Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Our School Board Takes Two Steps Forward and Two Steps Back

Last night’s school board meeting began on a positive note. Board President Lawrence O’Connell spoke at length about the board’s efforts to control costs in light of current economic conditions. He expects the district to receive more state funding which may translate into some tax relief. The Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District spends $7.73 million per year on healthcare and President O’Connell insisted the board would continue working to control healthcare spending, including further negotiations with the Matawan Regional Teachers Association. The board also announced that they have selected a candidate for superintendent and will begin contract negotiations.

President O’Connell agreed, in principle, to post the school district’s line-item budget online, excluding those portions that are statutorily prohibited to publicize for privacy reasons. He was also thanked by Interim Superintendent Glastein for the donation of two laptops and a projector from his employer, IBM.

The only item missing from the board’s opening remarks was any mention of education.

On the agenda was $55,000 for nine Promethean Boards. These are interactive whiteboards that feature a touch-sensitive computer screen, an Internet connection, a remote control, and software for creating lesson plans. When I asked the board about our experience with them, they deferred to Interim Superintendent Glastein.

“Fantastic,” he replied. The school district has been using them for a year and a half and the teachers love them.

Will their use translate into higher test scores? “I hope so.”

How many years will we give the interactive whiteboards to prove their effectiveness before discontinuing the program? No response.

I later asked if the school district had ever ended a program for failing to deliver results. President O’Connell gave an “unqualified yes”.

I pressed further and asked for a single example. After much head scratching, Board Member John Barbato answered “whole language”.

Bad example.

Whole language is the widely discredited teaching method that emphasizes word meaning and de-emphasizes technical skills like spelling and grammar. After subjecting thousands of students to this disastrous program for over a decade, despite clear evidence of its adverse affects, our school district continues to use whole language as a basis for Reading Recovery.

As I detailed in a prior article, Plato’s Apostles, Reading Recovery is one of the pillars of our Response to Intervention (RTI) program. The school district, along with most Reading Recovery supporters, insists the program is not whole language because it incorporates more than one method. I disagree.

According to Louisa Moats, author of the American Federation of Teachers’ “Teaching Reading Is Rocket Science”, Reading Recovery is based upon the same premise as whole language and uses a whole language approach. Likewise, Wikipedia describes Reading Recovery as “a program that uses a whole language approach with struggling readers.”

PBS, home to Sesame Street and Bob the Builder, produced a documentary entitled “A Tale of Two Schools” that states:

The specific vehicle for the spread of whole-language through American public education was a program called Reading Recovery, developed by a teacher in New Zealand named Marie Clay, which supposedly produced nearly miraculous results with third- and fourth-graders who were having trouble reading. Reading Recovery itself draws upon both phonics and whole-language theory, but in America it has served as a transmission device for whole-language. Reading Recovery specifically, and whole-language reading instruction generally, spread like wildfire through the education world during the 1980s.
I wonder if, given more time, the school board can think of a failed program that they actually ended, rather than simply repackaged and branded as something else.

By the way, the research on interactive whiteboards is inconclusive. Does anybody on the school board care? I’m afraid the data on that is inconclusive as well. >>> Read more!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Something is Rotten in Aberdeen

Some comments to my blog have suggested that Aberdeen’s town council members will somehow insulate themselves against any adverse affects from the upcoming property revaluations. Although these allegations were almost certainly false, I decided to take a few minutes to give their properties a cursory review. Sure enough, all of the council members are paying an appropriate level of property taxes. Unfortunately, the tax records also suggest that two council members may have personally benefited at the public’s expense.

In 2001, as part of its road improvement program, Aberdeen Township initiated a road expansion project on Country Road in the Cliffwood section. The program was overseen by CME Associates, the township engineer and the Aberdeen Democratic Party’s single largest benefactor.

15 homes on Country Road sold a portion of their properties to the township for the road widening. The average homeowner received about $1,275 in compensation. Wilhelmina Gumbs received $3,500, over 50% more than anybody else and slightly over 2% the total value of her residence. A few doors down from her, Earle Gumbs received $1,500 from the township (about 1.5% the value of his home) for selling a strip of land half a yard deep and 20 yards long. Ms Gumbs appears on Earle Gumbs’ deed as does Philip Gumbs, the former mayor of Aberdeen.

