Tag Archive: school board

This is what happened when bigotry showed its face in Franklin Township.

“The days of shaming people because of their identity are gone.”

              – public comment, Franklin Twp. School Board

Not long ago, bigots and fearful people could use intimidation to force gay people to live their lives fully or partly in the closet, afraid to lose a job, a position, a friend, and sometimes unable simply to be themselves.

Last night we witnessed an outpouring of community respect for Franklin Twp School Board President Ed Potosnak, who came under attack from board colleague Pat Stanley for a pro-equality speech made to Franklin HS grads on the very day of the SCOTUS marriage decision. Clear in the speech is that Ed is gay. As dozens of people stood to speak at this meeting – for 90 minutes – several things became clear:

(1) Homophobes still wanting to bully gay people – be warned. Ms. Stanley was told in no uncertain terms that she was the one whose words were unacceptable, and she is the one who isolates herself.

(2) The anti-gays often have other unsavory tendencies. Turns out Stanley also voted against the district’s breakfast program, prompting a wave of scowls in the room.

(3) Franklin’s home to all kinds of people. And parents, local leaders and residents want kids to know that whoever they are will be met with acceptance and support. That includes board presidents.

Adding (4) Stanley keeps referring to Ed’s words as “a political speech” or turning graduation into “a political event.” In fact, the marriage decision is history now and the future for graduating students. Related, noonstar takes issue with what I wrote – my calling Ed’s a pro-equality speech – and the objection is thoughtful and worth reading.

Ed Potosnak is getting married in a few days. And what this community gave him last night is better and more life-affirming than anything anybody could give him wrapped into a box with pretty paper and ribbon. Love wins in Franklin Township. And now let me add mine. Congratulations, Ed. You deserved it.  

@NJSBA and PARCC: Going Along to Get Along?

Cross-posted from Jersey Jazzman.

The resistance to the PARCC — the new, standardized, computerized tests being administered in New Jersey beginning this month — continues to grow. Parents, teachers, and students are rightly concerned that these tests are taking too much time, are unnecessarily complex and confusing, disadvantage students with less access to technology, and narrow the curriculum.

In response to the grassroots movement to opt students out of the PARCC, a coalition has formed, consisting of various education stakeholder groups across the state. We Raise New Jersey includes the NJPTA, the Principals and Supervisors Association, the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, the New Jersey Council of County Colleges, JerseyCAN, and the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA).

I find this list to be very interesting. As my blogging bud Darcie Cimarusti points out, the national PTA has received millions of dollars in funding over the years from the Gates Foundation, the principal driver of the Common Core standards to which the PARCC is aligned. JerseyCan also gets funds from Gates, among other reformy groups.

But it’s the NJSBA that really caught my attention. This is a group that is supposed to serve school boards across the state. And yet the PARCC is clearly an unfunded mandate from the state on local school districts, draining resources away from operations and toward the administration of tests. This is especially onerous for local school districts who have had to upgrade their computer networks, yet received no additional funding from the state.

I would think the NJSBA would have lobbied against the PARCC; at least, they should have insisted that their member school boards receive funds from the state to help defray the costs of this mandate. Instead, they’re supporting a testing regime that will hurt the bottom lines of their member school boards’ budgets. Why are they going along with this?

Perhaps because the NJSBA itself is an unfunded mandate. Let’s go back to 1997, when the funding of the NJSBA was a source of contention:

For more than 80 years, state law has required every school district in the state to be a dues-paying member of the New Jersey School Boards Association. But that could change with the passage of a bill pending in the state legislature that proposes making membership in the statewide organization voluntary.

The suggested change has stirred some controversy over which setup would better serve the state’s 1.2 million public-school students. And some school board members are accusing lawmakers of trying to weaken the school boards association as payback for the organization’s vocal opposition earlier this year to new education funding laws.

The school boards association provision is only one of several dozen state mandates that would be abolished under the legislation, which is scheduled to face the Assembly and Senate appropriations committees today. The school boards association and its supporters are calling for legislators to amend the bill to keep association membership mandatory.

[…]

Districts pay an average of $11,700 in annual dues to fund the association’s $8.9 million budget. Association advocates say it would cost far more for districts to replicate the services their dues provide. Belluscio said association lobbying efforts have led to legislative changes that have saved school districts hundreds of millions of dollars.

But legislators who support the change say that lifting mandatory membership would force the association to be more efficient and more accountable to its constituents.

