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West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School Board 2004

2004 SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATES VOTERS GUIDE

NON-PARTISAN ELECTION INFORMATION

Vote Tuesday, April 20, 2004

CANDIDATES FOR WEST WINDSOR-PLAINSBORO REGIONAL SCHOOL BOARD

Polls are open in West Windsor and Plainsboro from 7 AM 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.
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 2004 by the League of Women Voters of the Princeton Area
The League of Women Voters of the Princeton Area submitted the following five questions to all candidates for West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School Board:
1. How do you define the role of a school board member? Give examples of appropriate and inappropriate (if any) issues for the Board to consider.
2. How would you determine the rate of budget increase that you think taxpayers would support? How would you determine which areas to expand or to cut?
3. Given continued growing student enrollment, under what circumstances would you recommend redistricting? How would you prioritize redistricting guidelines (e.g. proximity vs. balancing schools), and why?
4. The new middle school and high school schedules have been in place since September 2003. What review process, if any, would you recommend, in order to evaluate objectively their impacts on students' achievements?

5. Past and current school boards made a commitment to achieve equity between the two high schools. How would you assess the success of this commitment? 

SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATES FROM PLAINSBORO

Term: 3 years
Select One

William Probasco
Address: 72 Thoreau Drive, Plainsboro, NJ 08536

Occupation:
Electrical Engineer, P.E., P.P.

Education:
BS, Rutgers College of Engineering, 1977; manager of an aerospace engineering consulting firm

Significant Community Activities:

President, Brittany Town Home Association (2 years)
CPLL Manager and Coach (5 years)
WWP Babe Ruth, Manager (3 years)
WWP Basketball League, Manager and Coach, (5 years)
WWP Soccer Association, Manager & Coach (9 years)

Responses to Questions:
1.The role of the school board member is to function as an integral part of the Board of Education. The role of the Board is to establish and set policies for the school district, provide direction to its top-level administrators, confirm or reject recommendations made by its Administration and render decisions on board-level issues. In most cases, these issues are brought to the Board by the Administration and members of the public. An example of an inappropriate issue for a Board member to consider would be evaluating staff.

2. The taxpayers of West Windsor and Plainsboro are a very intelligent and well-informed group and are well aware of the need for a quality education as well as its cost. They are, also, keenly aware of the value a quality education system adds to their property and community. I believe our taxpayers look for the end-cost budget variations from year to year to be representative of the cost of living increase, student load and any vital services that need to be added. It is incumbent upon each board member to take reasonable action to ensure that the students of our school district receive the very best education for the lowest cost possible.

3. In my opinion, redistricting is always an avenue of last resort. Not only are you faced with the problem of transitioning from one redistricting scenario to another; you also have the added problems of racial, economic, social and township balances. In the event that redistricting becomes absolutely necessary, priorities used to balance schools would vary depending on the grade levels within each. For instance, K-3 students may be best served by the school closest to their homes; whereas, for students in 9-12, the proximity of the school in which they attend relative to their homes may have less impact.

4. It has long been my observation that children and young adults adjust far more readily to change than adults. So, the issue of whether students can "handle" the new schedule does not appear to be an issue. The question that remains is, "Does this new schedule optimize the education process for our students and teachers?" Clearly, by increasing the class time we can gain a more efficient use of the students' and teachers' time spent in school. The downside is you can fit fewer class periods in any given day. The cyclic scheduling, in place since September, resolves this problem with the exception of the middle schools, where further adjustment is indicated to preserve the emphasis on language arts.
A direct approach to evaluate this new scheduling regime might be to poll the teachers and students. This scenario may provide the best assessment as to whether or not this new program is working. Other metrics, such as the use of standardized test results, are more of a long-term assessment and would not, necessarily, provide resultant data as quickly as we would like.

5. I sincerely believe that the past Ad ministration and Board made the very best decisions they could based upon the information available to them at that time. Unfortunately, events developed and needs arose that could not be foreseen. Adjustments to established plans must, therefore, be implemented. Clearly, this is where we stand today; in the midst of a required adjustment brought about by an unanticipated increase in student load. One area of inequity remains between the two high schools. High School South's facilities require considerable improvement to put them on a par with North. This is being handled with the sensitivity, concern, and professionalism we have all grown to expect from our board. Our children are the beneficiaries.
  
