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Princeton Regional School Board 1999

1999 SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATES VOTERS GUIDE

NON-PARTISAN ELECTION INFORMATION

Vote Tuesday, April 20, 1999

CANDIDATES FOR PRINCETON REGIONAL SCHOOL BOARD

Polls are open in Princeton from 4 PM to 9 PM

The League of Women Voters of the Princeton Area is a nonpartisan, non-profit volunteer organization which works to promote active, informed participation of all citizens in their government. The League provide nonpartisan information on public issues, and takes action on issues after member study and consensus. In publishing this material, the League neither endorses nor rejects the views of any candidate quoted.

All candidate information in this guide was compiled from candidates' responses to questionnaires. Replies are printed in the candidates' own words, without editing or verification. Due to space limitation, the candidates were given a word limit for replies. Incumbents are indicated by an asterisk (*).

Reprinting of this guide in part or in whole is not permissible without written permission of the League of Women Voters of the Princeton Area.

Copyright 1999 by the League of Women Voters of the Princeton Area

The League of Women Voters of the Princeton Area submitted the following six questions to all candidates for Princeton Regional School Board:

1. Which aspects of our school district do you view as most successful? Which do you feel are in need of change?

2. Given the superintendent search process that has been ongoing over the last year, where do you see the process lacking and how can the process be improved? How do you view the role of parents and the public in selecting a new superintendent?

3. What are your thoughts on the Long-range Planning committee's proposal for a campus middle school/high school complex?

4. What kind of working relationship would you anticipate with a new superintendent, and in what areas should the Board defer to the judgment of the superintendent?

5. What priorities and guidelines would you use in developing school budgets? How would you control costs while maintaining quality?

6. How should the Princeton Regional School District address the over-representation of minority children in special education?

SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATES FROM
PRINCETON BOROUGH

Vote for One; Term: 3 years

Beth Sala Covin
Age: 38
Address: 161 Hodge Road, Princeton, NJ 08540
Years in District: 1

Occupation: Retired Corporate Bond Trader, future stay-at-home Mom

Education: William & Mary, Bachelor of Business Administration 1983

Children: First child, a son, expected in June 1999

Community Activities: YWCA volunteer, member Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville

Answers to Questions:

1.Parental involvement through the PTOs, classroom volunteering and in public forums is one of the great strengths of this school district. The area most in need of change is the budget. The planning process should strive to minimize transfers. The presentation of the budget should be clear and comprehensible, so that the community can judge and evaluate its spending priorities.

2. The superintendent search should make use of all the resources in the community: parents, teachers, administrators, voters, elected officials and Princeton University contacts. I would encourage all of these parties to nominate any person whom they feel would be a qualified candidate. The Board should try to forge consensus on the type of individual the community desires (by public hearing and/or soliciting written comment) and then cast as wide a net as possible to recruit that person. When the Board comes to a clear agreement on a candidate, and that candidate is willing to commit to the district, he or she should meet with the community before the final offer is extended.

3. The idea of sharing facilities is certainly going in the right direction of cost effectiveness. I understand that other expansion plans may be done in partnership with the Westminster Choir College; this is another good way to capture cost savings by using the existing resources within the community. "Bricks and mortar" spending decisions must be well reviewed before they are approved as they commit the community to years of irrevocable financial obligation. Before any ground is broken within the district, a long term plan for all building facilities should be in place.

4. Ideally, the superintendent should act as a "CEO" of the schools and the Board should play an advisory role which sets broad policy, not individual program requirements. The superintendent has the primary responsibility for managing the principals and other administrators, who in turn have the primary responsibility for managing classroom personnel. Given the turnover in recent years, this kind of trust has been difficult to build. It is, in fact, the bedrock of a functional organization. A superintendent should be given as much autonomy as possible, but it is also incumbent upon him or her to communicate effectively with the Board, so that the Board may fulfill its obligation to keep the public informed about the schools.

5. The Board has an obligation to insure swift and complete compliance with all state and federal mandates. Community preferences on such issues as classroom size should also be considered. This must be done in the context of a budget that is expressed in easily understandable terms. While we have an obligation to report to the state in a certain format, we should develop our own format that enables the public to see exactly where its tax dollars are going. Controlling costs and maintaining quality are reachable objectives if you know how monies were actually spent, rather than how they were appropriated. Though it is somewhat boring to comb through hundreds of lines of budget, the results can be very powerful. Assuming an unchanged tax assessment, if we found savings of only 1% in the next budget, almost $400,000 would be available for new programming!

