WW-P School Board 2011: West Windsor

West Windsor Candidates Answer League Questions

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

EDITOR'S NOTE: These are the verbatim responses of the West Windsor Township candidates for the West Windsor-Plainsboro 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)

Richard Kaye (incumbent) – Retired educator

Dana Krug – Community Volunteer; Marketing and Project Management Professional

Scott Powell - Financial Analyst

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. Kaye: The ongoing review of all school operations must consider the direct effect on students, quality of program, safety issues, ease of implementation and cost effectiveness. Increased Shared Services can further reduce school, municipal, county and state overlap costs. What is the fallout if we do not exceed state requirements for Pupil Transportation? Restructuring should consider a K-5, 6-8, 9-12 configuration, middle school schedule better utilizing staff and program time, group music lessons beginning in grade 6, and what world languages we offer.

Ms. Krug: We should reduce costs with as minimal an effect on the education of students as possible. As a forum participant, I heard constituents' perspectives on these potential changes. In order to decide which of these areas warrants a change, we would need to understand the financial underpinnings of each area and also look at the contractual obligations of the district employees, which comprise 80% of the WW-P budget. Revenue-generating areas, such as increasing fees for facilities use and creating fee-based programs, will help to bring in needed revenue, but may not be substantial enough to make a difference. Shared service agreements should be pursued. Transportation routes should be tweaked for efficiencies. A careful review of stipends should occur. I agree with the community participants who felt that sports, world languages and class sizes should not be affected. We will need to be thorough, but fair, without affecting the high quality education our students receive.

Mr. Powell: We all believe in a quality education for our children. We can also agree that the avenue to a quality education is achieved through quality teachers. The question then is, how do we establish a framework where such ideals can be put in place? The answer lies in establishing a set of achievable goals and incentives for our teachers and school.

Teacher stipends represent a good starting point to ensure that we retain quality teachers. While stipends have the potential to reward hard working teachers, they lack a necessary link between performance and pay. I propose that we pay more to teachers in more technically demanding or specialized subject matters. Teachers in disciplines such as mathematic, the sciences, special needs, and others should have higher base salaries. But we should also reward teachers who have demonstrated measurable exceptional teaching outcomes in any disciplines. We should restrict stipends and institute a better system to reward our hardest working teachers.

Online courses also offer an opportunity to improve education. We have two options to utilize online courses. First, we can offer high school credit for college courses taken online. Second, we can deploy online learning materials like those found at leading colleges.

List, in order of priority, the three most important challenges facing the West Windsor-Plainsboro school district. How do you plan, in both the short and long term, to address them?

Mr. Kaye: Maintaining current student learning success in our political climate requires improved communication of what we do, the results achieved, our commitment to fiscal responsibility, and the impact of each proposed change. The continued use of Community Forums, The Superintendent’s Roundtable, meetings with PTA’s can be augmented with a television program, Spotlight on Our Schools, that I will work to create. Program and process to support all students as competent 21st century learners ends rote memory, and requires problem solving, gathering and assessing data, working in collaborative groups, and being self directed learners. Every child maximizing their fullest potential requires eliminating existing group achievement gaps, and moving each learner further than generalized expectation levels. The plans for addressing the latter two priorities have already been put into practice and must be monitored, reported out to the public and refined based upon an analysis of the data that emerges.

Ms. Krug: 1. Preserving the high quality of education in the face of financial constraints

2. Implementing consistent curriculum and standards across grades and district schools

3. Ensuring that each WW-P student receives differentiated instruction

The first priority is to maintain the high quality of education in the WW-P School District. The board and administration will have to take a hard look at students' needs, both academic and outside of the classroom. Our children deserve an education that will prepare them well for college and for careers in a diverse and changing world. With fluctuating state aid and caps, we need to make sure that every tax dollar is spent wisely and fairly.

Parents have told me about the inconsistency of curriculum and standards across grade levels and district schools. The district needs to develop a policy that allows for individual teacher style, while ensuring that students are receiving the same lessons and homework.

We need to ensure that each student is challenged to the best of his/her ability.

Mr. Powell: Most importantly, we need to improve our teacher performance. As many readers probably know, managing employees well requires a lot of time and skill. However, with dedication and effort, good coaching improves performance. We should use teacher evaluations that rely on measurable targets including student learning outcomes and student and parent satisfaction.

An equal priority should be to keep our property taxes under control, as this affects all residents of West Windsor and Plainsboro. This may be difficult to change in the short run, as the costs are driven primarily by contractually negotiated pay and benefits. Longer term, we have the opportunity to address these costs through contract negotiations that pay teachers according to effectiveness and productivity.

Finally, we need to continue to ensure that the education we provide our students stays at the highest possible level. As we compete in a global talent race, we must strive to produce globally competitive students. This includes setting rigorous learning outcome targets for our students, and holding our teachers accountable for teaching them.

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. Kaye: The concept of tenure for life is equally unacceptable as one year contracts that have no basis in research based best practices of teaching or evaluation, and/or leave staff unprotected from local political gamesmanship. With total staff involvement and support, WW-P has already created and implemented such a clinical evaluation process requiring demonstrated best practices of instruction, promoting professional growth, and providing accountability standards that include student performance measures. Excessive emphasis on low level low impact state testing data, currently supported by the acting Commissioner, should be constrained and resources placed in developing valid and reliable measures of best instructional practices. In order to measure the effect of a teacher, you have to see her or him teach. When student performance and teacher practice can be measured consistently in a valid and reliable way, proposals for changing tenure and seniority should be reviewed. Until we have a fair, effective, practice grounded way for measuring professional impact, tenure and seniority, are necessary to protect good teachers working with our most challenging students. Seniority alone should not be the decision maker in issues of staff reduction. However, we must protect folks from those who would make such decisions merely to save extra dollars. All of these questions should be studied. However, we do not need another political football and slick sound bites that cloud the significant issues and result in decisions that may destroy public education and deny all children the future that a quality education can support.

Ms. Krug: The New Jersey State Legislature may pass reforms on teacher evaluations, tenure, seniority rules and merit pay. The West Windsor Plainsboro School Board will be required by law to follow the statutes that the State Legislature passes. As state officials explore such reforms, I feel we should avoid relying too heavily on test results for evaluating teachers or assigning merit pay. I would advise inviting committed, creative, veteran teachers to participate in discussions regarding teacher reforms. Talented teachers know first-hand what is required to achieve success in the classroom, and seeking teacher input regarding implementation of new reforms might make the process run more smoothly. In addition, gathering input from other stakeholders, including parents, should be a factor in teacher evaluation. As a board member, I will work collaboratively with the teachers, administrators and fellow board members to adopt any educational reforms that the State Legislature puts into law. I would also seek public input on how to implement any state mandates fairly.

Mr. Powell: This plan demonstrates a positive way of thinking about our teachers. In any job, achievement should be the primary driver of compensation. Each of the proposed reforms effectively involves a merit based employment system for teachers. First, we need an evaluation system that identifies the best teachers, so we can pay them more. At the start of each year, each teacher should know that he or she will be evaluated based on specific outcomes. Teachers that meet or exceed their targets should be eligible for a favored status.

We are all aware that these are trying times for the citizens of New Jersey and our school district. These tough times call for new and improved methods to better deal with our challenges. We must boldly confront these challenges.

MISSION STATEMENT: The League of Women Voters®, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy.

The Princeton League, which encompasses the same area as is served by The Packet, needs members (men and women) to act as observers at meetings of their local school boards and municipalities and to report back issues that can be explored in candidates’ forums and questionnaires or that may become the basis for League studies. To become a member or learn more, click here.