West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School Board 2005
2005 SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATES VOTERS GUIDE
NON-PARTISAN ELECTION INFORMATION
Vote Tuesday, April 19, 2005
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 2005 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. Why are you running for a seat on the Board of Education?
2. Please identify the most significant challenges facing the school district. As a school board member, how would you deal with these challenges?
3. What framework would you favor for crafting school budgets? How would you determine which areas to expand or to cut?
4. 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?
5. As a school board member, how would you incorporate input from the public into your decision making?
SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATE FROM PLAINSBORO
Term: 3 years
Patricia Bocarsly (incumbent)
Address: 15 Clydesdale Court, Plainsboro, NJ 08536
Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School
B.S. Biochemistry, UCLA, 1976
MA UC Davis, Microbiology, 1977
Ph.D. Boston University - Microbiology, 1980
Post-doctoral - Sloan-Kettering Inst. for Cancer Research
Significant Community Activities:
WW-P BOE (2002-2005); Vice President 2004-2005
WW-P Education Foundation Trustee (1998 - present), Vice President 2000-2002
PTA/PTSA officer: UES - secretary, co-president; WW-P Middle School - Vice President; HS North: Treasurer
Responses to Questions:
1. The district and BOE have accomplished a great deal over the past couple of years. Central to this progress was the hiring of Dr. Loretan as superintendent, and the subsequent addition of Dr. Victoria Kniewel to the administrative team. We are on a very positive trajectory in terms of efficient district management, keeping spending under control, beginning to implement the strategic plan, curriculum articulation, and effective management of growth. I have enjoyed being a part of the leadership that contributes to the excellence of our district and have learned an enormous amount during the past three years. I look forward to applying this experience to my second term on the Board.
2. The most significant issues facing us are educational, budgetary and physical -- in other words, the next Board faces challenges at every level. We need to be creative as we continually seek to improve and enhance our educational programs to benefit all children in light of ever-increasing budgetary restraints, especially those imposed by S1701. In the educational arena, we need to ensure that all children receive an exceptional education that will enable them to function effectively in a world that is rapidly changing. This requires constant evaluation and updating of curriculum and instruction and continued mentoring of our outstanding District faculty and staff. I have greatly enjoyed working with the Curriculum Committee and hope to continue that in the next year. The Board and Administration need to be vigilant about how we spend the taxpayers' money and how we protect our stakeholders' interests in our district assets. We have great facilities, but several of those facilities are in need of repairs and upgrades. A major goal of the next year will be to determine how to best meet these physical needs in a fiscally responsible manner.
3. As a Board member, I seek to always ask, "What's best for kids?" when thinking about budgetary issues. The Board's and Administration's philosophy has been to protect the classroom -- keeping reasonable class sizes and a rich academic and co-curricular program, while still controlling costs. Despite the pressures of our growing district, the Board and Administration have delivered three budgets in a row at 4.6% or under, much lower than our local peer districts. The Board and Administration need to continue our scrutiny of programs and continually evaluate what works and what doesn't. In accordance with the Strategic Plan, the full budgetary impact of any proposed program must be understood prior to its adoption. When necessary, we need to be willing to cut or modify programs, not just add on top of our existing budgetary structure. An example of effective budgeting coupled with sound educational practice was the recent move of some special education kids into District programs. Not only has this greatly benefited the kids, but it has also allowed us to deliver these exceptional programs at a cost savings to the District. Based on this successful implementation, additional in-house special ed programs are being planned for next year.
4. Our two high schools are superb -- our successes in academics, athletics, and co-curriculars are amazing, and the faculties at both campuses are exceptional. Last year, the Board made decisions about moving more students into the North sending path that will balance out the numbers of students in the not too distant future. Thus, while each of the high schools has its unique personality, I believe we have been very successful in creating equity in the two schools. The one area that still requires immediate attention is the physical facility at South -- we need to commit to updating the HS South facilities to both protect the physical assets and to enhance educational opportunities.