6. This has been a source of concern for many years here in Princeton. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix or panacea. It appears that overrepresentation begins in elementary school, continues through middle school, and then increases in high school. I welcome the study that is now being undertaken with state and federal agencies and hope it will provide us with some direction. We may want to begin to consider a few possibilities now. 1) Early intervention: the district could provide or seek pre-school programs for at-risk children. The expense up-front may be justified by program savings in later years. 2) Mentoring: the district could facilitate the pairing of role models from community volunteers with adolescent students. 3) Increase parental involvement: for single parents or non-English speaking parents, especially, there are many obstacles to be surmounted, but is important to try. As I stated in my first answer, parental involvement is one of our greatest strengths. We should encourage it in every way possible.


Frank Strasburger
Age: 53
Address: 79 Lafayette Road, Princeton Borough
Years in District: 13

Occupation:
President, Medical Education for South African Blacks (1997- )
Episcopal Chaplain, Princeton University (1986-97)
Secondary school teacher, chaplain, and administrator for ten years before entering seminary in 1978.

Education:
Princeton (A.B.)
Johns Hopkins (M.A.)
Episcopal Divinity School (M. Div.)

Children:
Justin (8th grade, John Witherspoon)
Hilary (7th grade, John Witherspoon)
Taylor (4th grade, Johnson Park)

Community Activities:
Board of Advisers, Kieve Affective Education, Inc., Nobleboro, ME, (1994- )
Steering Committee, Princeton Habitat Project (1996-97)
Alumni Representative, Council of the Princeton University Community (1998- )
Vice President, Princeton University Class of 1967 (1998- )
Trustee, Princeton Chamber Symphony (1994-96)
Trustee, Princeton Education Foundation (1994-95)
Trustee, Princeton Regional Scholarship Foundation (1992-95)
Trustee, Cherry Hill Nursery School (1989-91)
Trustee, The American School of Paris (1985-86)
Trustee, The Long Ridge School, Stamford, CT (1982-84)

Answers to Questions:

1. The two aspects of the Princeton Regional Schools that I as a parent value most are its teachers and its diversity. My children have had some remarkably bright, challenging, creative, and caring teachers who teach to the distinctive learning styles of each of their students and bring out their best. Those teachers are the models--but we have failed to use them as mentors for those not yet succeeding in meeting our students where they are. As for our diversity, as impressive as Princeton's diversity is for a suburban community, we undervalue it. We have an unusual opportunity to prepare our young people to deal with the racial, ethnic, and economic disparities upon whose resolution their world will depend--let's not waste that chance.

2. The superintendent search broke down because the board lost touch with the public. No sensible person would suggest that each member of the public should have a vote; ours is a representative democracy. But neither does that mean members should be elected every three years and then ignore their constituency. There must be dynamic engagement between the public and the board so that the board's decisions are properly informed by the public's wisdom. While open processes are often inefficient, closed processes always disenfranchise those on the outside. When people feel listened to, they are more likely to support the outcome, even when they disagree with it.

3. The campus plan, on its face, is a creative response to a number of complex needs. It would be initially expensive, of course, but appears to offer long term economies of scale. It would certainly provide unique opportunities for collaboration and experimentation, especially in the creative and performing arts, long this district's strengths. What the Long Range Planning Committee produces, however, should be seen not as a fait accompli but as a work in progress to tweak the public's imagination, encourage examination of the multitude of issues the plan raises, and move us toward consensus. And while some have criticized the idea as too grandiose, we will end up with mediocrity unless we dare to dream.

4. For the thirteen years I have lived in Princeton, I have watched one board after another do battle with the superintendent and other administrators. Much of that happened because the board breached the line between oversight and management. The board is responsible for policy; the administrators are responsible for running our schools. When board members try to run the schools, no matter how good their ideas, they undermine the morale of all involved. With the help of the School Boards Association, our board can and must establish and adhere to this boundary.

5. The priority in developing the budget is to adopt a controlling vision. What do we care most about? What is distinctive about Princeton's schools? And what are we prepared to pay for? The board should initiate an ongoing public conversation about these questions. It is not enough simply to look at gross figures and express alarm. $40 million is, to be sure, a lot of money, but per-student spending has actually decreased by 15% in just one year. Our growth as a district makes long range planning and consensus on goals all the more urgent for proper budgetary oversight. While we don't want to sacrifice the very things that have drawn people to Princeton, neither do we want to price those people out of the community. Acknowledging that we can't afford it all, we must work toward a clearly articulated vision that becomes the measure for what to cut and what to keep.