They also point to neighboring Pennsylvania, where 500 of the state’s 501 school districts voluntarily participate in the school boards association. In fact, New Jersey and Washington are the only states that mandate district membership in school boards associations.

If membership were made voluntary, Belluscio said, the school boards association would have to shift resources away from direct services to marketing itself.

But observers say that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For the Pennsylvania association, that has meant tailoring services to constituents.

“We’ve had virtually 100 percent membership over the years,” said spokesman Thomas Gentzel.” We like to think it’s because we provide a good array of services for our members and we have to be responsive to them.”

And then there’s the issue of the possible political motivation behind New Jersey’s proposed legislation.

“There has been some talk that this is kind of a payback move,” said Lindenwold school board member Jim Dougherty.” There is some discussion that the legislature and the governor are more than a little ticked off because of the position the association took in the funding situation.” [emphasis mine]

The NJSBA, it seems, has a history of walking on thin ice: piss off the wrong people, and its unusual source of mandatory funding could be put in jeopardy.

Fast forward to 2010, when the NJSBA once again found its mandatory dues questioned:

The publicly financed lobby for New Jersey’s school boards is spending millions to renovate its headquarters, even as local districts face massive state aid cuts, defeated budgets and construction proposals, and pending teacher layoffs.

The New Jersey School Boards Association collects more than $7 million a year from 588 member districts, which are legally required to join. It has socked away so much in dues and conference fees – $12.3 million, an amount greater than the group’s annual operating budget – that it is paying cash for the improvements.

It also paid $1.6 million in cash for 10 suburban acres where it had hoped to build an $18 million conference center. But the board abandoned that plan and put the land back on the market.

The most recent projected cost for the headquarter’s renovations was $6.3 million. But that figure could grow an additional $600,000 to $1 million, as the contractor decides whether to fix or replace the building’s walls of glass windows, officials said. In the meantime, its 70 employees – including five lobbyists paid to influence legislation – are working in leased office space. [emphasis mine]

Remember, this was back in 2010, when local school budgets were being decimated. In those lean times, the practices of NJSBA were not siting well with taxpayers or legislators:

The School Boards Association has come under some criticism in recent months, after The Record reported that its staff is enrolled in the state-run health and pension systems, even though they are not government employees. Workers at two other Trenton lobbying groups – the Association of Counties and the League of Municipalities – also are in the programs, as a result of 1950s legislation that declared they were acting in the public interest.  

In all, New Jerseyans will fund retirement payouts and lifetime health benefits for 107 non-government employees with combined pensionable salaries of $7 million. Right now, taxpayers are giving $1.3 million a year to 62 retirees of the groups. Gov. Chris Christie has said the benefits arrangement must end.

Given all this, the NJSBA found, once again, that its funding was under scrutiny:

Last year, New Jersey districts paid $7.6 million in dues – a 73 percent increase from the $4.4 million paid in 1999, according to the association’s financial reports. In 2009, it also had revenue of $2.7 million from conference fees, ad sales and services.

This year, dues will be 5 percent lower, said Frank Belluscio, a spokesman for the association. Each district will receive a $2,000 credit to apply toward services. As a result of the law Corzine signed, the group also has replaced its annual three-day Atlantic City workshop with a shorter program in Central Jersey, which shortens the drive for most participants and eliminates the need to stay overnight at school board expense.  

Belluscio also pointed out that many districts get back their dues and then some because of their affiliation with the association’s energy cooperative.  

The give-backs to the districts pleased Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester), who in December had proposed making association membership voluntary rather than compulsory. Last week, he said he is withdrawing the bill.

“It seems to me that the service they’re providing is very helpful, especially as we’re going through this transition between potential consolidations, upheavals in school districts and things of that nature,” Burzichelli said. “I applaud them for taking the steps they’re taking.”

See how it works? Don’t make waves, keep legislators happy… and nobody messes with your source of revenue. Win-win. Want another example?

Plug “NJSBA” and “SFRA” into Google. SFRA is the School Funding Reform Act, the state’s school aid formula, which has not been fully funded since Chris Christie came into office and is now $6 billion behind what the law dictates. You would think the group that represents local school boards would be apoplectic over the state’s repeated refusal to come up with the money its member districts are due.

