To the Editor:
On Wednesday, April 23 Chatham voters decide public school funding for the 2014-15 school year. Please consider this: Chatham schools provide the best value for money in New Jersey. Thirty-five percent of Chatham graduates attend institutions in the top Barron’s category, which is typically attended by the top 20% of students.
Chatham students have some of the best SAT, ACT, AP, HSPA, and NJASK scores in the state. They win more county and state championship athletic events than most. They are talented musicians, actors, and singers, performing in the most prestigious venues. About half participate in athletics and half in the arts. They study languages from the largest economies in the world: China, Germany, France and Spanish-speaking countries.
Chatham schools do all of this for one of the lowest dollar per student costs in New Jersey. Over the past several years, real inflation-adjusted Chatham per-student costs have decreased, an exception to the rule in NJ.
Many factors contribute to this success. Parents of Chatham students volunteer at significant rates for school and community activities. They are active in PTOs, Athletic Boosters, Music and Theatre Boosters, Chatham Education Foundation, Education Counts, and Chatham Athletic Foundation. School Board slots are filled by capable citizens, and meetings are civil and effectively run. Chatham schools attract the best teachers and administrators. Senior citizens are supportive and many attend events such as the high school musical “Anything Goes.”
Over 90% of Chatham school funds come from local real estate taxes because the state of NJ allocates very little “state aid” to our district. Chatham schools do not have a swimming pool or an ice rink, but still win state championships in swimming and ice hockey. The district has been growing for many years, and many school facilities are operating above official NJ guideline functional capacity. A Chatham home is worth significantly more than a comparable home in most other towns on New Jersey Transit’s Midtown Direct train service lines, in large part due to the reputation of the schools.
Even with all of this success, there are challenges to be addressed. The high school is becoming increasingly more crowded and needs more classrooms and teachers. The largest budget increase ($711k or 6%) is for special education, where NJ-approved rates for those students who cannot be accommodated within the district will increase 10%. The second largest budget increase ($629k or 6%) is in health care costs for district personnel in spite of significant efforts by the district to control costs. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (“STEM”) programs need strengthening to be competitive. The proposed budget includes funds to address all of these issues in a cost-efficient manner, and it deserves the continued support of the community.
Please vote “yes” for question 1 (general fund), and question 2 (enhance technology).
Alan C. Routh, 82 Fairview Avenue, Chatham, NJ