5. I think that the Board and Administration are doing a better job in communicating with and gaining input from the public than in past years, but there is still room for improvement. Examples of improved communication are the strategic planning process we just finished, and the Middle School Study which is ongoing and has been an inclusive process, most recently with parent, teacher and student focus groups. In addition to these formal activities that inform the Board about community priorities, it is important for Board members to interact with community members, listen to their issues, and be able to represent their points of view to the Administration and fellow Board members. I encourage members of the public from either town to contact me with their concerns.
SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATES FROM WEST WINDSOR
Term: 3 years
Address: 66 Coneflower Lane, West Windsor, NJ 08550
Advanced studies, Rutgers University
M.A. Administration/Supervision, City University of New York
M.A. Social Studies/Education, New York University N.Y.C
B.A. History/Political Science, Queens College. N.Y.C.
Significant Community Activities:
Member of the WW-P Strategic Planning Core Team
Member of the WW-P Education Foundation Board of Directors
Member of the Village Grande Civic Association, former co-chairperson Education Committee of the Civic Association
Facilitator of movie discussion series at a community house of worship
Organizer and facilitator of Sunday at The Movies series, Village Grande
Organizer and facilitator of Contemporary Issues Discussion Club at
Village Grande - Foreign Policy Association Program
Member of the planning committee of the week-end club, Village Grande
Responses to Questions:
1. As a member of the Core Team, I helped craft the WW-P Strategic Plan. I've created school/community partnerships, planned/implemented, school construction projects and building/district budgets. My decision-making skills deal with the issue of increasing student/parent needs and wants, with decreasing financial resources.
2. What must schools provide to all students, given decreasing financial resources? The budget process brings the values and beliefs of the community into operation. What data is gathered, by whom, and how it is used to make the final decisions, is critical. I have done this throughout my career.
A second issue is the needs of our physical plants. Data for this must include safety/health, heating/ventilation, code requirements, electrical capacity for current/future technology, enrollment projections, space limitations, and more. School staff, parents, community members and students, must be involved creating the questions, gathering data and recommending to the Board. Public information sharing is critical. Priorities/costs must be part of the process. A committee of all stakeholders, including board members, should present a plan to the Board for review, recommendation and action, including financial analysis, cost benefit data, time frames, what can be done in regular budget cycles, is a second ballot question required, do we need a referendum?
A third issue is who provides which services? What must be provided by schools, other community organizations, and parents? Should schools supplement limited parent resources? This question limits the mission of the Board of Education, so the Strategic Plan must be the framework for what we do and how we do it. I helped create the plan and can be a primary source for implementing its use.
The final issue is maintaining excellence when you are among the best. Never stop working to be even better. The most capable can go further. That's not the place to cut dollars, or you lower the bar for everyone. The fragile must be given everything needed to move ahead. The middle is not left in-between, but must constantly be empowered for improved achievement. The goal is the growth of all students to continuously higher levels of accomplishment.
3. This process requires maximum input/review by all staff. The Superintendent trains principals/program leaders to represent their building and program, and the best interests of all students/district. Data must include what exists on hand. Focus on why needed, who is served, and prioritize. A second review by the Superintendent and his/her team adds financial analysis, including existing dollars, revenue anticipated from state, federal and grants sources, current tax rate dollars projected, and impact of legislation such as S1701. The Superintendent and Board invite the public to join the review. Differences between requests and projected dollars are evident and the dialogue about asking for additional public funds begins. Everyone faces financial realities, whether fixed income or pending college tuition. This process must ensure everyone is involved, core program is available to all learners, safety and health issues are addressed, and dollars spent get the maximum result for the largest population, with an affordable price tag. Thirty plus years of experience creating budgets allows me to understand the data needed, how to ensure maximum input from all stakeholders, the priority process and final decision-making.