The following year, Ms. Gumbs was appointed to the town planning board and then elected to the town council on the Democratic ticket.

In 2003, the New Jersey Highway Authority gave Councilman Vincent Vinci a small strip of land for $1. The transaction itself was not unusual - Councilman Vinci owns a corner property and the small strip, useless to the highway authority, simply allowed the councilman to extend his property to the street on both sides.

I’m not proficient in reading land surveys using the metes and bounds system but it appears the strip of land is around 2,000 square feet. Naturally, such an addition should augment the assessment on Councilman Vinci’s property. It didn’t. Councilman Vinci’s property assessment never increased after the land transfer.

What are the chances that Councilwoman Gumbs, prior to being elected but related to a former mayor, should be the single largest benefactor in a municipal project being managed by the local Democrats’ largest political contributor? What are the chances that her relative should receive excessive compensation in the same project?

Why didn’t the township raise Councilman Vinci’s property assessment after he acquired land from the highway authority? After all, Councilwoman Gumb’s property assessment was appropriately reduced after she sold a much smaller parcel of land to the township.

I don’t know the answers to these questions and I’m not accusing anyone of any illegalities. I’m just saying I don't like the smell.
>>> Read more!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Offer Matawan-Aberdeen Teachers a Choice

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” – Albert Einstein

The Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School Board is presently negotiating a 3-year employment contract with the Matawan Regional Teachers Association. The proposed contract explicitly forbids the school district from offering personal contracts to any teacher even if the teacher would profit from such a contract. That provision needs to be amended to allow teachers the option to either accept the Teachers Association employment contract or a personal employment contract.

Below is a proposal for an alternative teacher’s contract. Those teachers earning over $80,000 a year with full health benefits for handling a 5-course load would never accept such a contract. However, for those teaching less than 10 years (which comprise half the faculty), such a contract may be attractive. They would have the opportunity to earn substantially more money and, in the process, both raise student performance and save the school district a bundle of money.

I propose the following 3-year contract -

For teaching 6 daily periods, a teacher shall earn the following:
Base salary of $40,000
Annual 2% base salary increase
$5,000 base salary increase for each 5 years of experience
Blue Cross / Blue Shield National PPO with $2,000 deductible
$2,000 contribution to teacher’s Health Savings Account
401K with double matching contributions (maxing at 10% of salary)
Performance bonus
Departmental bonus pool
Any teacher performing in the bottom five percent of the school may be dismissed, at the principal’s and superintendent’s discretion, for just cause.

Performance Bonus:
$40 for each student
$1 for each point for each student scoring above 70% on the standardized 1st semester exam (maximum - $30 per student)
$1 for each point for each student scoring above 70% on the standardized 2nd semester exam (maximum - $30 per student)
$2 for each point for each student scoring above 70% on the standardized final exam (maximum - $60 per student)
$2 for each point for each student scoring above his prior year’s score in a comparable class on the standardized 1st semester exam (maximum - $60 per student)
$2 for each point for each student scoring above his prior year’s score in a comparable class on the standardized 2nd semester exam (maximum - $60 per student)
$4 for each point for each student scoring above his prior year’s score in a comparable class on the standardized final exam (maximum - $120 per student)

(In summary: For each student - $40 + $10/point above 70% + $20/point of improvement with double points for final exams.)

Departmental Bonus Pool:
A bonus shall be awarded to each department that spends less than budgeted. 20% of the difference shall be disbursed to those participating in the bonus pool. 40% of the difference shall be deposited into the department’s “special projects” account and used at the department’s discretion (with administration approval) for educational projects.

Although the school district would continue to pay for graduate coursework, we would no longer reward advanced degrees but only performance. Additionally, students should be annually assessed using international assessment tests to assure a correlation between our standardized exams and global standards.

Furthermore, students would have the limited ability to choose their teachers. Administrators would try to accommodate all student requests while still considering class size. Those teachers in higher demand would thereby earn larger bonuses than those teachers in low demand.

As an example, let’s look at a teacher with 7 years of experience who holds a masters degree plus 30 credits. Under the current system, he would earn about $52,000.

Using the proposed bonus system, a teacher working 6 periods would have about 100 students and likely average $120 bonus dollars for each student (potentially much more). Using a base of $40,000 + $5,000 for each 5 years of experience + $12,000 in bonuses (not including the departmental bonus pool) equals $57,000. Better teachers with the same level of experience would earn over $60,000 from a combination of larger class sizes and higher average student bonuses.