Ellen Walsh
Address: 4 Petty Rd., Cranbury, NJ 08512

Occupation: Adjunct Assistant Professor of Economics

Education:
B.A. Political Science, Queens College, NY
M.B.A., St. John's University, NY

Significant Community Activities:
PTSA President  HS South (2002-2004)
Action Team Member  District Strategic Planning (2004)
Member Capacity Committee (2003)
Member Scheduling Committee (2003)
Former Committee Chair (2000-2003) & Member Troop Committee (1998-Present) -- Troop 759, Boy Scouts of America
Member Mercer Area Advancement Committee - Central NJ Council, Boy Scouts of America (2003-Present)

Responses to Questions:
1. A school board member should be concerned with achievement by all students in the district. This is accomplished by having a shared vision of excellence for the district and its students. All members of the Board need to work together to set performance standards, encourage successful teaching and provide communication to the community in order to engage their trust. Since the School Board is accountable for student success, appropriate issues would include review of current programs and setting standards for student performance. Inappropriate issues are those which show a personal preference or an individual agenda.

2. WW-P is recognized as an excellent school district. It is critical to maintain this level of performance not only to benefit the students but to make our community a desirable place to live. The Board must ensure that the budget is well conceived and that all spending is earmarked for areas that will have a positive impact on student achievement. This year's budget puts the dollars where they will benefit the student. The additional teachers will keep the student/teacher ratio low at the high school level. The facility improvements are long overdue for our older schools. Building a budget is always a matter of tradeoffs which requires the board and the administration to work together and constantly communicate with the community so that their support is obtained.

3. The conclusion reached by the Toll Brothers Committee of the Board found that the anticipated new enrollment would cause two of the District's K-3 schools to be stretched to their capacity while providing the programs and that there would still be an imbalance at the high school level. The Board and the Administration must explore different scenarios to alleviate these situations. These should include evaluating programs and building modifications. Given that redistricting is a painful process, it should only be considered after all other avenues have been explored.

4. A review process is needed to determine the effect of the new schedule on student success. Since the new schedule was the result of the desire to have more instructional time, there should be an assessment of whether the increased time has produced desirable results in terms of student achievement. Specifically, are students performing better in their regular class work and on standardized tests? The Board should appoint a committee (comprised of the same type of membership as the initial study committee) to conduct a post-implementation review.

5. Equity is about offering all students the opportunity to excel. HS South is never going to be a new building but it should be an improved building. It must have the necessary improvements to make a 30-year old building safe, healthy and functional which would result in a more equitable arrangement. Past and present Boards have not delivered on their commitment to HS South. 

SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATES FROM WEST WINDSOR

Term: 3 years
Select Two
Incumbent indicated by an asterisk (*)

Robert John Johnson
Address: 50 Van Wyck Drive, Princeton Junction

Occupation: Administrator, United States Marshals Service
Education: B.A., M.A., State University of New York at Albany

Significant Community Activities: Soccer, t-ball coach

Resonses to Questions:
1.The School Board establishes and evaluates priorities and goals, and oversees the operation of the district to ensure that they are being achieved, and that district taxpayers are getting quality and value for their investment in education.

2. I don't know any taxpayer who wouldn't favor a reduction, rather than an increase, in school taxes. Unfortunately, when you look at the school budget, there just aren't too many areas where you are going to find significant enough savings to produce overall budget reductions in the foreseeable future. Teacher salaries and benefits comprise the largest part of the budget. This district has demanded an excellent, innovative, committed teaching staff, and can't realistically expect significant savings in this area. Increased enrollment requires the district to hire new teachers to maintain class sizes at or near their current level, which is (and should be) another primary goal of our district. Indeed, the desire to maintain class size was one of the strongest common themes in the survey done by the Board last year. I don't believe the community wants to cut significantly into sports and other extracurricular activities, but clearly any increase beyond current levels should be well justified before expecting taxpayer support. I believe that with large increases in energy and water/sewer costs, the district should investigate additional energy and water conservation efforts. I am encouraged by the innovative efforts to cut costs that the school administration has made, for example in the area of telecommunications, and I would endorse further innovation to trim costs wherever possible.

