Millburn Schools Superintendent Outlines Effects of Budget Proposal on Class Size; New Items Covered by Spending Plan Delineated; School Security System Upgrades Okayed

MILLBURN, NJ--The hiring of the equivalent of about five new classroom teachers at Millburn High School and the possible use of part-time teachers at the middle school should help set maximum class sizes at acceptable levels for the 2013-2014 school year, Superintendent of Schools James Crisfield told the Millburn Board of Education at its meeting on Monday.

Crisfield’s remarks stemmed from parent questions that arose recently in the midst of discussions on the proposed 2013-2014 school budget at board meetings.

Crisfield presented figures Monday showing kindergarten classes decreasing from an average of 18.6 students for the current school year to 17.2 students during 2013-2014, with a district guideline of 20 students; first grade going from 19.1 to 19.9 with a guideline of 23, second grade remaining at 19.8 with a guideline of 23, third grade going from from 21.0 to 20.4 with a guideline of 23, fourth grade going from 20.6 to 23.6 with a guideline of 26, and fifth grade increasing from 23.1 to 23.6 with a guideline of 26.

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The total middle school enrollment, currently at 1123, is expected to climb to 1148 for 2013-2014, and that at the high school is predicted to climb from 1520 to 1535, according to the superintendent.

At the middle school, Crisfield said, sixth grade is expected to climb from 371 to 398 students, with four teaching teams climbing from and average of 18.6 students to 19.9 students. He said the range of the class size, which currently is 15 to 22, has not yet been projected for the 2013-2014 school year.

Seventh grade, now totaling 375 students, is expected to total 371 students next year, with 3.4 teams climbing to 4.0 teams for average class sizes this year of 22.1 and next year 18.6. Class size this year ranges from 13 to 26 with next year’s range still undetermined.

Eighth-grade enrollment is expected to grow from 377 to 379 and 3.0 teams are expected next year compared to 3.6 this year. Average class size is expected to increase from 20.9 to 25.3 with a current range of 15 to 29 and next year’s range undetermined.

Approximately 125 students will be covered by each team, the superintendent said.

He reiterated that the former hybrid teams will be dismantled, with teachers from those teams going to seventh grade teams.

With the current high school population of 1520, he added, there are a total of 700 classes with a range of six to 31. He noted that 254 courses have a class size of 20 to 25, 54 courses have a class size of 24 and 115 have class sizes of more than 25 students.

Next year, Crisfield added, with 1535 students at the high school, the district plans to hire the equivalent of 4.8 new high school teachers. While he could not predict the exact effect this would have on class size due to different programs among high school students, the superintendent said the new teachers “will help absorb additional students and slightly take the edge off overall class sizes.”

The superintendent noted there still would be some classes with more than 25 students.

Amy Blackman of 6 Ridge Terrace, however, wanted to know why there seemed to be more concern with classes numbering more than 25 students at the high school but not in the eighth grade.

Crisfield replied class size was hard to predict, but part-time teachers could be used to fill in at the middle school if class size became unacceptable. 

The superintendent also presented a list of items new to the district in the 2013-2014 proposed budget. He noted that, while the list was small and the spending plan did not include any extravagant or expensive new items, “it is a budget that allows us to focus our attention and resources and keep doing what we do at an extremely high level.”

Among the new items are a net increase of 11.69 full-time equivalent staff positions, with 5.10 net teaching positions, 2.5 special education aides, an instructional supervisor for kindergarten to fifth grade, a security guard to be stationed in the middle school, 0.6 equivalent central registrar, technicians and district security coordinator positions and .29 equivalent lunch/recess aides.

He noted the district security coordinator probably would be shared with other districts.

New robotics classes will include a new cycle class in the eighth grade and an introductory and advanced full-year elective course at the high school.

Crisfield added the state now mandates new teacher evaluation systems, although it does not mandate which system each district must use. He said Millburn will use the Ken Marshall software programs both for teacher and principal/supervisor evaluations. He noted the state has not yet outlined what role student performance is expected to play in the new teacher evaluation systems.

In addition to roof replacements at a number of the schools, he said, common space air conditioning units will be installed at Wyoming, South Mountain and Deerfield schools, the only district schools without the air conditioning systems, and the inside portion of the high school’s football stadium renovation is scheduled for completion.

On another matter, a parent who said he had done a statistical analysis of student performance in the district elementary schools, based on documents available to the public, that indicated that Wyoming and South Mountain were lagging behind the other elementary schools, Hartshorn was improving and Deerfield and Glenwood were consistently doing better than the other schools.

Crisfield replied that he “respectfully disagreed” with the analysis and the conclusion that students in some schools in the district were consistently underperforming compared to those in other schools in the district.

On another matter, parent Jane Gomez said the conclusion in a recent court case against the district quoted in a newspaper article was that some Millburn teachers had given an inadequate education to autistic children.

The superintendent, while refusing to address a specific case still possibly under litigation, said he didn’t think the court conclusion substantiated the conclusion reached by Gomez.

A number of recent resident questions about special education children and comments about specific board members, apparently led board president Jeffrey Waters and board member Michael Birnberg to caution parents about specifically referring to special education students in public and making personal comments.

Waters quoted Policy 0167, concerning public participation in board meetings and its provisions allowing the presiding officer to “interrupt, warn, or terminate a participant’a statement when the statement is too lengthy, personally directed, abusive, obscene, or irrelevant.”

Birnberg, quoting Policy 9730, noted that no member of the public was permitted to criticize a board employee at a public meeting.

He added the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act, while allowing the public to attend board meetings does not specifically provide for the right of the public to speak at those meetings. That privilege, he said, had been extended by the Millburn board.

Birnberg also said some recent statements about one special education case incorrectly left the impression that the entire Millburn special education system was inefficient. 

On another matter, Crisfield and Burton promised to look into the conduct of advanced placement testing, particularly in Chinese, after some parents said the district did not have adequate computer resources in the high school to accommodate all students who wanted to take the tests. The district officials also said they would find out if students who had taken a number of years of instruction in Chinese outside the classroom would be permitted to take the tests without sitting through classroom instruction.

The board also voted to approve an architectural/engineering services agreement for a maximum of $23,500 to Heinz & Fiore Architects of the Short Hills section of Millburn in connection with installation of video surveillance equipment in all the elementary schools and expansion of the systems currently in existence in the middle school and high school.

The school body also voted to move its Monday, March 25, meeting to Sunday, March 24, at 7:45 pm because March 25 is the first day of Passover.

Waters noted three residents have submitted letters of interest to fill the board seat vacated by the resignation of Jean Pasternak and the deadline for submitting the letters to the board secretary is Wednesday, February 27.

The board president said those applying for the seat would be permitted to address the board at its Monday, March 11, session, and the board would select its new member on April 11.

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