In exchange, that same teacher would be required to teach one extra-period a day and have greater exposure to being fired for poor performance.

Despite the higher pay, the district would reap huge financial savings. Having teachers instruct 6 periods instead of 5 would reduce the faculty payroll by 15%. Additionally, we’d likely have far fewer students requiring special instruction as teachers would have greater incentives to help these students improve.

The above proposal would be quite alluring to those who have less than 10 years of experience. Since these are personal employment contracts, separate contracts, using a similar bonus system, could be crafted for more experienced teachers.

Teachers would always have a choice of selecting from the personal employment contract or the union contract. Since there’s no one-size-fits-all employment contract, the school district could negotiate individual contracts for specific situations.

If the Teachers Association wants their members to participate in bonus plans as well, they can negotiate those terms with the school board.

Naturally, many of these provisions would require waivers from the state legislature (such as moving teachers to a 401K or a national PPO and implementing health savings accounts) but teacher bonuses do not require waivers. Additionally, these incentive plans could be extended to the administration and staff.

Reasonable people can dispute which contract offers better terms – mine or the Teachers Association’s. All I ask is that each teacher be allowed to choose for himself.
>>> Read more!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Matawan Revaluations - Part II

"I, __________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully, impartially and justly perform all the duties of the office of _________ according to the best of my ability. So help me God." - New Jersey State’s Oath of Office

Public officials from Aberdeen Township and Matawan Borough have been trying to reassure residents that the property assessment revaluations would not drastically alter anyone’s property taxes. Their argument is that the revaluations are revenue neutral and therefore, on average, will not raise taxes. At the same time, I have been arguing that revenue neutral simply refers to the average but that a small percentage of homeowners would be severely impacted. I further urged our elected officials to devise a means to assist those hardest hit and least able to cope.

Well, the preliminary assessment revaluations for Matawan were certified just after the election and some homeowners will be getting clobbered with monster tax hikes. (Please note, these numbers are preliminary as property owners still have the opportunity to challenge them.)

2007 property assessments were based upon 40% of the property's market value. I reviewed nearly 240 residential property sales in Matawan over the years 2006 and 2007. Of the 240, I found twenty properties (including four condos) whose market prices were significantly higher than the borough’s valuations. I then checked the preliminary property assessments and estimated 2008 property taxes based upon the presumption that Matawan will appropriate (raise in taxes) $22 million for the upcoming fiscal year; my estimated 2008 tax rate for Matawan is $2.12 per hundred dollars of value (total appropriations / assessment roll = $22 million / $1.035 billion).

Finally, I only listed those properties whose taxes will increase over 15% this year. The table below may not be a representative sample but it certainly disproves the claim that no one’s taxes will go up by that much. Also, please note that all the properties below were recently purchased just prior to the revaluations and that these homeowners do not have a history of underpaying their "fair share".


Preliminary 2008 Assessment

2007 Taxes

2008 Est. Taxes

% Increase














































183 MAIN ST  

























One correction that needs to be noted – A prior example I used was 59 Wyckoff St. where I suggested the property tax could jump 35% in one year. As the table above shows, the taxes will only be going up 18%. That’s because the borough has assessed the property for less than 80% of its purchase price (certainly a mixed blessing).

Another item to note is the dramatic impact the revaluations will have on condo owners – many, if not most, will see their property taxes double this year.

I urge Aberdeen Township to issue a notice to local property owners – if your property is worth more than triple your current assessment, expect a significant property hike. I also ask that both municipalities hold an emergency session to brainstorm possible means to assist those homeowners whom will be most severely affected.

At the very least, please stop telling homeowners there’s nothing to worry about.

>>> Read more!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The School Board, Teachers Association, and I

Despite the current fight over salary and benefits, Matawan-Aberdeen’s school board seems happily in-synch with the local Teachers Association. However, I have distinct and profound disagreements with both groups. Rather than allow my views to be distorted, I have created the following table so that anyone can see, at a glance, where I stand on the primary issues, in contrast to our school district.

