South Brunswick School Board 2011

South Brunswick Candidates Answer League Questions

Vote Wednesday, April 27, 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

EDITOR'S NOTE: These are the verbatim responses of the candidates for the South Brunswick Board of Education to questions presented by The League of Women Voters of the Princeton Area in cooperation with the South Brunswick Post. 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 three (three-year term)

Edward Birch - Senior Records Management Analyst, NYC Administration for Children’s Services

Patrick Del Piano -Retired Jersey City Firefighter, part-time Fire Safety Manager, Hudson County Community College

Raymond Kuehner - Transportation supervisor, North Brunswick Board of Education.

Deven Patel -Civil Engineer, Department of Transportation.

Arthur Robinson (incumbent) - Chemical Safety Engineer; Commander, U.S. Navy Reserves

Matthew Speesler (incumbent) - Physician (Pediatrician)

A recent forum, designed to ascertain where changes should first be made, asked participants to rank 13 areas of the budget: class sizes; shared services; restructuring school programs; curriculum changes; corporate sponsorship; sports teams; online courses; staffing; transportation; world languages; facilities use; teachers/staff; and creation of fee-based programs. In which of these areas do you believe changes should be made? Please explain your reasoning.

Mr. Birch: I would like to see curriculum changes to maximum the use of the teaching staff. There must be a minimum class size enforced to guarantee that we are not wasting the resources of our valuable teaching staff. While I value the diversity of the coursework offered, we can not afford continue offering classes that have a limited demand in this time of budget crisis.

I would expand the on-line course offerings to permit some courses to be offered on-line. This would make more space available to allow for more traditional teaching to take place.

Mr. Del Piano: The area that needs to be addressed first is shared services. This would have little if any impact on the children in the classroom. Making intelligent use of shared services creates efficiency and would be financially responsible due to current budget woes. Corporate sponsorship is another area that deserves consideration. The ability to raise revenue is helpful but we need to be careful not to give any influence to corporations over our school systems. Facilities use could also provide savings for instance opening only the high school in the summer for programming as opposed to all schools would result in energy and maintenance savings. We want to be careful not to eliminate use of facilities for citizens who pay for the school system but rather provide a more effective use of facilities. We need to continue to provide an excellent public school system but we also need to be cautious on how we spend taxpayer money. It is hard to continue to raise taxes especially for people that are on a fixed income. It is the responsibility of a school board to make sure we do not place an undue burden on taxpayers.

Mr. Kuehner: Each of the 13 areas is important in one way or another to a complete education. I feel that we need to balance the integrity of educational programs with fiscal responsibility in all areas. In addition I feel that we must provide our student’s opportunities to further develop themselves with programs in social awareness, music, athletics and performing arts. We must be as fiscally efficient as possible in providing these programs.

The right combination of required educational programs and extra curricular programs is what allows our students to be successful in the classroom this combination is different for each student.

For instance the size of a class can vary from one program to another.

To be an effective board each member must be knowledgeable and well informed on all programs within the district and be open minded and flexible in making adjustments in different areas of our educational and extracurricular programs.

Mr. Patel: Rank: Shared Services, Corporate Sponsorships, Facilities use, Online Courses, Curriculum changes, Transportation, Sports Teams, Restructuring School Programs, World Languages, Teachers/Staff, Class sizes and Creation of fee-based programs.

    1. Increasing facilities use throughout the year can bring extra revenue to the board.
    2. Shared services of the administrative staff will cut down the cost.
    3. Restructuring school programs will save money without comprising education and sports.

