BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The First Robotics Team 303 at the Bridgewater-Raritan High School ranked third in the world in 2013, and won the Chairman's Award for outreach at the local and regional levels in 2014, and now they are on the hunt for a very important prize -- a new advisor.
Former advisor Paul Kloberg retired from the school district at the end of the 2013-2014 school year, but the team has been unable to replace him.
BRHS student Tyler Stark, captain of the team, came before the board of education Monday with concern over the low amount of a stipend being paid to advisors, and the possibility for bringing in more than one advisor -- both of which he believe will convince someone to take on the team.
Stark told the board of all the work the robotics team has been doing.
"We're more than a robotics team, we volunteer more than the National Honor Society and Key Club combined," he said. " We perform better than any of the other high school sports teams."
"The lessons I've learned are integral to what I will do," he added. "We have students writing grants and speaking to Fortune 500 companies, which will be relevant to them."
Currently, Stark said, the stipend for the robotics team advisor is a little more than $2,000, for upwards of 1,000 hours of work when combining both the on and off season.
"This is the off season, but even during that, we are participating with other teams and doing workshops," he said. "During the main season, it is six weeks, 30 hours per week. If you count competitions, the modest number of hours is more than 1,000."
"Their time is being valued at less than $3 per hour to help the club, and we don't think that's fair," he added.
Stark said the team needs someone capable of supervising the activity, and they are requesting two people to split the work. He said they would like to have an assistant supervisor for the junior level teams for $9,000, and $15,000 for the main varsity advisor.
Superintendent Victor Hayek said he has been working with Bridgewater-Raritan High School principal Mark Morrell, and they posted for the position, but no one came forward to take over.
"We posted in the newspaper, which we don't normally do, but we do for coaches," he said. "We still did not get anyone who was willing to do this."
Hayek said they are also looking at what stipends are being paid at other schools, where they range from $3,000 to $12,000.
"We made it clear that if someone is willing to come forward and put in the time commitment, if the stipend is an issue, we would be willing to negotiate," he said.
Stark said that that is why they are suggesting a second advisor to aid.
"It is unrealistic to expect one person to shoulder the load," he said. "Other teams have two to four advisors, and they don't have the number of teams we do."
Hayek said they are willing to work with people, but first they need someone who is qualified to work with the team.
As for the stipend itself, Hayek said the contract with the Bridgewater-Raritan Education Association stipulates the stipend payments, and increases require approval from the board of education and the union.
"We have to do our research, we can't just move the stipend without looking at the time commitment," he said. "Then suddenly every stipend could increase, so we have to be careful."
Stark said he believes posting for two advisors could prove benefiical.
"I think that by posting that it's not just for one person, a person might reconsider because it literally cuts in half what the teachers have to do," he said.
Board of education president Jeffrey Brookner said that these things do take time, but that the board will do what it can to bring an advisor on board.
Herb Katz, a mentor with the team, said some people may be wondering how they could fill Kloberg's shoes.
"Some people are wondering how they could fit his shoes because of how great he is," he said. "And they also look at the stipends. I know several teachers who didn't even entertain the prospect because of the amount."
Hayek said he would like to look into the value of the position and how it has evolved over the years to determine whether the stipend might be too low.
"It's not as simple as saying, yes we're going to make it a certain price," he said. "The administration has recognized that we may need to adjust the stipend and see if someone would be willing to put in the time."