6. That 40% of the Black male high school students in Princeton have been relegated to special education is nothing less than an outrage that ought to mobilize all of us--not just the minority community--to seek concrete solutions. Universal pre-school is a start and the very best long-term investment we could make. Board members, administrators, and faculty need to explore with our minority families the unintentional ways in which our schools marginalize minority students. As a community, we must respond as though these were our own kids--because, in fact, they are. It's long past time we treated them that way.

SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATES FROM
PRINCETON TOWNSHIP

Vote for Two; Term: 3 years

Paul Budline
Age: 48
Address: 39 Rollingmead
Years in District: 4

Occupation: Writer/Producer

Education: BA Economics, Muhlenberg College

Children: Marcus, 5; Margo, 3

Community Activites: Member, Friends of the Princeton Library

Answers to Questions:

1. We have a large population of committed and educated parents, which is perhaps Princeton's greatest strength. Our district is also blessed with excellent teachers and principals. However, while our system is in good condition, there are also a few problems. Foremost is the fact that many children aren't taking advantage of the many available opportunities (more about that later.) There's also a system-wide lack of accountability. We have been unwilling to establish definitive goals for our students and the curricula needed to reach them. And while many teachers are indeed excellent, a few undoubtedly don't belong in a classroom. Even though union rules and tenure make it difficult to fire a poor teacher, our next superintendent should take all necessary steps to retrain or remove a teacher who is not performing. Long before reaching that point, Princeton's relatively generous salaries should enable us to hire outstanding teachers to begin with. Once they're on board, we must ensure that excellent teachers are recognized and rewarded.

2. As much as I support the current board, it blundered badly by including Dr. Swirsky among three finalists if there was no intention to hire him. Dr. Swirsky compounded the problem by not withdrawing when the board voted overwhelmingly for another candidate. Thankfully, that is behind us and I'm confident the next board will hire an outstanding superintendent. Members should first listen to a broad cross section of residents, teachers and parents. But in the end it's up to the board - and the board alone - to identify and engage the best possible candidate.

3. Each board member has different areas of expertise and interest. I am currently focused on curriculum and educational issues, and am less well versed about facilities. Based on my existing knowledge, I am not in favor of building new physical plants. I would rather perform maintenance that has been deferred far too long.

4. Like a corporate Board of Directors, our board should set ambitious and attainable goals, then hire a talented CEO to reach them. The next board will be wise to take a step back, deferring to administrators on most routine issues. With the right superintendent, we can refrain from the micro-managing that has been a hallmark of recent years.

5. Comprehending our budget shouldn't require an advanced business degree. Revenues and expenditures need to be presented simply and clearly. More important, I genuinely believe our current level of spending is more than sufficient to give every child the opportunity for an outstanding education. Princeton's per-student expenditure is among the highest in New Jersey, which ranks number one among all states. Furthermore, most studies demonstrate that spending has little correlation with performance.

6. The underachievement of many minority students is the thorniest issue facing districts across America. As someone who subscribes wholeheartedly to Civil Rights legislation, I find it unconscionable to deny anyone access to a quality education because of his or her race. But rather than separate and judge people according to color, I want our district to reach out to children whose poverty and family circumstances place them at a distinct disadvantage. We might explore ways to provide poor children with the pre-school opportunities that exist for wealthier Princetonians. After-school programs can be expanded and improved, and individual tutoring made available to at-risk students. Whatever our efforts, it's difficult for schools and teachers to totally compensate for a child's home environment. The biggest predictor of school failure is neither race nor poverty - it's being born to a young and uneducated single mother. Some single moms manage to heroically beat the odds, usually by reading to their children, stressing education, and staying involved in their kids' school. We must encourage all parents to do those simple things that so often lead to academic success. Regarding our large population of immigrants, particularly from Central America, I again favor early and targeted intervention. These children should be encouraged to read and write English as quickly as possible, as opposed to keeping them trapped in separate bilingual programs. On the whole -despite our reputation for contentiousness - our district does a great job of educating most children. We should now strive to ensure that as many children as possible take advantage of the tremendous opportunities available in Princeton.

