MILLBURN, NJ - Dr. James Crisfield, Superintendent of Schools, announced at the Millburn Board of Education meeting on April 11 that two groups have filed applications for Mandarin Immersion Charter Schools.  These schools would enroll children K-5 from Millburn and neighboring towns including Maplewood, Livingston and  South Orange.

There will be an informational meeting May 9 for community members to hear speakers who have been through the process and who will, as Dr. Crisfield describes it, “talk of lessons learned.”  He acknowledged that Trenton is in favor of charters.  Dr. Crisfield cautioned that funding for charter schools comes “directly off the top of the public school budget.”

Resident Missy Rodriguez asked about the difference between charter schools and magnet schools.  Dr. Crisfield explained that magnet schools are run by a school district, while a district has no control over a charter.  Often a magnet school is created by a district when it has more than one high school, and wants to differentiate the schools.  In Dr. Crisfield’s words, charters are “private schools using public money.”

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The charter would have a start date of September, 2012.  Board member Scott Kamber offered that in his view, parents aren’t likely to move to an expensive town like Millburn/Short Hills, pay high taxes and then have their children leave what is the top district in the state to go to an unproven school.  Missy Rodriguez countered that given the fact that the Board has eliminated the K-5 World Language program, it is not out of the realm of possibility that residents might find a charter that specializes in foreign languages very attractive.  According to Dr. Crisfield, the district would give 90% of per pupil costs to the charter school.

Dr. Crisfield reminded the public that there will be a Candidates Forum held by the Short Hills Association Thursday, April 14, where the public can hear from the five residents running for three positions on the School Board.  The Board election and budget vote will be on Wednesday, April 27.

Board member Sam Levy reported that the negotiations committee met with the teachers union for five hours on April 4.  Thus far there are no agreements on salary and health benefits.  There will be a further meeting in early May.

Dr. Christine Burton, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, gave a presentation, Special Education Year End State Assessments,2009-2010, which examined test score results for both general and special education students and compared them to similar school systems.  The district hired a consultant for $3500 to help evaluate the scores.  Dr. Burton said that Millburn students did well “across the board” compared to fellow “J” districts.  In the presentation she identified areas in which students excelled, and those areas where there can be improvement, and made recommendations for an action plan to support students in study skills and test taking strategies.

Board members recognized the work of Scott Kamber, who is not running for another term on the Board.  President Michael Birnberg congratulated Mr. Kamber on “two successful terms.”  Lise Chapman said Mr. Kamber “added spark, passion, commitment and purpose.”  Jeff Waters commented that with Mr. Kamber gone, Board meetings will be fourteen minutes shorter. He then joked that given responses from the Board and public to Mr. Kamber’s often lengthy statements, maybe he should revise his estimate to eighteen minutes.

The Board also focused on those teachers and administrators retiring from the schools this year.  Lise Chapman announced that because the Board has no funds, it was forced to cancel the annual retirement party.  She asked for individuals to come forward to provide funds for the party.  This issue became more poignant as it was read in the Personnel Report that Middle School Guidance Counselor John Rogers will be retiring this spring after 39 years.  Mr. Rogers was described as “uniquely warm and nurturing,”  “beloved,” and “a treasure.”