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Princeton School Board 2010

2010 SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATES VOTERS GUIDE

NON-PARTISAN ELECTION INFORMATION

Vote Tuesday, April 20, 2010

PRINCETON REGIONAL SCHOOL BOARD TOWNSHIP CANDIDATE RESPONSES

Polls are open in Princeton from 12 noon to 9 PM

EDITOR'S NOTE: These are the verbatim responses of the Township candidates for the Princeton Regional Board of Education to questions presented by The League of Women Voters of the Princeton Area in cooperation with The Princeton Packet. The candidates were allowed to vary the length of their answers to the three questions but were given a word limit for the total.

Candidates – Vote for two (three-year term)

Dorothy Bedford (incumbent) - retired banker; community volunteer
Molly Chrein - Attorney -Former Public Defender and Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for children
Afsheen Shamsi - Public Relations Director, New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NJ)

In any challenging economic climate, constituencies and programs compete for the same dollar. Co-curricular activities – sports, arts, and clubs – compete with academics. Class size at the elementary level competes with advanced courses at the high school level. Do you favor cutting/reducing specific programs or making district-wide cuts?

Ms. Bedford:
The curriculum and co-curricular activities of the Princeton Regional School are highly integrated, PK-12, and are intended to educate, engage and motivate students of many different abilities, talents, family backgrounds and economic circumstances. I believe at the same time, Board members must respect the goodwill and sacrifices of our taxpayers to provide that educational opportunity. It follows that in the current economic climate, every aspect of each program element, district-wide, has to be reconsidered to look for efficiencies and value. However, each cut must also be analyzed for unintended consequences, so that the cuts don’t end up costing taxpayers more in the long run.

Ms. Chrein:
The dire fiscal crisis requires district wide cuts. Blunt cuts of entire programs or hitting one grade level would be a grave miscalculation leading to consequences that could take years to correct. Our first priority is to ensure that all PRS students are able to reach their full potential, while remaining mindful of the need to minimize the burden on taxpayers. This means that we have to maintain manageable class sizes in the primary grades as well as offer advanced courses for the High School. The arts are part of our academic core curriculum and must be protected. Co-curricular activities such as sports and clubs are important and keep students engaged in school and bridge the achievement gap. However, tough choices within programs will have to be made and certainly every member of the school community will be affected. Bare bone funding of programs can avoid their elimination. We have to be mindful that once a program is eliminated it will be nearly impossible to reinstate.

Ms. Shamsi: The district must continue to remain sensitive to our property tax burden, and the answer is not a simple either/or. Solutions to the current budget crisis must be multi-faceted. The budget must be thoroughly examined for cost savings and additional funding streams should be proactively sought.

If specific programs are cut, it may perhaps be easier to find alternative sources of funding for these targeted programs by identifying specific grants or public-private partnerships to facilitate the continued support for said programs. Unfortunately though, we may be impacting specific populations, like our gifted, minority, special needs, and ESL programs that are invaluable to our children’s unique individual needs.

Alternatively if general district-wide cuts are made, this may positively provoke the reigning in of spending and encourage all departments to think in terms of fiscal prudence. Unfortunately however, with such an indiscriminate approach, we take the risk of moving away from being a student centered district, with the likely result that our most sensitive populations stand to be negatively affected.

I want to reiterate that all programs within the district should function efficiently and we should pursue opportunities to access non-tax revenues.

How do you propose to deal with steep reductions in state aid which are likely to continue into the future? Please indicate areas of the budget that you would review for potential savings.

Ms. Bedford:
I’ll discuss “savings”, the regulatory environment, and the reality of cuts. First, there are no more “savings,” only cuts. Since 2007, the staff and finance committee of the Board have ferreted out real savings by re-thinking the details of our business. We have restructured property and liability insurance; realigned custodial hours; reduced transportation and energy expenditures; refinanced our construction bonds, obtained productivity gains in our union negotiations and concessions in certain health insurance offerings, and rethought class sizes. Those savings drove the 2008 and 2009 budget increases well below “cap”. In 2009 the tax levy increase was a mere 1.66%. In terms of what is locally controllable, the Princeton Regional School District (PRSD) has recently offered taxpayers every possible saving. State aid and regulation are a different story.