William Kolata
Age: 51
Address: 108 Hun Rd., Princeton Township
Year in District: 10

Occupation: Technical Director at the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics

Education:
Ph.D., Mathematics, University of Maryland, 1976
B.S., Marquette University, 1970

Children:
One son, senior at Princeton HighSchool
One daughter, graduate of Princeton HighSchool

Answers to questions:

1. Princeton public schools have a long tradition of providing an education ranked among the best in the state for most students, but we must do a better job of raising standards and performance for students who are below the median. To do this, we need a consistent and challenging curriculum, honest evaluation, and early intervention. This will benefit all students.

2. I don't think here was a problem with the search process for superintendent. We received a number of excellent applications, and as long as we continue to do so, the search process is working. It is the selection process that needs improvement, or at least clarification. The selection of a new superintendent is perhaps the most important responsibility of the board. The board needs to listen to parents, staff, students and the public. However, it is the board's responsibility to make the judgment based on all available evidence. Selection of the superintendent is not a popularity contest.

3. There is no doubt that we have an aging physical plant and the Long term Planning Committee has begun to address the implications of this fact. The proposal for a middle school/high school complex provides a concept that will help us focus on the issues. Long range planning is not an exact science, but it is, in part, a quantitative science. We need to insist on an analysis of programs and the provision of accurate demographic projections in order for the administrators to be in a position to build an effective long term plan that will address our needs.

4. The relationship of the board and a new superintendent is spelled out in existing board policy. What is not spelled out is the need for mutual respect and trust. The board is an oversight body that must work closely with the superintendent to set district goals. It is the job of the superintendent as executive officer to implement those goals.

5. Developing a school budget and controlling costs is the job of the superintendent; the board sets priorities in collaboration with the superintendent. As a board member, my goal will be to ensure that funds are directed to enhancing the quality of the educational experience that we provide to all of our children. I will recommend clear budget and spending documentation, accurate analysis of programs, and fair evaluation of teachers and administrators. I believe that it is also important to encourage creativity among our staff and engage them in the process of improving quality and keeping costs from growing out of proportion.

6. The over-representation of minority students in special education is not just a Princeton problem; it is a national problem. We have to look outward as well as inward for solutions. But we also have to be willing to ask the tough questions. If there are minority students who are now classified and who would prosper in regular education, we have to ask our special education professionals to find them, reevaluate them and place them in regular classes. We also have to make sure that our staff analyzes the classification process. Are minorities more likely to be referred for evaluation, are they more likely to be classified than non-minority children with similar evaluations? In this analysis, we have to make sure that our staff keeps the key goal in focus: providing the best and least restrictive education for each individual child.

Barbara Prince
Age: 48
Address: 85 Magnolia Lane, Princeton, NJ 08540
Years in the District: 9

Occupation: Financial Administration

Education:
B.A., Prescott College, Arizona
M.Ed. Rutgers University, New Jersey

Children: 1 son, 10 years old at Littlebrook School, Princeton

Community Activities:
Active member of Littlebrook's PTO (1994-99)
Active participant at the Long Range Planning - Ad Hoc meetings (1998-99)
Member of the World Language Committee to re-establish a foreign language in the Princeton elementary schools (1987-88)
Member of Littlebrook's Site Committee, to evaluate and improve reading performance at the earliest grades levels (1996-1998)
Registrar for Princeton Youth Baseball (1999)
Board member of U-Now Nursery School (1992-94)
Co-founder P'nai Or Congregation (1992-93).

Answers to Questions:

1. I have seen a level of quality and enthusiasm in Princeton teachers that is remarkable.

All of our facilities are technologically inadequate. Also, the lack of adequate space has hampered the kinds of choices we are able to provide students. For example, we are in desperate need of science labs in the middle school; and of science, performing arts, and vocational space in high school.

2. I am not sure that the process of searching for a superintendent was lacking. Since we don't know what motivated our two outside finalists to apply for the position, it is impossible to say why they declined it. People, candidates included, often have a misguided view of Princeton. Our extensive cultural and economic diversity is often not recognized at first glance. The impact that these factors have upon the school system creates a complexity to the job that many may not truly be ready for, or experienced in dealing with. It should be incumbent upon the Board, as candidates are evaluated, that these factors be stressed.

Regarding the internal candidate, I think the community would have appreciated the Board sharing their concerns and rationale behind their decision. I feel that teachers, parents and the public at large should have a very active role in the selection of final candidates. After all, we are the elements that make up the goals and expectations for our educational system. Partnerships work better when all parties can be respected for their skills and talents.

I would hope that any Superintendent that is selected in Princeton would understand the expectations that the Board and the community have for him or her and that he or she would have expectations of the community as well. Because the best education is a team effort between the institutions, the teachers and the families, ability to communicate is paramount. Success requires everyone taking the time and initiative to be active.

