Montgomery School Board 2009
2009 SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATES VOTERS GUIDE
NON-PARTISAN ELECTION INFORMATION
Vote Tuesday, April 21, 2009
CANDIDATES FOR MONTGOMERY SCHOOL BOARD
Polls are open in Montgomery from 7 AM to 9 PM
These are the verbatim responses of the candidates for the Montgomery Township 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 given an equal amount of space for their answers.
Candidates for Montgomery Township - Vote for three (three-year term)
Adelle B. Kirk (incumbent)
Christine Ross (incumbent) -Senior Researcher, Mathematica Policy Research
Under the cap system, any increase below the 4 percent cap this year cannot be recovered in future years. How do you view the impact of that decision on future educational quality vs. the need to slow the growth of property tax rates?
I believe the increase below the cap was the correct decision. Montgomery has a tradition to work on an effective balance of superior education in a cost effective manner. The record of high academic achievement in a structure of low cost per pupil is testament to that effort. I am sincerely thankful to all who have contributed to that end. Montgomery residents have always been willing to put education first. Now more than ever, we will continue the efficient use of every hard earned resource provided by our residents and by our State. These are times of severe economic distress. I believe the board was prudent by not asking taxpayers to approve a budget that takes full advantage of the cap, as Montgomery residents fund about 86% of the cost of education in the district. The unfortunate consequence is that these funds cannot be recovered. That simply means that the board and the administration need to continue their hard work to allocate funds in the most effective way. My understanding is that the future educational quality was not compromised with the proposed increase. We should all know that it is still an increase when the majority (if not all) of the Montgomery residents will see a decrease in their incomes or their net worth. I look forward to work with fellow board members and meet upcoming challenges. I trust to receive the support of all involved on the deployment of our resources for the benefits of our kids' education.
Montgomery has struck a careful balance between meeting the pressures of rising education costs and restraining the growth of property tax rates. For the third year in a row, the proposed Montgomery school budget calls for a below-cap tax increase. In each of these three years, the Board and Administration have rigorously examined every line item to identify efficiencies that will preserve the quality of the district's core educational services while restraining budget increases. Montgomery is among the lowest in per pupil spending among similar districts (K-12, 3,000 or more students). Student achievement is ranked among the highest in the state. This year's proposed budget preserves the instructional core, including staff positions, while responding to the economic climate facing residents.
I recognize that increases below the 4 percent cap cannot be recovered in future years. Yet, this year's unusual economic situation calls for restrained budgets. Montgomery's taxpayers provide 86 percent of the total school budget; New Jersey state aid provides just 8 percent. Under the state's school funding formula enacted one year ago (which includes costs due to enrollment, special needs, and transportation, offset by expected community contributions based on income and property wealth), New Jersey estimates that Montgomery should receive $15 million in state aid this year. We received $5.6 million. Clearly, the lack of appropriate state aid to education in the district every year is a much greater threat to future educational quality than is a below-cap budget in these very difficult economic times.
What should our educational priorities be during this time of national economic upheaval?
Test scores continue to highlight the need to focus our attention on: writing, critical thinking, science and mathematics. Global studies have shown that our education is falling behind from previous standings. The current administration has emphasized America's need to upgrade on science and mathematics programs if we are to regain our place of leadership in global productivity and trade. Also, writing and general communications (including verbal) are critical for students as they face an increasingly complex and diversified world. They need to be well rounded students with world knowledge (geography, international cultures, and languages) as well as having a deep sense of civic duty, ethics and personal responsibility. I believe that well rounded Montgomery students with firm basics will be able to enjoy furthering their education and live a rich and successful life.
Children need an excellent education now more than ever. Recent studies suggest that the U.S. is falling behind in science, math, and related areas. Children entering the workforce in the next decade will experience rapid technological change and work with people from around the world. Their education should provide content knowledge that meets the state's standards, as well as the experiences and support to think critically about information they read, to speak and write clearly, to synthesize knowledge to solve problems, and to develop their capacity for creative expression. Students will need to be citizens of the world, with a respect for and understanding of the people, languages, and cultures of other countries.
Over the past three years, Montgomery's Board of Education has been discussing with administrators and teachers the skills and knowledge students will need in the 21st century, as well as the critical role of teachers in developing these competencies. Our teachers are professionals who engage in continual professional learning to develop their skills further. Through collaboration, teachers can create powerful lessons that engage students and successfully convey important ideas. By measuring student progress, we can identify effective teaching practices and areas where further efforts are needed.
