tag Archive: Middlesex County

Don’t Let Dogma Dictate Immigration Policy

President Trump wants to cut the legal immigration in half over a 10-year span, creating a “merit-based system” that caters to green card applicants who speak English and have technical skills. It would eliminate the diversity lottery visa, reduce the…
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South Brunswick: Some Red Flags Appear In New Hiring Patterns

At tonight’s South Brunswick Board of Ed meeting I noticed a trend in hiring practices that I didn’t like.

As always happens in mid-to-late August, school boards all over New Jersey make a slew of new hires. These hires are typically listed in the meeting agenda with name, degree, salary step and, of course, specific position.

Upon looking at South Brunswick’s most recent list of hires, I could not help but notice a disturbing pattern, and one that I think may hint at a deeper institutional problem at work. Most of the hires, and in fact an overwhelming majority of them, were teachers with no professional teaching experience or graduate degrees. They were straight out of college, as green as green gets. Newbies. Educational Guppies.  

Please do not misunderstand me. Schools have a responsibility as professional institutions to mentor new teachers, to create a context and community in which they can grow and thrive. All professional institutions do this, from hospitals to law practices to architectural firms. Experienced professionals, rich in capability and uniquely able to impart institutional traditions, memories and practices, foster younger ones in a process as old as the guilds of the Middle Ages.

And though the list I saw this evening is not necessarily representative of all of the hires for the upcoming school year, I think I’m not being overreactive in suspecting that the Board is intentionally hiring way too many inexperienced teachers. In a money-saving effort, it is placing them in front of students (like my son, a South Brunswick resident) in a terrifying, white-knuckle learning-by-doing process.

Here’s one example. South Brunswick High School’s main building is a beautiful, modern piece of architecture. It sits on a pleasant green campus. It has a student body that (usually) behaves, with a responsive parent/guardian population to push them along. From the prospective of any potential social studies teacher, it would be a dream job. A plumb. A prime place to land. And while I do not know specifically how may resumes the Board received for the latest open social studies position (typically it could be as high as 20), I do know that the Board’s representatives at the high school level, in their infinite wisdom, welcomed an inexperienced, new teacher on board. No advanced degree. No prior professional teaching (at least, none that the board credited on its salary guide). Still, the job was offered and the hire was approved.  

And the beat went on. In English. In Physical Education. An entire cadre of brand-spanking new untried educators.

It makes me wonder. If our district had this many open positions – and this was only from a single meeting in mid-August, where are all the older, more experienced educators? South Brunswick seems to be the kind of district that a hardworking teacher might want to have a long, distinguished career in. Yet what I’m reading indicates that either the district is undergoing some massive, hidden retirement wave, or more experienced teachers are being fired, or pressured to quit. I can’t prove this, of course, especially because the law requires a lot of secrecy when it comes to personnel issues. But this isn’t a side issue. My son, and all of our town’s children, really don’t spend every day interacting and learning from supervisors, vice principals, principals, assistant superintendents, child study team members or superintendents. Their primary interface with the adult world is in the form of our teachers. Teachers mentor them, care for them, inspire them and educate them.  

I need to look into this more, because hiring, firing and retention practices have a huge influence on every relationship, every lesson, every moment that goes on inside a school. It creates an atmosphere; sometimes of creativity, sometimes – as in the case of Newark’s Public Schools – of terror. The most beautiful buildings, the fastest web access, the best computers – none of these factors compare to a student’s need for an experienced, confident, highly qualified teacher in every classroom.

Again, I’ll continue to monitor, and blog on this important issue. I need to get more statistics on this, of course, but my initial suspicions are strong. Any comments and suggestions are welcome.  

Vote Tomorrow in Middlesex County

Middlesex County has been hit hard by Superstorm Sandy. But, we are all in this together. And together we will recover and rebuild.

For so many, the tragedy, hardships and loss we’ve witnessed on television, on the internet and in our own backyards is all too real. Some parts of Middlesex County are only now beginning to regain power and some of our towns have weathered the very worst of the storm.