4. The Board made a good start creating a separate facilities committee. Sending new Toll Brothers students to elementary schools, Community Middle School and WW-P North will equalize high school populations in two years. Now we must analyze physical plant needs, requiring total community input, to determine what can be done through existing unused funds, the next budget, or a referendum. I have done this twice and that experience is important.
Physical plant equity is an issue. However, we have created equity of excellence of instruction and student achievement that must be maintained.
5. I am committed to, and want, public input. Once elected, I will arrive at meetings one half hour early for public/comments. A Board office mailbox, special e-mail access and a separate home telephone line will help. I know how to bring all parties into the conversation and make decisions in a partnership based upon earned trust. We can't always reach consensus, but we must walk away agreeing we made the best decisions possible for our community.
To all of the above I offer my thirty-nine years of experience, my energy, and a pledge to accept nothing less than I have stated.
Address: 34 Cambridge Way, Princeton Junction, NJ 08550
High School Teacher & Adjunct University Faculty Member. Financial services consultant.
BA Tufts University. MA (Ph.D. ABD) Princeton University
Significant Community Activities:
Finance Committee Member, Beth Chaim Synagogue
Princeton University - Distinguished Teacher Award committee member (and recipient)
Faculty representative, Hopewell Valley Central High School PTO
Wife Lisa Shrager is 2nd grade liaison for Maurice Hawk Elementary School PTA and Assistant Cub Scout den leader.
Responses to Questions:
1. I am running for the Board because I have a vested interest in the system: I am an educator both concerned and connected with what goes on in the classroom every day; and I am a West Windsor resident tax payer of eight years concerned that my phenomenally high taxes are being spent appropriately and efficiently.
I know that as West Windsor experiences explosive growth and Plainsboro experiences declining ratables, the needs of our individual schools will dramatically shift. Already, three West Windsor schools require significant attention to their infrastructures. The burgeoning class sizes will only exacerbate this situation unless we make it a priority today.
Bluntly, I plan to be instrumental in assuring the West Windsor schools are as good or better ten years from now than they are today. It is not coincidental that in ten years, my 2nd grader will be graduating from high school.
2. Our school district is entering a phase where we need to manage growth, while spending efficiently and budgeting more accurately and effectively than ever before. Much of this is due to fallout from the new Senate Bill 1701, which, while intended to cap property taxes, has a dramatic impact on collective bargaining, education programming, and the financial operations of every district in the state. West Windsor is no exception to this, but given the dramatic growth in West Windsor and our commitment to excellence in education, this bill poses unique challenges.
The district faces the dire need for infrastructure improvements at three of our West Windsor-based schools. We should be planning significant upgrades to Dutch Neck and High School South, and a resolution to the mold issue at Maurice Hawk.
Finally, the district is at an impasse regarding contract negotiations with our teachers. Naturally, this takes precedence over other challenges. We must negotiate reasonably with the teacher's union. After all, we entrust the daily safety as well as the future success of our children to these teachers: they deserve a fair hearing at the negotiation table.
3. Efficient spending and distribution of resources in a district whose profile is rapidly changing should alleviate or eliminate the need to cut programs.
Should the need arise, certain programs will NOT feel the axe on my watch: industrial arts and vocational programs, music, art, and world languages are often scapegoats to the need to trim budgets. The breadth of experience and the opportunities offered to ALL students by these programs are invaluable and are a true measure of a quality public school system.
4. While both schools have excelled and are truly renowned places of learning in the state, I am concerned about the physical state of High School South.
High School North is state of the art, as it should be. High School South still suffers from attempts to jury-rig something resembling the traditional classroom atmosphere around a misguided design. The carpets are threadbare, the students eat lunch in the hallway, and the technology access is sub-par. The school is a model establishment of pedagogy with a dedicated faculty and administration. It is truly a pity that such a successful and dynamic place of learning has to be housed in such an unappealing, unattractive, and uncomfortable building.
5. The school board serves two roles: to be a proxy for the community, and to be a proxy for the students it serves. These roles can NOT be in conflict. For every action it takes the board must consider the needs of the community in the context of the best interests of the students it serves.