Mr. Robinson: The budget of the South Brunswick School District is very complex as it is composed of several ingredients by taking into account instructional programs, a safe and caring environment, staffing, personnel, employee benefits, energy costs, responsible financial planning, and the impact of charter school tuition. The Board of Education has made several changes in the 2011-2012 school budget to reduce expenses and to generate revenue. The areas are shared services by continuing to work closely with the municipal government to reduce expenses; review transportation resources with other neighboring school districts; energy cost reductions by implementing recommendations from the NJ Office of Clean Energy-Energy Audit Program and a policy to reduce energy usage in the district; the investigation of corporate advertising on our buses and other school assets; unfortunately 34.1 full time equivalent (FTE) positions were reduced in this budget as a result of a decline in the township tax ratable base and a decrease in the total South Brunswick property assessment for 2011, basically flat state aid with the additional increase in aid consumed by the charter school tuitions; and the expansion of play- to-participate initiative to a fee for AP courses and school activities. The other areas of the budget were not spared in making changes by the Board concerning curriculum changes based on student enrollment, sports teams, clubs, office supplies at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.

Dr. Speesler: In the economic climate that faces all of us in the State of N.J. there can certainly be reform/changes in all areas of the budget. I will focus on some of the areas where I have a particular concern and interest. We know that class size is directly related to student success. We need to continue to be vigilant that as class size increases due to budgetary reduction in force of teachers and staff there may be a decrease in student achievement and performance. Shared services is an area that needs to be explored and expanded upon. There are many resources available to the school district and the municipal governments alike that can result in cost savings on both sides. We have seen this when it comes to vehicle maintenance and capital improvements. The other area that I am particularly concerned with is fee based programs. We need to look long and hard at our programs and consider cost sharing when necessary to continue to deliver those programs that are necessary but not considered to be part of a thorough and efficient (T&E) education by the State of New Jersey. I believe that fee based/cost sharing with the consideration of the ability to pay is important as we look critically at our school budget.

Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf's plan for education reform proposes changing teacher evaluations and tenure, ending seniority rules that require newest teachers to be fired first, and introducing merit pay. Do you favor or oppose any parts of the plan and why?

Mr. Birch: I oppose the proposed changes in the seniority system in education. This system has worked forever. We must remember that the system is all based on the quality and quantity of performance evaluations that is done to our employees. We must place emphasis on the experiences that our veteran teachers have gained in their years of teaching. We must place greater emphasis on the evaluation and training that our staff receives after their initial appointment.

Mr. Del Piano: Placing an end to last in first out is necessary. We need to have the most qualified and best teachers in our classrooms regardless of years of service. This is not to imply that we have a great number of ineffective teachers in the system. I want to be clear that I believe that an overwhelming majority of our teachers are extremely qualified and perform their duties admirably. The concept of merit pay and evaluation reform needs to be considered. I would need to see and understand the evaluation process before making an educated decision on this topic. If the evaluation process is fair and objective the need for tenure is diminished.

Mr. Kuehner: I do favor a continuing evaluation system for teachers and for all levels of district employees. While there have been countless studies already done: there is much more work to do in developing an evaluation system but this should be made a priority. I feel an evaluation system lets the teacher or employee know exactly what is expected of them and provides them feedback on those expectations. During the first years in a school district prior to receiving tenure, all staff are scrutinized in this way and although the Portfolio is a somewhat more rigorous tool, there is a solid criteria each year on performance levels for each individual.

Mr. Patel: I favor the plan as individuals should be hired and retained in the school system based on the merit and performance without keeping the seniority in mind. After all, the standards of education must be kept at the highest level in our schools.

Mr. Robinson: South Brunswick is a well-functioning school district. We take pride in attracting and retaining quality teachers. There is much talk in Trenton about teacher evaluations and tenure, ending seniority rules requiring newest teachers to be fired first, and introducing merit pay. All of these tactics on the surface appear to fix a broken education system. During these tough economic times there should be a “calm-heads” review of changes to negotiated contracts with the teacher unions and the school districts. If there are changes to teacher evaluations and tenure, seniority, and introducing merit pay. The acting Commissioner should conduct an education forum or form a task force to address these education reforms with the NJEA and other stakeholders.

Dr. Speesler: The teacher evaluation is a critical piece in assuring that we have effective teachers and our students continue to get the best possible education. Seniority should be taken into account but not the sole factor when it comes to staff reductions. Sadly we are losing many young and energetic teachers because of seniority when we have reductions in force (RIF). Student achievement is multi-factorial and thus needs to be measured in different ways. Merit pay, although in incentive, should be given careful consideration, My fear is that effective teachers may not be seeing the student achievement that is expected of them due to many other overriding factors such as environment and socio-economic levels.