In 2008 I noticed that PRSD may be the victim of certain anomalies in the calculation of state aid. We believe we are penalized for saving Princeton taxpayer dollars by serving many high-needs Special Education children in-district. The Corzine Administration would not discuss this issue, but the Christie Administration is very interested in regulatory relief. I will make this my top priority.

Third, as the current budget comes into focus, there is no area left untouched, including program/course offerings. After rethinking the business activities, now the re-configuration reaches into the structure of educational areas. I will be trying to preserve critical program offerings while achieving the required level of cuts to balance the budget under the “cap” in an era of reduced state aid. These areas will likely include certain athletics and other co-curricular organizations (gr. 6-12), our award-winning foreign language program (K-12), high school elective courses, and the manner of delivering certain special education and intervention services, among others.

Two final thoughts. In 2011 the current PREA contract will expire. As we continue to realign the district cost structure, I am hopeful that PREA will join with the Board in figuring out creative responses. Lastly, there are three areas which require continued investment: stewardship of the physical plant (roofs, windows); technology (in which we are embarrassingly backward); and our all-day pre-K and Kindergarten programs, which provide solid early education and defuse latent learning issues.

Ms. Chrein:
Programs that are not working or are inefficient should be terminated. However, the issue is what can we keep. As a trial lawyer I have been trained to look at issues from many different angles, a skill that will be effective in evaluation and planning. All decisions must be made to continue our high standards for every student. Technological advances are crucial to this planning.

Finding alternative sources to fund education is necessary to counter the devastating cuts of State funds to our schools. As a Board Member of the Princeton Education Foundation (PEF) I have worked to bring in private funds to support the excellence of the Princeton Regional Schools. With the help of private donors these efforts will continue to grow and bring more grants and private funding to support co-curricular programs as well as innovative academic initiatives. The use of sponsorships from private sources and partnerships with other Township and Borough resources could fund many of the co-curricular programs that are provided by the schools. Schools and local governing bodies must find ways to partner to cut costs.

Ms. Shamsi:
As a school board member, I intend to escalate our interaction with state, regional, county and federal counterparts and reach out to the private sector to foster an openness and willingness to build public-private partnerships, like the excellent community vegetable garden at Riverside, which now brings in revenue by providing organic ingredients to local businesses like The Bent Spoon.

During these financially challenging times, we must ensure that our instructional core is not affected so that Princeton can continue to maintain educational excellence. I believe the district should invest resources in grant writing to fund programs. Corporate and private support should be pursued to cover the costs of co-curricular activities.

Most importantly, the district should exercise fiscal prudence so that these budget cuts do not translate into an increased financial burden for local families. The district should ensure that it is functioning efficiently in all areas.

A greater focus should be placed on securing non-tax revenue for our district - Princeton University should continue to be called upon to contribute to the community and local schools just like every family, organization and corporation in Princeton.

What principles will guide your decision-making as a School Board member?

Ms. Bedford:
A. Value for the taxpayer dollar invested in public education. B. Addressing the needs of each student as an individual, via curriculum and the monitoring of achievement, and via teachers’ continuing professional development.

Ms. Chrein:
Two principles would guide my decision-making, if elected: 1: High standards of education and 2: protect taxpayers. As a Board Member I would work to preserve the high standards of education for all PRS students so that we maintain the essence of what makes Princeton special. Board policies should find ways to integrate technology and new ideas into the curriculum. The Schools should improve communication between faculty, students, parents and the community. Whenever possible the schools should work to maximize partnerships with other local government and community organizations as well as finding private funding sources for programs. It is crucial to protect the taxpayers’ interests by ensuring that decisions are fiscally prudent while protecting the excellence of our schools.

Ms. Shamsi:
Focusing on the academic success of our children while ensuring that the school district exercises fiscal prudence are two core principles that will always guide my decision-making. I believe our district should be student centered and we should collectively focus on achievement for all our children so that their needs are met. I also believe the district must ensure that it is functioning efficiently so that programs are not translating into higher tax burdens for our community.

We are living in a global age where technology allows us to easily connect with different regions of the world. I would thus encourage the district to help our students effectively explore our diversity in order to build bridges of understanding across cultural barriers.

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