BERNARDS TWP., NJ - Frequent Bernards School Board attendee Jennifer Korn - who has been a consistent opponent of the PARCC testing in township schools and a self-described advocate for "the kids in the middle" was chosen from among seven candidates on Monday night to fill a board vacancy throughout 2017.

The board voted unanimously to appoint Korn to fill out a seat left vacant on the board following the April 10 resignation of Priti Shah, who had served as a board member since 2011. Korn was sworn in immediately following brief presentations by seven applicants, and the later announcement that she had been chosen as the board's choice.

"Educational activism is not something I expected to be doing," said Korn, a mother of four children who are, or have been in township schools. 

Sign Up for E-News

However, in recent years, she has spoken both locally - and before representatives in Trenton, she said - saying that preparation and time and money spent taking the state-mandated PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers ) test has diverted "great" local schools from their mission, and have added to students' stress.

Korn has been an active volunteer in township schools, and with the Hope Autism Foundation and the Ridge High School girls lacrosse program. 

Korn said she believe great schools should educate "the whole child." 

She also said she wants to serve as the voice for what she said at the "underserved" students - "the kids in the middle who are kind of the forgotten kids."

Next year's school budget approved

At the same meeting, on March 8, the board also voted to approve a $101 million school budget to finance the K-12 school district for the 2017-18 school year.

The unanimously approved budget - although new board member Korn abstained - will raise the local school tax rate by 2.78 cents per $100 of assessed property value, according to board figures. That translates into $27.80 per $100,000 of assessed property value, or an additional $166.80 on the local school tax bill of a township home assessed at $600,000.

Adding in all expenses, including debt payments, the proposed spending plan for operating six township schools is a proposed $101,171,316 for the school year beginning in September 2017.

The approved budget would keep all current school programs and staff intact, school officials said. If resources permit, Schools Superintendent Nick Markarian said the district has identified the need for another teacher for the autism program, a speech teacher, a computer sciences teacher at Ridge High School, a Student Assistance Counselor at the William Annin Middle School and possibly a clinical psychologist at Ridge High School. The district also would like to hire a technology teacher for the middle school, he added.

The school may not need as many teachers as a result of declining enrollment in the lower grades, Markarian said. The school district's total enrollment was 5,377 students on Oct. 15, 2017, down from 5,518 students exactly one year earlier, he said during the budget presentation.

That is a $2,456,558 increase over the total budget for the current school year, set at $98.7 million, according to the school's figures.

There is a proposed increase of $2,656,615 in the actual operating budget of $94 million planned for next year; however, that was offset by a $200,000 reduction in debt payments calculated for 2017-18, according to school officials. Much information was released on the budget prior to Monday's adoption.

Most of that increase is due to contractual obligations, said Rod McLaughlin, school business administrator. 

Among other costs in the budget are $198,000 to pay for a previous year's busing costs in which the provider of the service, the Somerset County Educational Services Commission, went in the red. McLaughlin said that amount was originally estimated to be more than $500,000, but the agreement to pay the lesser amount was reached this year.