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After serving two terms (2000 to 2006) on the Warren Township K to 8 Board of Education and then two terms (2006 to 2012) on the High School Board of Education, I stepped away and did not run for re-election last year. I thought that I had left the Board in good hands. However, in 2013 the Board:
-- Voted to increase salaries alone (without even including benefits cost increases which were even larger) for the Principals and Supervisors Association that exceeded the 2% annual revenue increase cap;
-- Adopted a budget that decreased capital outlay from the prior budget by more than $1,500,000 (from $2,355,054 down to just $841,987) in anticipation of putting a $12.5 million referendum for what they called “critical infrastructure repairs necessary to protect and promote the health, safety and educational environment of the students” while telling voters that the “2% budget cap makes it difficult to fit large capital projects without major cuts to academic programs;”
-- Adopted a budget for 2013-2014 that contained an overall increase of 4.6% over the preceding year’s budget when capital outlays are excluded from both budgets.
After having served over twelve years on our two township boards of education I was happy to leave the board at the end of 2012 and let someone else serve because I believed that the board was going to continue to approach spending in a fiscally conservative manner. That has not been the case. The over $1.5 million that the board cut from capital outlay in the 2013-2014 budget would have paid for two of the seven projects in the referendum. And if the board had kept capital expenditures at the same level for two years the referendum amount could have been decreased by nearly 25%. Further, they included projects, such as the re-paving of the parking lots, that are not urgently needed and could have been paid for out of operating budgets if the capital outlay was not slashed.
I do understand that part of the reason for the decrease in capital outlay in the current budget is due to increases in special education tuition costs that are extremely difficult, if not impossible to avoid. However, all of the other categories of expendiures except capital outlay increased by percentages that exceeded the 2% budget cap. Increases in every other area of the budget were balanced by draconian cuts to capital outlay so that the board could come to the public and tell us they had no money to do these critical and necessary infrastructure repairs. A fiscally responsible board would have tightened up other categories of expenditures when faced with unavoidable increases in special education tuition costs. A 4.6% annual increase in all areas in the budget except capital outlay when tax revenue increases are limited to 2% is not fiscally conservative. In order to increase all other areas of the budget by 4.6%, the Watchung Hills regional High School Board of Education balanced that budget by reducing capital outlay by over $1.5 million from the preceding year's budget, going from $2,355,054 down to just $841,987.
I was first elected to the Warren Township (K to 8) Board of Education in 2000, and I served two terms on that board. Then when the Watchung Hills Regional High School Board of Education’s 2005 $42 million high school renovation project was botched so badly that the Board had to go back to the public and ask for another $3 million to complete the renovations, I acted as a public watchdog on the project and I was then elected to and served two terms on the Watchung Hills Regional High School Board of Education (from 2006 to 2012). As the head of the Boards’ negotiations committees I have negotiated collective bargaining agreements with the teachers associations in both the K to 8 schools and the high school which provided significant savings for both districts in health insurance costs.
When I was first elected to the high school board of education I served on the Finance and Buildings & Grounds Committee which directly oversaw the successful completion of the previously troubled $42 million renovation project. Due to changes we implemented members of the board are better able to exercise oversight of finances and long-term planning that they were when I was first elected. During my tenure on the high school board, while continuing our support of a robust Advanced Placement curriculum for our students we have greatly expanded our electives curriculum and now offer: a STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) curriculum which prepares students for engineering; many more fine arts courses running the gamut from sculpture, dance, theatre arts to photography and video production; and even more college level Advanced Placement courses. We purposefully offer a wide variety of courses so that many more of our students are engaged and interested in their high school education. This has also been aided by our support for not only sports but also for other extra curricular and co-curricular clubs and activities which has led to Watchung Hills having an extremely high percentage of our students involved in such activities. This helps not only when they apply for college admissions, but also in creating an environment in the high school where a majority of our students are active and engaged. Finally, we have also started making strides in improving our guidance department. Watchung Hills always got some of its students accepted at the most competitive colleges and universities. Now more of our students are getting in to and going to more competitive colleges and universities.
I have proven over twelve years on the two boards of education in Warren that I know how to balance improving our public schools and maintaining fiscal responsibility and oversight. I am proud of how much better our schools are then when I was first elected in 2000. I ask for your vote to return me to the Watchung Hills Regional High School Board of Education.
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