Describe your personal experiences and involvement with public schools in the past five years that qualify you as a school board member.

Mr. Birch - I attend most South Brunswick Board of Education meetings. During the past five years, I have also attended many different programs to support our students. I have attended many athletic events, family bingo fund raisers, and High School Marching Band exhibitions and competitions. As a Human Resources Senior Analyst for over 30 years, I am well versed at the Staffing, Compensation, and Labor Relations issues that relate to our educational system in today’s world.

Mr. Del Piano: I have four children who are currently, or have been through each level of our school system. I have observed what works in our schools and what could be improved. However, I believe my involvement with the community is what most qualifies me for the position. I have served on several boards in the town and have had the opportunity to meet a large variety of people. I’m currently serving my fifteenth (15) year on the South Brunswick PAL and third (3) year as Vice President of the South Brunswick Viking Athletic Club snack shack which currently earns money to provide South Brunswick students with scholarships. I coached South Brunswick PAL football for five (5) years and am currently in my eighth (8) year coaching South Brunswick PAL track. While working in these volunteer positions I have heard a variety of comments regarding the school system both positive and negative. I believe I can be a voice for the people and bring a new and different perspective to the board which will help South Brunswick to move forward.

Mr. Kuehner:

    • Member of South Brunswick Board of Education Citizens Budget Advisory Committee.
    • Current administrator in neighboring school district.
    • Current Vice-President StateTransportation Supervisors Association.
    • Volunteer for several activities, departments, groups and clubs for SBHS & Crossroads Middle School, PAL, Department of Recreation and Church...
    • Past member Dayton/Deans, Crossroads and SBHS PTAs

I value education; I believe it is because of the excellent programs, staff, and the diversity they experienced here in South Brunswick that both of my sons thrived and achieved much after they graduated.

I possess a set of skills, knowledge and experience in several areas that I feel would be an asset to the district. These include; budgeting, transportation, and energy conservation. These skills make me uniquely qualified to become a member of the board as we look for new efficiencies in this tough economy. Through my volunteer work in South Brunswick over the last 22 years, I have demonstrated my commitment and leadership. I will bring these skills and experiences to this position to ensure that our township continues to provide the best quality, most rounded education possible to our students and to do so while being fiscally responsible to the taxpayers.

Mr. Patel: I am a resident of SB for more than seven years and actively involved in all community activities. SB has a very diverse population from all walks of hard working people. I have been actively involved in school board related activities for past 3-4 years and successfully ran two school board elections in last two years. I want to bring the positive changes in school board by bringing the administrative costs down by reducing waste in current system. I attend the school board meetings on a regular basis to get involved and my all 3 kids go to SB schools.

Mr. Robinson: I’ve been involved with the South Brunswick school system for many years prior to my election to the school board in April of 2008. I’m a member of the Middlesex County School Board Association and Greenbrook School Site Council. As a member of the Board, I’m the chairman of the policy committee. I had served in the past on the policy and communications committees. I’m also serving on the curriculum/academic policy committee. I’ve served as board liaison to the South Brunswick Township Zoning Board, Special Education Association, Assets, and to several schools in the district. I’ve completed the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) training for new school board members and other NJSBA training such as salary guides and NJQSAC. During my term I have attended NJSBA conferences to learn about issues affecting other district and methods to solve these problems. I’m also fortunate to have my son graduate from South Brunswick.

Dr. Speesler: I have been a member of the South Brunswick Board of Education for the past 15 years. Early on, I achieved Certificated Status and last month I achieved status as a Master Board Member from the N.J. School Board Association. During my tenure on the Board, I have served as Chairman of the Policy committee, served on the curriculum committee, and transportation committee. I have served as Vice President and President of the Board.

As a pediatrician and School Physician for 3 school districts, I am very knowledgeable in the areas of child development and school health and operations. I interact on a routine basis with school officials and other school professionals. These experiences help me to be an informed and educated board member.

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