Even as we pick up the pieces around us, we must also remember that tomorrow is still Election Day. We owe it to ourselves, our communities and future generations to exercise our right to vote. This past week has shown more than ever how we need leaders at all levels of government who are looking out for our families.

11 Days to Go

Now that all three presidential debates are in the books, it should be clearer than ever that re-electing President Obama is not just in the best interest of the Democratic Party…it’s in the best interest of the American people. It’s the best thing for our future generations.

Election Day is just a few days away.  And just as important as it is to focus on the presidential race, it is equally important to remember the stakes are just as high in the Senate, in the House and on the local level right here in Middlesex County – where you should Vote Column A for your Middlesex County Democratic Team.

Pay To Play Reforms Fail in Middlesex County


A recent report from PolitickerNJ confirms what many already know: Pay to Play Reforms are failing all over the state of New Jersey. In this instance Politicker focused on Middlesex County.

What may not be as widely known is that Comptroller Boxer also issued a report on how the Pay to Play Laws were faring. While not as widely reported on as the DRPA Report the Comptroller’s report on Pay to Play at the local level is considerably damning. From Comptroller’s Report:

One of the hallmarks of New Jersey’s traditional no-bid contracting system was the nearly unlimited discretion of the agency awarding the contract in selecting a politically favored vendor. In practice, fair-and-open requirements do not materially change that substantial discretion…

In practice, the system of fair-and-open has multiple weaknesses. As a result, it presents few, if any, real obstacles to a government entity seeking to award a contract to a politically favored vendor. As long as the contract opportunity is minimally advertised and selection parameters of any kind are drafted, the ultimate award is within the entity’s discretion and immune from outside review. In effect, no-bid contracts may be awarded to favored local vendors much as they had been prior to the passage of the pay-to-play law, and without regard to issues such as vendor cost. While no legislation can eliminate all risk associated with political corruption and donor influence in the government procurement setting, it is apparent nearly six years into its implementation that the fair-and-open system offers notably few hurdles for wrongdoers to overcome.

So the Pay to Play Reforms previously passed have failed at the local level. But what exactly happened in Middlesex County?

Spicuzzo facing corruption charges (Update: and he resigns)

Middlesex County Democratic Chairman Joseph Spicuzzo has turned himself in to face corruption charges according to NJ.com. We’ll learn more at a 10:30AM press conference. As you’ll see in our archives, Spicuzzo has had his share of controversies and Blue Jersey user kwilkinson warned: “we need to clean house in Middlesex county or the Democrats will continue lose seats around the county. ”

Update: Someone is floating former Labor Commissioner Kevin McCabe as a replacement to PolitickerNJ.  

Update 2: Statement from New Jersey Democratic State Committee Chairman John Wisniewski:

“I am disappointed and disheartened by the report today that former Sheriff Joe Spicuzzo has turned himself in to the State Police to face charges that allegedly touch on his tenure as Sheriff,” said Wisniewski. “While Joe is entitled, under our Constitution, to the presumption of innocence, for the good of his family, our system of government and the Democratic party, he ought to consider stepping aside from his roles as a Commissioner of the Sports & Exposition Authority and Chairman of the Middlesex County Democratic Organization.”

Update 3: Here is the NJ Attorney General’s press release. Remember it is the prosecutor’s side of the story:

It is alleged that on two or more occasions from 2007 to 2008, while serving as county sheriff, Spicuzzo demanded that different individuals pay him bribes in return for him appointing them as new sheriff’s investigators or promoting them within the sheriff’s office. Sheriff’s officers are hired through the civil service system, but sheriff’s investigators are appointed by the sheriff. It is alleged that Spicuzzo solicited and accepted individual bribes of up to $25,000 from new hires for investigator positions. He allegedly took bribes totaling at least $50,000…

The state’s investigation revealed that young applicants who were trying to obtain law enforcement positions as investigators were forced to use all sources of funding available to them to pay the alleged bribes. It is alleged that Spicuzzo also solicited bribes from more senior members of the office seeking promotion to new positions.