MARSD & MRTA Aberdeener
School Property Taxes Are Too Low Too High
School Spending Should Be Increased Should Be Cut
School Performance Is Fair to Good Poor
Teacher Pay Should NOT Be Tied to Performance Should Be Tied to Performance
Individual Employment Contracts Should NOT Be Offered to Teachers Should Be Offered to Teachers
Educational Standards Are Appropriate Are Too Low
Pursuing Alternative Revenue Sources Is NOT a Priority Is a Priority
Our Students Are Performing At or Near Their Abilities Far Below Their Abilities
Our School District Should Be Proud Ashamed
Our Job Is To Give Students the Opportunity to Learn To Teach Students
A Struggling Student's First Line of Support Is A Special Ed Teacher His Parents
Special Education Programs Do NOT Require Proof They Work Do Require Proof They Work
The School District's Assessment Results Should Be Concealed Publicized
Our Children Are Average Above Average

Actions speak louder than words. If anyone believes I have mischaracterized our school board or teachers union, then show me. >>> Read more!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Go Brawlers!

New Jerseyans tend to overlook the fact that the Jets and Giants are New York teams, regardless of where they play. We prefer to not think about the outrageous prices of a professional ballgame or the impossibility of getting season tickets. But for those who are willing to consider semi-pro football, consider this – Aberdeen’s Bayshore Brawlers are back-to-back league champions.

The Bayshore Brawlers compete in the Pennsylvania Six-Man Football League (PFL/6). Each team fields a six-man crew on a fifty-yard field that’s all running and throwing; there’s no kicking or punting except for the initial kickoff. It’s a fast moving, bone crushing, game where the ball is always in motion.

Frank Susino, the team’s owner, has assembled one of the toughest six-man teams anywhere in the country. Marguee Haynes (tight end) and Sy Patterson (running back) are league All-Stars and competed in Team United States (where they whupped the Canadians 28-25). Under quarterback, Ed Cox, the Bayshore Brawlers have only lost one game in the past two seasons.

Home games are played on an indoor field at the Tab Ramos Sports Center in Aberdeen. Ticket prices have been a nominal $3 per person and may be eliminated completely.

The Bayshore Brawlers are Aberdeen’s only semi-pro hometown team. They are champions and do us proud. You can visit them at www.bayshorebrawlers.com.
>>> Read more!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Matawan-Aberdeen Teachers’ Contract

Click here to download the 2004-2007 teachers contract for the Matawan Aberdeen Regional School District.

The expired contract between the Matawan Aberdeen Regional School District and the Matawan Regional Teachers Association is eerily reminiscent of an old television show. Everything seems so reasonable until you think through all the contract’s ramifications and then it hits you – You have just entered . . . the Twilight Zone.

The contract begins by stating that, as required by law, the school board recognizes the teachers association as the sole representative of the teachers. But the contract then goes a step further. The board is precluded from offering a separate contract to any teacher. If the board wants to recruit a superstar teacher and offer him a signing bonus, they can’t. If the board wants to offer younger teachers the choice of a 401K plan and higher salary in lieu of a defined benefits plan, they can’t. Meanwhile, a teacher has no ability to negotiate a contract on his own behalf even if he could get a better deal from the school district.

The contract then discusses the four step grievance process for any teacher who feels aggrieved

Next comes the teacher’s bill of rights such as the right to have prior written notice and union representation any time the superintendent wishes to discuss a teacher’s unsatisfactory performance.

Then there is the teachers union bill of rights. Yes, even the teachers union has a bill of rights such as free use of school facilities and school equipment and the right to demand that all teachers who are union officers be given reduced work schedules, effectively subsidizing union salaries.

Article VI defines a work day. Elementary teachers are required to work a grueling 6 hours and 45 minutes a day, but this includes a 45-minute lunch break and another 45-minute “preparation” break. A high school teacher’s workday is 18 minutes longer but that’s because the preparation break is 22 minutes longer.

If a teacher is asked to attend a 5-minute meeting during his lunch break, he shall be compensated $10. So, if a supervisor needs to meet with a teacher during the lunch break, he’ll need to get budgetary approval first.

The work year is 187 days but teachers get 10 sick days and 2 personal days with unlimited rollovers for unused days. At 175 days, teachers are almost working half a year. If teachers could endure an 8-hour work day, they would only have to work 30 weeks a year.

