To the Editor:
I’d like to correct factual inaccuracies attributed to me by Board of Education President, Jill Weber, in the 9/17/15 edition of the Chatham Courier in an entitled “School board election debate rages on”. (Link to the article here: http://www.newjerseyhills.com/chatham_courier/news/school-board-election-debate-continues-two-weeks-ahead-of-vote/article_f8ce6235-72bb-52c3-bc1b-65426fc60552.html )
In an interview with the Chatham Courier reporter after the Board of Education meeting on 9/15/15, Ms. Weber explained that flyers I distributed regarding the Board’s potential move of the election from April to November contained “several pieces of misinformation.”
First, I did not author, sign, or distribute any flyers regarding this subject. To set the record straight, I did create a document summarizing some key points regarding the subject of moving the election. I was asked by a number of residents to create such a document as an informational tool for residents. The document was posted on the “Chatham Cares About Schools” Facebook page as a way to disseminate the information to interested parties.
Had the Board of Education taken residents’ suggestions, the BOE would have distributed information to the public, thereby negating the need for a member of the public to do it. The Board of Education had also asked for more residents to attend their meetings and give their input. Again, many suggestions were given as to how the Board could achieve that, but no action was taken, so it was left to members of the public to try to get people to attend their meetings.
A simple e-mail to the parent community would have easily achieved both goals and reached nearly half of the residents in town. A simple press release in the Courier would have reached everyone else. It was not done. Second, my document mentions nothing about a 2 to 6 vote being taken on the subject.
To set the record straight, on March 28, 2011 there was a resolution on the agenda to remove the right of residents to vote on the school budget if it was below 2 percent but KEEP the election in April. The law that is before us now (P.L. 2011 c. 202) was not yet enacted. The resolution failed by a 2 to 6 vote. The Yes votes were Lata Kenny and Alan Routh. The No votes were Al Burgunder, Johnthan Chatinover, Richard Connors, Matthew Gilfillan, Tom Belding, and Stephen Barna.
Then, on February 2, 2012, after the law was in effect, a resolution was on the agenda to take advantage of the law and move the election to November while also removing the right to vote on a budget below the 2 percent cap. The President of the Board at the time, Mr. Barna, moved the agenda item, but there was no second to the motion, so the motion was pulled from the agenda, and no action was taken. Earlier in the meeting, Ms. Weber “shared her concerns of the budget passing and the degree of support.”
One might wonder why Ms. Weber didn’t second the motion in 2012, but now is a strong proponent of moving the election to November and taking away our right to vote. One might also wonder why the motion was not seconded by Mr. Nonnemacher, Mr. Connors, Ms. Cronin, Mr. Gillfillan, or Ms. Kenney. Interestingly, per the Minutes from the 2/6/12 meeting, Mr. Connors commented, “this is a very important discussion and he sees no urgency in moving the election. Mr. Connors stated the right to vote has sacred aspects for our society and it should not be discarded. The school tax allocation is the largest part of our tax bill. He felt that we need to wait to see how this plays out and sees no reason to move the election to November.”
Also, at the meeting, Ms. Clark, who was not a member of the Board at the time, “shared other residents’ concern over the 2 percent cap limit and really did not think candidates should be forced to be part of the November election process.”
The same law that they are discussing now was in effect on 2/6/12 with the same 2 percent cap and exemptions; yet they chose not to take action. What has changed? Why now? Did they not want to provide the same “protection” to voters back in 2012 that they say they need to have in place now?
Chatham has not had a defeated operating budget since the district consolidated in 1989. What makes the Board think that they all of a sudden run an increased risk of a defeated budget below the 2 percent cap? If good budgets are put forth, as they have been, they won’t be voted down. Third, the statement in my document that the employees contribute 0 percent toward their health care premiums was taken directly from the Professional Negotiations Agreement between the BOE, the SDOC, and the Chatham Education Association, provided to me by Beth Grant, Manager of Human Resources for the SDOC.
I have since contacted her to confirm this statement and she has informed me that in fact, pursuant to Chapter 78, employees do contribute to their health care premiums, but did also acknowledge that that language in the contract isn’t necessarily clear. My point, however, in including information about employee health care in my document was to point out to residents that this is one item that is exempt from the 2 percent cap, and therefore it is possible that we could see an increase in those costs and not be able to vote on it in the operating budget.
Additionally, I pointed out that many changes in the health care laws are due to take effect in 2016, which is also when the contract will be renegotiated, so this becomes another unknown potential cost to the taxpayers. I never said, nor did I imply, as Ms. Weber intimates and states as “insulting,” that I have any issue with the contribution levels of district employees. That was not the point of my statements and nothing even hinting at that exists.
Fourth, Ms. Weber states that a flyer said 95 percent of tax dollars go to the schools. My document did not say that, nor did any flyer. I did not mention in my document the percentage of tax dollars that goes to the schools. The fact is that approximately two-thirds, or 66%, of our tax bill goes to fund the school budget.
To set the record straight, a statement was made on Facebook by a resident stating that 90 percent of our taxes goes to the schools, which is not correct; the correct percentage is 66 percent. However, Ms. Weber states in the Chatham Courier article that a flyer claimed 95 percent of our tax dollars go to fund the schools. Ms. Weber misstates or makes up the facts.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, are the statements made by Ms. Weber at the 9/15 meeting (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GeOuuNUpOMM&feature=youtu.be ), which are also outlined in the Chatham Courier article. At the meeting, a resident, Mrs. Delsandro, stated that if pension reform comes down the pike, it’s a problem that the entire state will have. Ms. Weber disagreed stating, “that’s not entirely true because districts that have moved to November, the way the legislation (or framework) is framed….districts that moved it to November would benefit from the proposed offset that the state would fund the municipalities……and it would be a zero net effect on the residents because the school could apply a waiver.”
When asked in an e-mail to clarify her statements, Ms. Weber said she “did not say that pension reform changes would not apply to districts that hold their election in November.” To set the record straight, and it has since been confirmed by Dr. LaSusa, “those waivers, as well as the banked cap that may accumulate for up to three years in connection with those waivers, apply to a school district budget, regardless of when the Board election takes place.”
The bottom line is that right now, although no decisions have been made by the state, pension reform changes would affect all districts, regardless of whether they hold their election in April or November. There is no financial benefit or waivers that could be applied to a district holding its election in November as it relates to potential additional pension costs.
Perhaps the Board of Education needs to understand these issues much more clearly before they “clarify” this for the public. Once they get clarification, it is their fiduciary responsibility to contact the reporter at the Chatham Courier who apparently heard the same thing that everyone in attendance at the 9/15 meeting heard, and set the record straight on “Misinformation.” Until that happens, the skies at the Board of Education remain Mostly Cloudy.
Libby Hilsenrath Chatham Borough