The Fact of the Matter…

Given some recent communication from the District on student displacement and their insistence on conflating the issue with full day kindergarten, I believe a review of the facts are in order.

The timeline below clearly shows a shift in communication, plan, and lack of community involvement.

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On October 8, 2020, the Board of Education meeting minutes has this statement from President Doug Reinstein as it relates to full day kindergarten:

Mr. Doug Reinstein, President of the Berkeley Heights Board of Education, announced that after several meetings of both the Board’s Curriculum and Facilities Committees, it was being recommended by both committees that the proposed district referendum be postponed until sometime during the 2021-2022 school year. In addition, both committees have recommended that the implementation of universal Full-Day Kindergarten in the district be postponed until September 2022. Mr. Reinstein explained that the complete focus of the school district needs to be on this school year and providing the best possible education to its students despite the many challenges being posed by the COID-19 pandemic. In the meantime, the Board will decide upon a date for the referendum during 2021-2022, and the Full-Day Kindergarten Pilot Program currently being conducted by the school district will again be offered next school year.”

Please find this comment in the Board of education meeting minutes here page 2: https://www.bhpsnj.org/site/handlers/filedownload.ashx?moduleinstanceid=6597&dataid=22454&FileName=BOE%20Briefs%2010-8-2020.pdf

There is nothing about full day kindergarten in Board of Education meeting minutes for November 2020 - December 2020 - January 2021.

The February 4, 2021 minutes has this statement:

“Mr. Doug Reinstein, President of the Berkeley Heights Board of Education, announced that the Board intends to offer universal Full-Day Kindergarten in the Berkeley Heights Public Schools for the 2021-2022 school year, starting in September 2021. The district administration is being directed to conduct a comprehensive implementation effort for this program, so it can start for all Kindergarten students this coming September.

Please find this comment in the Board of education meeting minutes here page 7:

https://www.bhpsnj.org/site/handlers/filedownload.ashx?moduleinstanceid=6597&dataid=22701&FileName=BOE%20Briefs%202-4-2021.pdf

I spoke at the March 18, 2021 meeting asking questions about the details. I asked each board member to speak to their understanding of the money budgeted for full day kindergarten construction listed in Capital Expense. The President once again answered for the entire board, not letting them speak up and said details would be given at the April 8th meeting.

Following this meeting, on Saturday, March 20, a parental group started a petition. 

Monday, March 29, 2021 the Superintendent and Board President sent out an email with limited details, offering 2 town hall sessions and the April 8 Board of Education meeting for the public to share their concerns two months before the end of the school year with planned implementation for the following September.  The optics of this email reflect a reaction to pressure, from the petition, and from parents raising their voice directly and indirectly to the Board.

Of the next 9 days the pressure continued as parents became more aware of the potential for student displacement with no real opportunity for input, signatures on the petition increased now well over 300, the yard signs around town send a unified message- NO to Redistricting.  Various emails are being sent to the Superintendent and Board of Education.

Lastly, April 1, 2021 the district put out a statement on their FB page (Photo attached to article of the post). This shows the lack of any communication from October 2020 to February 2021.

There are a few key points to this timeline.

  1. It reflects Board of Education discussions with parental feedback from 2015-2018, how does this apply to forming a plan for 2021?  Those kids are in high school and college now…things have changed, just a little.
  2. It clearly shows postponement of full day kindergarten to 2022/2023.  Lastly while the community has discussed full day kindergarten for some time there was never a discussion on the options the Board of Education and Superintendent are pushing.  For the District to imply that those discussions are at all connected to the reality on the ground today or the options they are forcing parents to accept is really an insult to our intelligence.
  3. There is a 9-week timeline in which potential student displacement was announced with no details provided to the public.

Budgeting - Why did in the minutes above reflect the district's plan to have a referendum, postponed it, and then all of a sudden funds are now being appropriated in the Operating Expense from capital reserve funds, without any mention to the public or acknowledgement of this massive switch in utilization of taxpayer funds?  One would assume during the budget presentation meeting on March 18 this would have been discussed, nope!

Community, please ask yourself: Is this transparent? Is this honest? Is the Board of Education and Superintendent taking the community seriously or just sharing what they feel is the best message at the time?  Why are they trying to spin and market instead of substantively addressing the concerns of parents within the district?

I personally am not against full day kindergarten; but I am 100% against this process and moving children out of their current schools. This is not the time. Our children yearn for normalcy, having to tell my child she may have to attend a new school next year is anything but normal. The mental health of our children matters and if the district moves ahead with this plan, they are disregarding the social and emotional well-being of all our children in a tragic way.

I would like to draw attention to a recent example and what I feel is a good model even precedent for a transition like this from 2019 in Cranford, NJ.  The Cranford community was given 7 months to engage, debate and vote on a possible redistricting.  Please see this article below on how Cranford engaged the community, and not 3 meetings within 2 weeks to debate. 

Here is the link to the Cranford, NJ process:

https://www.tapinto.net/towns/cranford/sections/in-the-schools/articles/plans-8-10-receive-most-support-in-reimagining-cranford-schools-survey

Please show up this THURSDAY at 7:30pm at the April 8th Board of Education Meeting and voice your concern and ask to PAUSE this effort, due to lack or transparency, communication, and community engagement.

Thank you for singing the petition- your voice matters.

https://www.change.org/Petition_STOP_BerkeleyHeights_BOE_Relocating_your_kids