3. I don't believe that current enrollment projections point toward an urgent need to redistrict. Forecasts of the district's peak enrollment should allow the district to house all anticipated students in existing schools under existing neighborhood assignments. However, since High School South is significantly closer to capacity than North, and because actual enrollment may be more or less than what has been projected, redistricting cannot be ruled out. If it is required, I would support the current district policy under which proximity is paramount in grades K-5 and balance between the two townships is maintained for grades 6-12.

4. Over a period of time, if standardized test scores changed significantly, you might want to conclude that schedule changes were the cause. But conducting a truly reliable, objective evaluation of the effect of the schedule changes on student achievement is a difficult task  evaluation controls would have been in place, for example, to control for other factors. In any event, student, parent, and teacher perceptions should play a role in the evaluation of whether the schedule changes have been, overall, beneficial or detrimental. With respect to the high schools, the schedule change appears to have been well received. On the other hand, there is sufficient evidence of dissatisfaction with the middle school schedule to cause the Board and administration to reconsider the schedule.

5. If you look at instructional quality, academic, athletic and artistic accomplishments, I don't believe that either high school could be rated as superior to the other. However, it is no secret that one high school is a showcase and the other is showing its age. The current School Board has proposed allocating more than $1 million this year and $200 thousand next year to support capital projects for High School South. If state support comes in as estimated, the total over two years is almost $2 million; that shows a clear commitment on the part of the Board. I would, though, support a more formal process for identifying, prioritizing, and monitoring capital projects, either through a strategic planning process or by establishing a facilities committee.

 
Hemant Marathe*
Address:
5 Clarendon Court, West Windsor, NJ 08550

Occupation:
Independent Consultant

Education:
Ph. D. in Electrical Engineering, The University of Washington, 
M.S. in Electrical Engineering, Virginia Tech
B. S. in Electrical Engineering, I.I.T. Bombay

Significant Community Activities: WW-P School board member 2001-2004
Coach WW-P recreational soccer league 
Co-chair of the fiscal and administrative management task force
Member of the Technology committee appointed by the WW-P school board

Resonses to Questions:
1. The role of a board member is to create policies and plans that reflect values of the community. The school board is responsible for ensuring that the district operations follow the values of the community as reflected by district policies.

2. The rate of budget increase is controlled by the school board, while taxpayer support of the budget is often determined by the tax impact of the budget on individual taxpayers in the two townships. The same budget increase can lead to quite different tax impacts in the two townships.
It's a challenge to craft a budget that provides an excellent education within our constraints, i.e. increasing student population and limited state aid. This year we have successfully met the challenge. I look at each program to determine if it still serves its intended purpose. Is it the most effective way of achieving that purpose? I support evaluating programs every few years for their effectiveness.
I believe that taxpayers will support a sensible budget like the one we have crafted this year. I urge every voter to support the budget.

3. The Toll development will begin sending kids to district schools soon after the election. The "Toll committee" appointed by the board studied the issue of accommodating all new developments. According to the committee projection, existing schools will be able to accommodate all new developments without redistricting any existing neighborhoods. Based on this report, the board recently accepted recommendations for assigning Toll kids. The board will have to closely monitor actual enrollment against projections and make adjustments, if necessary.
Two years ago the board decided to redistrict the student population based largely on proximity at the K-5 level while maintaining township and socio-economic balance in 6-12 grades. I support the current parameters for decision making; proximity, balance, maintaining a cohort pathway from middle school to high school, and as little disruption to students as possible.

4. Every October the board is presented with a testing report that shows test results for all standardized tests taken by WW-P students during the year. The report will provide a good comparison of the impact of the schedules. The high school principals are evaluating the impact of their schedule by looking at student performance in individual courses.
In addition to schedules, this year the district also introduced new semester Language Arts classes in the high school. I would assess the impact of these classes on students through surveys, test scores, and course grades.
The impact of the new schedules is felt not only academically but also on the quality of student life. The reaction from students for the high school schedule is very favorable. The middle school schedule will need some tweaking to address the issues that became apparent during the year.