But the best I could find from NJSBA in the last few years on school underfunding — a period where inequality between high and low-spending districts has increased rapidly — was this, from 2011:

“The New Jersey School Boards Association believes in fair and equitable distribution of state aid,” said Raymond R. Wiss, president of the New Jersey School Boards Association via release.  “In 2008, NJSBA supported the principles of the School Funding Reform Act, based on the act’s recognition that at-risk students attend schools in communities throughout New Jersey, not just in 31 communities.  The 2008 funding law also attempted to help those middle- and moderate-income communities, which suffer from high property tax burdens and still have been unable to fund their education programs at levels considered adequate by the state.

“Today’s court decision does not resolve these matters,” Wiss concluded.

That is some weak, lukewarm tea — probably because it’s several years old. In fact, some of NJSBA publications on the underfunding of SFRA read, to me, more like apologies for the Christie administration than indictments. And if they’ve had anything to say lately about the Bacon lawsuit, which seeks to remedy the underfunding of rural New Jersey school districts, I haven’t been able to find it.

Now, the NJSBA might make the case that lobbying for the full funding of SFRA isn’t part of their mandate. OK… then why dive into the debate about PARCC? Why actively lobby and dispense pro-PARCC propaganda with groups like the NJPTA and JerseyCAN? Why take a stand on this issue at all if NJSBA won’t even take a strong stand on getting their member districts funding the state itself says they are due under SFRA?

It looks like NJSBA has learned its lesson: if you want to get along, go along. They should embroider it on the pillows in their new offices…

xxxxx

ADDING: The New York State School Boards Association is a plaintiff against the state in a lawsuit for equitable funding. I guess the NJSBA is too busy redecorating to get involved in that fight around here…

In Flemington tonight: School security plans leaked, Will there be more calls for resignation?

Tonight 7pm is the first meeting of the Flemington Borough Council since an explosive meeting – one week ago tonight – of the school board that serves the same town. We’ll know by tonight if there’s reverb from last week, and whether Republican members of the Borough Council, some of whom were leaked confidential info and apparently didn’t report it, have anything to say for themselves. Here’s what’s going on:

School security documents leaked: At last Monday’s Flemington-Raritan School Board meeting, we learned that Board member Alan Brewer (Flemington) sent details of the emergency security plan now being drafted for all the district schools to 10 Republicans active in Flemington politics. Board member Anna Fallon, who confirmed this leak via public records request, demanded Brewer’s resignation. Board member Robin Behn also demanded Brewer resign. And that was echoed during the meeting’s public comments, including from me. I am a Flemington resident and Brewer represents me on that Board.

Why is that a big deal? What Brewer leaked are plans that first responders need immediately in an emergency, like what hallway kids are told to run down to escape if there’s a shooter in the building, or where the hidden cameras are placed. Now that info has been leaked past the confidentiality of school officials. That plan was expensive and months in the making. But what is far worse is the risk to the safety of children and staff that Brewer might have caused.

Who did Al Brewer leak to: Erica Edwards (Flemington mayor), Brian Swingle, John Gorman, Phil Greiner and Phil Velella (the Republicans on Flemington Borough Council), Bill Reed (Republican Party municipal chair), Marcia Karrow (former state senator), Bob Hauck (former Flemington councilman), Mary Melfi (Hunterdon Clerk) and Elaine Gorman (Councilman Gorman’s wife, who represents her voting district to the Republican Party).

My question to the 10 Republican he leaked to: Why didn’t you immediately report this breach to the Board?

Fight against school privatization heats up in Camden

“Happy to see community here fighting for what they believe in – we will never make change unless we fight for it!” – via Twitter, quoting student

For months in Newark, we’ve witnessed community outrage at the poorly-conceived school reorganization plan put forth by Christie’s hand-picked “reform” guru, Cami Anderson. The fight for public education is now the #1 issue in the city’s contest for mayor, between Camden Central HS principal (on leave) Ras Baraka and Shavar Jeffries, who’s seen a massive influx of campaign cash from pro-charter, pro-privatization investors.

And now, we’re seeing the community fight for public education intensify in Camden. Last night, more than 200 people showed up at the Camden school board meeting, in this city where the state also controls the district, and Democratic power-broker George Norcross is the leading edge of the Christie administration’s charterization of Camden. I think we’re going to be hearing more.

Last night was the last board meeting for Sara Davis, public school advocate, 4-term member, and educator for 40 years in Camden. Her successor was chosen by Mayor Dana Redd, a Norcross ally.  

FIX IT! Because This IS NOT How We Do Things In Highland Park. Here, We RESIST!