National studies indicate that conventional efforts to train teachers have not had any impact on student learning. Future efforts to improve teaching and learning and to reach every student will need to be bolder and more creative if our schools are to make a real difference for this generation of students.
The State Commissioner of Education has asked school districts to identify state mandates, regulations or directives “that could be lifted to help reduce costs to local districts.” Which ones do you think should be lifted?
The biggest issue that comes to mind is getting mandates without appropriate funding. Special Education and out of Township tuition are two examples, but I am sure I will learn more about the mandates and the individual issues if I am honored by our voters to become a school board member. I am a firm supporter for Special Education and maximizing the utilization of current facilities (and avoid the creation of potentially under utilized new facilities), but the number of state mandates continues to grow and the amount of funding provided by the state is insufficient. Mandates from the State should probably come with a balanced support from the State, the Township and from the families receiving the benefits. I look forward to learn about these issues and use my capabilities to provide suggestions and actions to the board.
State regulations ensure that school districts provide quality services and use education funding appropriately. Yet, the number and complexity of regulations have increased while constraints on state and taxpayer finances have increased cost pressures on districts. Some state mandates require activities that seem outside the core educational priorities of school districts. Others obstruct steps toward greater efficiency. For example:
- Businesses contracting with school districts must be registered with the state, but small businesses that can offer quality services at lower prices find the paperwork onerous.
- Tuition rates for out-of-district or sending district students are regulated by the state at levels below the average per-student cost for our district.
- Districts pay the expenses for annual school elections. Consolidating school board elections with other elections could save resources, and eliminating the school budget vote would help improve the stability of education funding.
- School districts must provide transportation for students attending non-public schools. At $400,000 per year, this regulation misdirects resources away from educating the students who attend our schools.
- State officials must inspect district transportation vehicles, but they charge districts for this.
In other cases, lopsided mandates are established that do not protect districts from excessive provider charges. For example, some out-of-district special education providers charge as much as $80,000 per student-year for these services. The state should control prices charged by out-of-district providers as rigorously as they control district education budgets, and they should provide financial support to districts commensurate with the costs of these placements.
Does the school district have sufficient communication among board members, administration, teachers and the community? If not, what improvements are needed?
Great strides have been made in the last three years, first with Dr. Stewart, the interim superintendent and now with Mr. Kim. The feedback has been positive throughout the district. The board and administration needs to continue to develop effective communication networks by working with the various PTA's and other community organizations. The district website is the most effective tool we currently have. We also need formalized and effective vehicles to get input and thoughts from all involved (and affected) in our decisions. It is imperative to emphasize that communications among the board, the administration and the teachers (internal communications) are very good and positive.
On a personal level, I am planning to have direct communications with board members, administration personnel, teachers and with the people in the community in order to feel their pulse. Of course, effective input is better in writing than just talking casually (as I may forget part of our conversations). If the people I meet want to make sure their input is in my mind during the decision making process, it is better if they provide me their input in writing. They are all my neighbors, my kids' teachers and the group that administer and facilitate the education in my community; and I trust we will be working towards common goals. In summary, while positive strides have been made in communications, I am sure there is room for improvement. I look forward to receive suggestions and work with the board to refine and implement them.
Montgomery's Board of Education has emphasized good communication and relationships with the community, teachers, administrators, and staff. Board meetings have long been televised, but in recent years, we have introduced additional means of communication. We have televised special meetings (such as the community conversation and college information nights). We began a district strategic planning process last year that has obtained input from all stakeholders, including the community, teachers, administrators, students, and staff. We have conducted an open budget planning process every year beginning in November and continuing, through Board meetings and special public meetings of the Finance and Budget committee, until budget adoption at the end of March. Discussions with key district stakeholders about the budget and the economic situation in January and February helped identify middle ground that all could support going forward. The district's website is updated regularly with important information.
While communication is good and has improved, it can be better. We do not always learn about important issues before they become heated. Some students and families lack information necessary to navigate an optimal path through the schools. Our schools find it challenging to engage all community groups in discussions about directions for education in the district. Identifying multiple ways to obtain input, including parent and student surveys about the quality of the educational program could improve our understanding of critical issues. Continuing to meet with the strategic planning advisory committee once the immediate tasks are completed would provide ongoing input to the district.
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