5. Achieving and maintaining equity between the two high schools is an ongoing process. Based on test results, the two high schools are academically equal. High School South does face challenges on two fronts: physical plant and student enrollment. In this year's budget the board has included $1.3 million dollars to fix and upgrade infrastructure at HSS. I support including similar amounts in future budgets.
The high school capacity committee report indicates that based on their capacity, the two high schools house disproportionate numbers of students. The board has made an attempt to address this imbalance by assigning all children from Toll and other new developments to CMS-HSN. As the Toll development is built, enrollment in the two high schools will slowly balance out over the coming years. The administration and school board may also need to look at alternate means of addressing this imbalance.

 
Peter R. Weale
Address:
144 Fisher Place, Princeton, NJ 08540

Occupation:
Market Development Executive (28 years): Current projects with Matrix Consulting and NJ Transit

Education:
NYS Regents Diploma (math, science, languages) Corning, NY 
Bachelor of Science (B.S.) Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Masters in Business Administration (MBA), Johnson Graduate School of Business Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

Significant Community Activities:
Vice President, Operations & Sponsorship, West Windsor Little League since 1997; Babe Ruth Baseball Regular Season and All-Star Coach; 7-yr member West Windsor Sewer Operating Committee (including Chair); 7-yr member Pedestrian & Bicycle Access Committee (including Chair); Co-Chair, Events for WW's 1988 50th Anniversary War of the Worlds Celebration.

Resonses to Questions:
1. A $130,000,000 operating budget for WWP invites scrutiny. This is $5 million more than the 2004 Boston Red Sox. It rivals the gross sales of any operating entity within West Windsor (not Plainsboro). In addition to its fiduciary responsibilities, the challenge is to deliver education and services effectively and efficiently. Everyone associated with the current Board says "this is the best we can do" yet provides operating budgets of increasing size. WWP School District is a business.
I cannot think of a recent annual budget which has been lower. More is not always better. My goal is to break that cycle by finding the right mix of administrators who can and will make a difference and partner with our teachers to contain and reduce costs. Resources relating to classroom teachers? Yes. Flat-screen monitors of dubious value? No.
The Board should constantly be soliciting input from the community. It should be a responsible parent by occasionally saying "no." It is irresponsible for the Board to meet union negotiators in a nearby hotel and agree to a teachers contract before it is presented to the voters. Role is facilitator representing taxpayers interests.

2. This question is biased by design. How about a rate of budget DECREASE? Let's start with a 4% reduction then find people who can implement. Stan O'Neal of Merrill Lynch is paid $28.1 million to lay off 75,000 people. I have specific administrators in mind who might update their resumes or positions which might lie vacant for a couple of years with no significant deterioration in programs. Invest in cost-savings.
Everyone feels the financial crunch. We must lower our costs of delivering our education programs and find sources of partnering to maintain programs and augment revenues. Our current way of doing business is NOT working because we are not delivering more for less, which violates economic realities for vitality. Evaluate our current co-curricular stipends. It would be presumptuous of me to speculate when the complete budget isn't provided to the community for its input. We can start in athletics and administration.

3. This question invites support of redistricting. However, if we share the pain  by considering a reorientation of grades 9-10 at HS-North with its enclosed classrooms, and 11-12 at HS-South with its campus-like setting, we can devote more resources to curriculum and facilities. The nay-sayers calling for a split in the District have never worked within the District to see how the system works. Neighborhood elementary schools, upper elementary schools feeding into two middle schools but recombine our students at the high school. Not enough opportunities? Wrong. We don't have four US Presidents. Competition. Choices. Get used to it.

4. This is an outstanding question! The answer lies in seeing the Executive Summary prepared by the previous administration to see what criteria were in place before the sitting Board made its decision to accept the change. After 7 months, these results should be surfacing prior to the April 20th election. How much did the 'new schedules' program cost to develop and implement? Do we know? The Administration and its Board supporters should release this information to the voters without delay

5. Please release to the public the Board of Education's decision to split the high schools. Let us see the Executive Summary provided by administrators prior to the Board's adoption of the failed 'Separate but Equal' ideology. Talk is cheap; implementation is expensive. Achieve equity? It is very nearly impossible. You cannot run two independent schools or households as cheaply as one. There will always be an imbalance.