Promoted by Rosi. Who would ever think that progressive Highland Park would turn into a Ground Zero for ed “reform” or union-busting? This week, on short notice, more than 300 people turned up when they saw the Highland Park School Board take a sudden wrong turn. One of them was Darcie Cimarusti = Mother Crusader. She stood up to speak. Read the speech below the fold. Now consider that 15 days ago, Darcie was elected to the school board she addresses in her speech …

Cross-posted with Mother Crusader.

I’ve honestly never seen anything like what happened Monday night in my home town of Highland Park, New Jersey.

Scores of Highland Park residents and union supporters came out Monday night to the auditorium at Bartle Elementary to protest layoffs of nine staff members at Highland Park’s schools, including two top union officials.

The school board and administration were literally surrounded by critics: So many people showed up that they had to take out a partition in the wall, doubling the size of the room and letting the overflow crowd tickle into the nosebleeds. (emphasis mine)

Highland Park school board meeting crowdYup, that’s right. The Board, at the recommendation of our brand new Superintendent, approved a Reduction in Force (RIF) of nine district employees on November 4th, 2013. The RIF included the President and Vice-President of the Highland Park Education Association, and came after contract negotiations reached an impasse.  (Note: A tenth employee was RIFed on October 7th, 2013 but this position is often not added to the nine RIFed on 11/4)

Read and write? You can be on the Evesham School Board

Well, here’s something interesting. We saw on the Evesham Township school district’s website that there’s an actual legal requirement for school board members to be able to read and write. That struck me as such a basic, particularly for those deciding local issues of education, that it scarcely needed mentioning. But is that just Evesham?

Turns out no, that’s a legal requirement to become a member of any school board in New Jersey (here’s the full list of requirements, via  New Jersey School Boards Association).

Ironic that reading and writing’s a requirement, but not ‘rithmatic, given the sums school boards work with, those budgets that eat up the biggest chunk of your property tax bills.

It’s not exactly a good year for school boards. Interested in running for that Evesham open slot? Deadline for applications is July 31.  

QoTD: 19-year-old Socialist School Board Member Talks Some Sense

A 19-year-old pharmacy clerk named Pat Noble defeated an incumbent to win a seat on the Red Bank Regional High School Board of Education, and was seated this month. He is the founder of the Socialist Party of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, ran as a socialist for his seat and plans to bring a progressive, socialist set of ideals to the schools board.

And he sounds like a breath of fresh air:

“You reach more people, more quickly when you win an election. People would rather hear from a candidate than some guy on a street corner, especially on socialism when a majority of them are capitalists.” [snip]

“I’m hoping to bring a different perspective, a left-wing perspective to a board full of capitalists. I have a different view point, both as a younger person and a Socialist, that I think could have a positive impact in and of itself.”

On Noble’s to-do list: promotion of LGBT issues in sex education classes, banning military recruiters from schools, opposing merit pay for teachers and fighting budget cuts.

He’s 19. And he ran for office in part to put some muscle behind opposition to merit pay ‘reforms’ and against cuts to public school budgets. He’s a recent consumer of education himself, but he sounds a lot better educated than a lot of lofty politicians I can think of who fall for every shiny object the education privatizing lobby throws out. Good for him.

Noble was a high school student at Academy of Allied Health & Science, of the Monmouth County Vocational School District. Right now, he’s the only elected socialist in the state of New Jersey. He unsuccessfully ran for Monmouth freeholder in 2011. Incidentally, Bob Menendez was 20 when he was elected to the Union City, N.J. Board of Education in 1974.

Brilliant social media experiment?

This story has stuck in my craw for 4 days. Here’s Jim Cook Jr., online editor of South Jersey Times:

PILESGROVE TWP. – I really did not expect to win the Woodstown-Pilesgrove Board of Education election.

My campaign lasted less than 24 hours.

It didn’t cost me a cent.

All I used was a few Facebook status updates saying “Write me in for Woodstown-Pilesgrove School Board candidate.”

This is a pretty cool social media story, made more interesting because it’s a dead tree journalist telling it. We elected a great candidate to school board in a similar fast write-in campaign for an empty seat in Flemington last year. But there’s a big difference between that race and Cook’s. Our candidate wanted the seat and intended to serve.  

The New Teacher Evaluation Policy

promoted by Rosi

I attended a meeting last night and learned a few things about the new teacher evaluation policy set to roll out for all districts in the 2013-2014 school year.

Our district will join the pilot program for one of our schools next year (2012-13). We will apply for a grant, but the cost of implementing this plan will cost upwards of $50,000. Other districts will have different costs, but given our number of teachers and administrators–$50K is our outlay.