As a member of the community, a father to a child in the district--as well as an educator and businessman--my actions on the Board will always be consistent with this mandate. The board must consider input from administration and faculty, parents and community leaders, students and tax-payers in order to carefully weigh potentially opposing opinions and make decisions that best serve our constituency.
Address: 5 Jill Drive, Princeton Junction
Director of Engineering, Ortho-Clinical Diagnostics (a Johnson & Johnson company)
BS Chemical Engineering, University of Texas - Austin
Significant Community Activities:
T-Ball, Baseball, Soccer Coach
Pop Warner Football/Cheerleading
PTSA volunteer, West Windsor Recreation volunteer
Fresh Air Fund Host Family
Responses to Questions:
1. I appreciate and value the education that my two children are receiving and would like to give back to the community. I believe I can add value to the decision-making processes of the board. As a businessman, I am experienced in working with a wide variety of constituents to provide both near term solutions and longer term strategic plans. To be successful in this area requires the ability to clearly define the issues, invite input and perspective from all affected parties, develop innovative approaches or solutions based upon that input, and finally, implement and measure performance.
2. Addressing the physical condition of our older buildings needs to be a top priority of the Board and Administration. As a Board member, I would support and lend my industry experience in developing and implementing a comprehensive, multi-year district capital improvement plan. This plan needs to address the immediate needs brought about by previously deferred maintenance, facility renovations to allow an equitable delivery of programs across the schools, and essential elements of an ongoing maintenance program. The development of this capital improvement plan needs to be based on the input and support of the community as well as the professional assessment of architectural experts. I have experience in dealing with very similar issues through my work, where I have had to prioritize an extensive list of capital improvement projects and obtain the best value for the dollar from engineers and architects.
Additionally, the District will face the challenges of constructing an annual budget within the limitations of growth imposed by S-1701. This will require an evermore critical eye toward District spending and evaluation of program effectiveness.
3. Throughout the yearly planning cycle, the Board needs to encourage and support the Administration in taking a critical view of the district's programs. Some programs may need to be altered to free up dollars for more effective or better-utilized offerings. After a thorough review of proposed changes the Board can then determine which programs should be cut and which ones expanded. This should be an ongoing process of measurement and improvement that feeds into the budget cycle, not an action that is merely taken to meet budgetary constraints.
4. With regard to program offerings and the educational opportunities at the two high schools, I believe the past school boards have done a commendable job in achieving equity. Recent statewide reports indicate that student academic performance is not only equal but in the top of the state. However, the physical condition of High School South has several areas in need of improvement to ensure that the overall educational experience is equitable to High School North.
First, there are several maintenance items at South, such as worn carpeting and seating in the theater and other deteriorated surfaces, which have been deferred for too long. Left unaddressed, these deferred maintenance items negatively affect the learning environment and morale of our students and faculty. Second, there is a need for some facilities upgrade at South. There will always be differences in the two campuses due to the age and style of the buildings. However, we need to identify those facilities at South that limit the delivery of educational programs, such as physical education and health, music, and general storage space. Both maintenance and upgrade projects need to be identified, prioritized, and incorporated into a district wide plan for capital improvements. A commitment is needed to invest in improving the quality and condition of our older buildings to ensure all students in the district have a positive environment for their educational experience.
5. The community has a vital role to play in the decisions that affect our school district. The success or failure of our district affects the lives of our children, the value of our property, and ultimately our community identity. As such, the public is the key stakeholder and must be included in the decision making process. I believe the recently approved District Strategic Plan will provide a new emphasis and structure for obtaining more community involvement in the education process and the decision making of the Board. Through the formation of focus groups, community inclusive committees, mentoring opportunities, etc., the district is committed to reaching out to the wealth of knowledge, talent, and innovative ideas that our community is blessed with. I encourage all citizens to take advantage of the opportunity to shape our school district and improve the lives of our children.