May 28, 2014 at 8:00 AM
MILLBURN, NJ - A building which 35 years ago was owned by the Millburn Board of Education could again become a township educational facility, it was announced at Tuesday’s school board meeting.
During his property committee report, John Westfall-Kwong, who chairs the committee, said that Superintendent of Schools James Crisfield had informed the committee that the district would have the right of first refusal to purchase the Millburn Regional Day School building and property.
Crisfield added that the day school, which last belonged to the Millburn school district in 1979, had been used by the state as a school for students with disabilities and the state had decided it no longer needed the facility for that use.
He noted the four acres of property on which the day school is located would transfer to the township district free of charge, and the township school administration is awaiting an appraisal on the school building prior to determining its next steps.
The opportunity to repurchase the school property, according to the superintendent, delayed a report he was scheduled to give at Monday’s meeting on the status of items possibly under consideration for a referendum on school facilities. An update on possible referendum projects probably will be given at the board’s June 9 session, with more updates in July and possible architectural work to begin in September.
Responding to a question from board member Eric Siegel, Crisfield said it was possible the school district could explore with the state leasing rather than purchasing the day school building.
In another section of his property committee report Westfall-Kwong said of 46 households contacted for residency verification following the district’s VerifyResidency.com database search only two households had failed to respond and the district would begin the next step of its investigation for those two households.
The VerifyResidency system was brought in in response to concerns that non-residents might be illegally attending township schools.
In response to Westfall-Kwong’s report, former school board member Josh Scharf said the board and administration would not be meeting their responsibilities if they did not pursue all instances of non-resident students allegedly attending township schools.
In another facet of the residency question, the property committee chairman said re-registration of sixth-graders had produced four students who could not confirm their residences. He said followup letters had gone out to the households of those four students.
On another matter, policy committee chairman Raymond Wong reported, at the urging of board member Chase Harrison, who is a senior at Millburn High School, that his committee was introducing a change in the homework policy that would say “wherever possible tests would not be scheduled on the day immediately following a school break.”
Harrison later said although the policy change was a “step in the right direction,” he was not sure it was enforceable nor that it completely addressed the issue of student stress that he said led to his suggestion.
He added that several suggestions he had made to address student stress, backed up by exoerts in education, had not been followed up on by the policy committee.
Siegel, speaking on behalf of the policy committee because Wong had to leave the meeting early, said most of Chase’s suggestions already had been incorporated in board policy.
He also said students and their families bore some of the responsibility for student stress if they did not properly balance their academic workloads, perhaps reducing the amount of advanced placement courses they took.
Chase replied that students should not be required to perform school work “24/7.” He added that just because students chose to pursue a more rigorous curriculum by taking more AP courses they should not be deprived of their free time away from school.
On another matter, program Committee Chairwoman Regina Truitt, who was acting president at Tuesday’s meeting in the absence of Board President Jeffrey Waters, said her committee had held a number of ad hoc meetings on continuing resident suggestions of adding holidays such as the Indian celebration of Diwali or the Chinese Lunar New Year as days when township schools would be closed.
Truitt noted the committee still was working on an overall policy on cultural and religious holidays in relation to the school calendar and expected to develop a policy shortly after consulting with the board attorney.
Residents continued to press for observance of the holidays in the schools.
Jack Ouyang, president of the Millburn-Short Hills Chinese Association, noting President Barack Obama’s remarks about May as Chinese and Pacific Islands month, pointed out this year was the 155th anniversary of the driving of the golden spike completing the transcontinental railroad. He noted much of this railroad was completed with Chinese-American labor.
He also asked why Millburn could not act to recognize the Lunar New Year and Diwali when our neighboring state of New York had passed a bill in its legislature granting the recognition.
Resident Jyoti Sharma, noting discussions about observing Diwali in the schools had continued since last November, urged the board to follow the advice of several of its members and come to a final vote on the issue.
On another matter of continuing controversy, Preserve Our Schools founder Doug Cundey, disputed remarks in a recent email by Crisfield which, he said, claimed Common Core was only a set of educational standards and that curriculum still would be set by local school districts.
Cundey added that Bill Gates, one of the chief architects of Common Core, had implied that school curricula eventually would all be aligned so they met the dictates of Common Core.
Cundey’s remarks and his fears about dictation of school standards by federal officials and educational consultants were supported by Republican Essex County at-large freeholder candidate Ricardo Alonzo of Caldwell and Wayne resident Judy Rostello, who also spoke at Tuesday’s meeting.
Cundey said his group would host a second speaker on June 4 in its effort to educate the community about Common Core.