To the Editor:
Every budget a community votes on is a reflection of its priorities. It has often been argued that Chatham schools are a good value on the basis of the lower total cost per pupil as compared to peer schools.
But how are we exactly containing cost? Are we saving on administrative expenditures by running a more efficient ship than neighboring districts? Are we paying less for energy through better deals ? Or maybe we are keeping a lid on debt service from new buildings (or mortgage payments) by being more Spartan than our peer group?
The New Jersey Department of Education issues every year the Taxpayers' Guide to Education Spending, which is the source of the comparative table distributed to the community. (http://www.state.nj.us/education/guide)
One of the indicators in that report, is Indicator 16 - Ratio of Students to Classroom Teachers and Median Classroom Teacher Salary
Let’s look today at the Student to Classroom Teachers ratio: This ratio is the closest proxy to the class size students attend in any high school (more teachers make smaller class sizes possible). A smaller ratio also allows for more classes to be offered, both new subjects and more levels in already offered subjects (Regular, Honors, AP,…) in turn enabling a more differentiated instruction without putting an undue burden on the teachers. In 2014, Chatham had the highest ratio of all the schools featured in the comparative table.
Per Pupil Cost/Student to Teacher Ratio/Ratio Rank
1. Chatham $12,954 - 13.5 - 10
2. Haddonfield $12,281 - 12.8 - 7
3. Northern Highlands $16,570 - 11.5 - 2
4. West Morris Mendham $14,561 - 13.3 - 9
5. Millburn $14,608 - 12.2 - 5
6. New Providence $13,165 - 13.3 - 9
7. Pascack Hills $19,277 - 12.4 - 6
8. Glen Rock $16,492 - 11.4 - 1
9. Marlboro $14,359 - 12.1 - 4
10. Rumson-Fair Haven $16,562 - 11.8 - 3
Of course, the higher the ratio, the less ”instructional money” we spend on the students. But is that where we should be saving money? Assume the community wanted to modestly improve that ratio from 13.5 to 13, (which would put us in the middle of the table) we would then need to hire 12 new
teachers. Some of these additional teachers would help reduce the class sizes (25 kids per class in most Chatham K-3 classes) and others would help teach new subjects the school does not offer (Languages in elementary, Dance in middle/high school, Science Research class in the high school,…)
The cost of those 12 new teachers would be around $1M/year or the same amount we would be spending on debt service for a new Perform Arts Center, if question 2 is approved.
These types of trade-offs are necessary in every community. They ought to be discussed by all in total transparency, as part of a dispassionate, evidence based, facts and numbers supported community dialog leading towards a strategic plan that articulates the priorities of our community.