Citizens of Scotch Plains:
During my12 years serving on our Board of Education, I have never publicly discussed either a board or council election and have struggled with the decision to do so this year. What has swayed me to speak out is that this is not based on an individual, but rather a political party’s activity.
As you may be aware, I have accused a political party of endorsing a BOE candidate in this year’s election. There have been public denials and claims that I’m uninformed and biased. I am biased, but that bias is towards ANY political party endorsing a BOE candidate.
In regards to my being uninformed, I provide to you the following:
1. Attached are the petitions filed by each Polhamus candidate for BOE seats. (Mr. Polhamus withdrew soon after the ballot positions were established and his wife received the first position). As can be seen on each petition, the signatures are in the exact order as they would be if passed around the table. In fact, they were signed at a Republican Party Committee meeting. Each signature, with the exception of the adult child of the Polhamus's is either a Republican Committee person or an associate Committee person. The signatures include the Party chair and a current councilman who is seeking re-election.
2. Included in these 12 signatures are ten who are either members of the Tea Party, or their spouses. The reason why I point this out is related to the following letter.
3. Below is a link to a website created by Mr. Polhamus. While it is currently active, it includes the announcement that his group has officially merged with the Union County Tea Party, so I do not know how much longer it will remain active.
4. This link originally directed one to a letter titled “One of Our Own”. It is a Party supporter’s perspective on candidate’s night and provides a reference point of the philosophy of the candidate and her supporters. A careful read of the letter will confirm cuts to the school budget will come if and when these party-backed candidates gain a majority. The cuts will be achievable because they will bring “sharpened pencils.”
Curiously, when their letter was pasted onto Facebook, it was removed from the Polhamus website within hours. While elected officials do not always make popular decisions, we always make them by the light of day, regardless if we are talking to “our own” or not.
As I have previously stated, this issue is larger than one party. In fact, while it is a faction of the Republican Party, including a current councilman supporting this candidate, a sitting Democrat Councilwomen did not hesitate to post a comment on Facebook deriding this behavior and connecting it to the current council election. If that is not enough proof that both parties are willing to use our school elections, and ultimately our children’s education for political gain, I don’t know what is.
Last year, the top vote getter received 1,200 votes. Grassroots will only defeat an organized party if every parent and person concerned about our school district comes out and votes. Talk to people and share this information so that voters are fully informed when making a decision. Many are still unaware of what is quietly happening with this election.
I apologize for the length but ask that you read the below letter from someone who requests his name be withheld.
Below is the text of the letter. I also urge you to visit their site www.concernedcitizensofunioncounty.com/blog/one-of-our-own.
One of our members is running for the Board of Education in Scotch Plains. Good for her! Michelle Polhamus felt this was a chance for her to do something for the town and its residents.
At the candidates night earlier this week, she got quite an unfair hearing. Many in the crowd seemed to have come prepared to not approve of her. In fact, the long knives were clearly out for her.
Many in the audience -- and many in town apparently -- think that she has been endorsed by the Republican Party. The evidence that the Board chairman, Trip Whitehouse, cites for this is that the town party committee chairman happened to mention several months ago, once, in a private email to members of the committee, that he supports her. The local committee itself did not endorse her, nor was it ever asked to do so. (I think the complaining ill-informed members of the public think the committee is run Soviet style; that the chairman makes all the decisions. I suspect that may be the way the Other Party does things. The Republican Party at least in Scotch Plains actually takes votes. I suspect that is a shocking revelation for the Others.) The committee did not ever raise funds for her, nor did it pay for any literature or lawn signs for her. (She has not put up any signs, unlike the other challenger running who has signs up all over town, including on public property.) No one on the committee has gone knocking on doors for her, nor have any of the party political candidates or politicians held 'meet and greets' for her (again, unlike for the other challenger the last time he ran).
Michelle's candidacy has so threatened the Board chairman that he recently published a second letter to the editor on this topic, and in this one he endorsed the other challenger and the incumbent for the two positions on the ballot! That is interesting. The Board Chairman publicly endorses candidates in the election? I think that was completely inappropriate.
Michelle had the gall (being sarcastic here) to suggest that perhaps the Board ought to try to have a flat budget next year. She was immediately challenged for that by a former BOE member, who said something like "How could you accomplish that since the teachers are guaranteed raises?" On the face of it, is was a fair question. Michelle's response was that many people in town do not get raises every year and can't continue to afford ever increasing property taxes. She might have raised the point that the Board, by agreeing to teacher contracts with automatic raises, must have decided at the time of agreeing to them that they would raise taxes (or cut other expenses) in order to pay for those raises. What Michelle was really challenging, it seems to me, was the Board's decision, implicitly made when it agreed to guaranteed raises, to continue to raise property taxes in order to pay for the raises.
The Board Chairman, in his letter to the editor, made the case that the teacher raises next year would cost at least $1.6MM and in order to have a flat budget there would have to be cuts in that amount in other areas. He suggested they could fire 25 teachers to make up that $1.6MM. That's a ridiculous number of teachers, of course, because simple math (the old-fashioned style, not the new math) tells me that $1.6MM divided by 25 is on the order of $64,000 a teacher. I know for a fact that there are a whole lot of teachers whose salary and benefits cost the District a lot more than $64,000 a year. I suspect they could let 10 teachers go and get pretty close to three-quarters of the $1.6MM number. But I don't have all the financial details to firm that guess up. The chairman put forth that instead of firing teachers (which of course raises that dreaded specter of increased class size (the big canard of education)) the BOE could cut all sports and extracurricular activities as well as cut maintenance etc. The chairman seems to think that members of the public cannot keep two thoughts in their heads at the same time. How about this Mr. Chairman - why not let a some teachers and aides go and at the same time sharpen your pencil and cut some expenses to get to the $1.6MM number? Who knows, maybe if the teachers were faced with cuts in their numbers they might agree to forego some or all of their raises. Oh the unions would howl and I am not sure they really believe in collectivism when things don't go their way like they do when the money flows freely.
Anyway, my real point was to thanks Michelle for putting herself out there which takes a lot of guts and to bemoan the horrible treatment Michelle had to endure during the candidates night. An example of the sandbagging: the moderator actually publicly admitted on stage that she had been instructed by the BOE chairman, Mr. Whitehouse, to mention that Michelle had been endorsed by the Republican Party.
So it was pretty clear who was playing games here, and it wasn't Michelle. The education establishment in town is horrified that someone who actually understands that the BOE taxes us far more than the town (and even more than Union County), someone who understands that the education establishment is quite happy with the manifest unfairness of the state funding formula for state aid to school districts, someone who might want to stop the ever increasing tax increases which are incredibly burdensome to seniors, families on fixed incomes and the children of those families, might actually get onto the Board of Ed.
Name Withheld For the Time Being