Chris Christie keeps telling me to get rid of civil service rules but this is an interesting counter example.

For the Democratic party, it’s worse since a man who [allegedly] demands bribes for a law enforcement job is completely unfit to choose political candidates.  Even worse, this is where tolerating sexual harassers in the party gets us.  [Final Update: See comments for how the last statement is poorly phrased.]

Update 4: Spicuzzo has resigned as Middlesex County Democratic Chairman.

Twas The Week Before Christmas & Time to “Right” A Few “Wrongs”!

And the Senate is still passing bills.  Another day in Trenton is about to begin. Bills will be before us about the tourism district in Atlantic City, revising casino industry regulations and abolishing COAH.  I will be speaking and lobbying for two bills – the first amending our State medicaid plan to  cover more folks for family planning services.  Let’s see if we can get a few Republican votes for this in the Senate.  I’m counting on a few thinking “R” colleagues to join in putting forth this “no brainer” since the state gets $9 for every $1 of match it allocates.

Since the Governor vetoed the last family planning money, two sites in Browns Mills and Mt. Holley in Burlington have stopped seeing family planning patients.  In the past year these health centers saw over 2300 patients. The Dover Health Center will close at the end of this month and in the past year this center saw over 3900 patients. The Planned Parenthood of Northern New Jersey in Elizabeth will probably see more than 800 fewer patients due to reductions and restructuring.  Mercer, Ocean and Somerset County centers will also be affected. Each of those numbers represents a real person in need of services. This is just the tip of the coming iceberg in poor women’s access to health services. What is the Governor and some of his party stalwarts proving with these cuts?  Come on guys and gals, time to set “right” at least a few of these “wrongs”!

And speaking of setting things right, Governor Corzine signed a bill into law literally his last moments in office.  A bill that came out of a Middlesex community where a bunch of “upstarts” (read: reformers) attempted to change the form of government in one of their communities.  After hard work, they got the government change on the ballot and came within a few votes of winning.  Leaders of the party (read: my own party) got a little nervous.  So what was there to do?  Oh we can change the law and require that a government change referendum (even after a loss) cannot be brought up again for ten years rather than the three years in the then current law!  That will teach those citizens. By the time 10 years pass, most of them will either be gone or they’ll have given up. Not very (read: small d) democratic! We will be considering my bill today which returns the law to the 2009 version: three years in between referendum after a loss and five years if there was a win and the government actually changed. Keep your fingers crossed that Senator Vitale and I have enough votes in our Democratic caucus to get this passed. Watch the vote tally on this one.

It was a good day Saturday with the repeal of DADT. It is sad though to see what’s happened to the really brave war hero, Sen. John McCain. First Sarah Palin, then a prediction that our military will fall apart with this repeal.  And Arizona doesn’t need counseling for veterans facing mental health problems as a result of their service to our country – but maybe New Jersey does? We should all be as angry as Congressman Holt is. Years of cruel imprisonment couldn’t vanquish John McCain, but the pressure of partisan politics seems to have done the job on him. There’s not much more to say about that. The repeal of DADT is a giant step forward for our country and for granting full civil rights to the gay community. We all know what’s still missing. Looking forward to the courts doing the “right thing” (read: marriage) here too.

And let’s hope the Governor did something right by selecting Christopher Cerf of Montclair as the next Education Commissioner. Don’t know that much about him yet, but others have said he is smart and knows how to build consensus. I just hope Mr. Christie will not throw him out if he manages to attract the NJEA to join him in a grant application or to build  agreement on a program to improve our schools.

And so today, we in the Senate have a chance to “right” a few “wrongs“. ‘Tis the season to be kind to one another. Let’s hope that “spirit” will pervade the Senate chambers today.

Merry Christmas. Thank you Blue Jersey for helping to build a community of progressives. Thank you to our bloggers, commenters, and readers for giving voice to many good ideas.

Keep your voices heard!