3. I love the idea of building a state-of-the art educational complex that can be used and shared by both the High and Middle Schools. In fact, this center should be available to all school children as well as to members of the community. We should plan for curriculum advancements beyond just music, arts and sports -- perhaps facilities for a variety of new course offerings which address some of the identified problems within our curriculum. Let's be creative.

4. Whoever is selected for Superintendent should keep the interest of the children in the forefront. The Board is an entity which sets clearly stated policies, goals and objectives for the Superintendent to use when performing his or her job. It is of course imperative that the appropriate administrative help be available. A Superintendent needs to be a CEO with an excellent staff and excellent managerial skills. It is the Superintendent¹s job, with the advice of the board, to keep the system running smoothly to the benefit of the children.

5. Budgets should be created with an interest in maximizing direct child benefits. Understandably this is a hard task in a district where capital expenditures are way overdue. I would like to see an increase of shared resources across the community, Township, Borough and Schools. This action will have a profound impact on our school facilities, especially in light of any new campus design. Since I am not currently part of any salary negotiations, I can only hope that in establishing this significant budget line wise decisions and compromises on both sides are being made.

6. Early intervention with the involvement of parents is the key. Providing additional support services to those who need them is paramount. In addition, some of the new innovative programs at the High School, such as the tutorial programs to buy back course time, and the proposed summer school, will create an environment in which youth in need see an end to their own failure patterns. As the community, with a strong minority voice, develops its long range plan, it should do so with an eye toward providing new facilities that provide new curriculum choices.

Jeffrey Spear
Age: 56
Address: 492 North Harrison Street, Princeton, NJ 08540
Years in district: 25

Occupation: English Professor, New York University

Education:
BA University of Washington
Ph.D. University of Minnesota

Children:
Sonja, Rachel and Moggie are college graduates
Dan is a college sophomore.

Community Activities: Presently I serve on the Princeton High School Site Council and do volunteer tutoring

Answers to Questions:

1. Allowing for exceptions and fluctuations, I believe that elementary education in Princeton is very good and the building Principals excellent. The implementation of World Languages has been superb. We offer great opportunities in music and art. Special education is held to a high standard by an engaged and well informed PTO though the over representation of minorities remains a vexing problem. The High School continues to graduate world class students, but too many students fall behind in middle school and high school. At PHS John Kazmark is tackling the problem with a credit recovery program and summer school, but prevention is better than cure. We have begun testing for advanced math offerings at the elementary level, but more needs to be done. More generally the district need to collaboratively address curriculum standards and implementation. We need to prudently update facilities to alleviate crowding and make up to date instruction possible. Our science students should be challenged by lab projects not the lab itself. We badly need a Personnel Director to recruit the best teachers. There is more I am sure, but I am still learning.

2. Princeton has the complexity of a city and the funding base of a residential superb. It also has extraordinary human resources. We must be up front with our candidates for Superintendent to make sure they understand our complexity and want to take on the challenge of making Princeton a model district. We should have professional guidance in soliciting applications and in initial screening. In selecting finalists the board should work with a representative group including principals, teaching staff and community members. After finalists visit us, the board must rank them, negotiate with the top candidate and, if necessary, down the line in strictest confidence. We must not go public without a binding commitment. Given our history, this will not be an easy search, but when people feel part of the process they are more likely to accept the result.

3. All facilities planning most go hand in hand with program development. If program is best served by a campus we must find a way of financing it that does not explode the budget. We may get outside money for replacing older facilities. We may be able to sell Valley Road and move the central office. We may be able to develop joint facilities with institutions that will share costs. But we cannot and will not just tax and build.

4. Boards set goals and policies. Superintendents are hired by boards to carry them out. The Board evaluates the performance of the Superintendent in achieving goals and carrying out policies. It does not manage the district.

5. Having every possible dollar go into instruction and vital facilities is a goal. It is the professional responsibility of the administration the board hires to devise a budget that carries out this or other goals as efficiently as possible.

6. Princeton has students from a wide range of cultural and language backgrounds. There is no single problem and no one reason for minority over classification. This is a national issue and Princeton has been chosen by the Federal Office of Civil Rights as a place to analyze the issues and recommend action. Assuming the recommendations make sense to us, we should vigorously pursue funding for implementation from government agencies and foundations. Solving this problem will benefit all of Princeton. I will pay close attention to this issue at every stage if on the Board.