Teachers also get two salary increases per year – yes, two salary increases, one to compensate them for inflation and another in consideration of their increased experience. During the first ten years, the combined annual salary increase only runs about 2% but, after a teacher completes his tenth year, his salary begins jumping over 10% a year.

Teachers also receive an extra $9,000 per year for completing a masters degree plus 30 credits even though the added education doesn’t improve student performance according to a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The teachers union has refused to negotiate a new contract with the board, preferring to go directly to arbitration. What do they want? In the words of Samuel Gompers, they want “more, more, more.” After all, their pension contributions have gone up from 5% to 5.5%. That our teachers already earn higher salaries and more generous benefits than the average local taxpayer doesn’t concern them.

The contract does include full health benefits but does not mention state mandated benefits such as tenure after 3 years and full retirement benefits after 25 years and reaching the age of 60.

Does the contract include any teacher responsibilities? Absolutely. Teachers are required to show up for work and “to help insure the safety of students”. Are they required to teach? Well, the contract does mention “professional and statutory obligations” but even new teachers without tenure can only be removed with “just cause”.

The contract obviously makes reforming a school and reining in costs extremely difficult. So, why use such a contract? Because it is boilerplate. Nearly every school district uses an almost identical contract. You don’t have to worry about legal issues or lawyer fees. You don’t have to worry about protracted fights with the teachers union. In other words, the school board chooses to use this contract because it’s cheap and easy. The fact that such a contract is detrimental to our students is irrelevant.

What to do about it? Simple. Draft a new contract that protects our community and our children. Define performance standards and empower the superintendent to remove any teacher who doesn’t meet such standards.

Restrain salaries to average wage increases plus a salary jump for every five years of experience rather than the current one year of experience. In addition, offer teachers financial incentives for exceeding educational standards and restraining departmental budget increases.

If any of these provisions are contrary to state law, pursue a waiver through the state legislature. If the teachers union chooses to fight, then fight.

Considering that the upcoming annual budget will approach $65 million, I’m certain we can afford the legal fees necessary to ensure our children get a proper education. We’ve banned candy from the school vending machines. We should do the same with an employment contract that is far more hazardous to our children’s well being.
>>> Read more!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Announcing the Greater Aberdeen Garage Sale

Please Note: The date has changed to June 1, 2008, the first Sunday in June.

To promote our community, have some fun, and make some money, please join me in promoting our inaugural Greater Aberdeen Garage Sale on the first Sunday in June. I’m hoping we’ll have dozens of local garage sales on Sunday, June 1, 2008.

I have set up a website at www.AberdeenGarageSale.com. Registration is free. Anyone residing in the Greater Aberdeen area is welcome to participate.

Here’s how it works:

  • The community-wide garage sale will take place annually, rain or shine, on the first Sunday in June.
  • Anyone residing in Aberdeen, Hazlet, Holmdel, Keyport, Marlboro, Matawan, Morganville, Old Bridge, Pt Pleasant Beach, or Union Beach is welcome to participate
  • Participation is absolutely free
  • Registration is voluntary. Those who register will have their addresses included in the online directory. E-mail addresses will only be used for garage sale communications
  • The garage sales should run from 9AM to 4PM
  • You don’t need a garage to have a sale
I’ve not checked with other municipalities but Aberdeen Township does not regulate garage sales. If other areas are regulated, please let me know. In the meantime, I’ll do my best to promote the community-wide garage sale both online and through the local newspapers.

Of course, I’m doing this on a shoe-string budget so I’ll need all the help I can get. Please be forgiving if the site has some bugs. Suggestions for improvement are most welcome.

If you are a local resident, business owner, or organization, and would like your website promoted on www.AberdeenGarageSale.com, please let me know by emailing me at Aberdeener@gmail.com or posting a comment on this blog. I only ask that you mention www.AberdeenGarageSale.com on your website as well.

If successful, I think this will be a great boon to our community. If it’s a failure, it will be my failure, alone. >>> Read more!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Wanted - Strong Rerformer for Superintendent

I’m not privy to the school board’s roster of candidates for superintendent but I already have low expectations. The board and I have very different perspectives of the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District. The board views the district as doing okay with room for improvement. I see thousands of underperforming students. The board is looking for a strong administrator. I want a strong reformer.

Consider these facts:

  • Aberdeen’s estimated median household income is over $75,000 and more than 20% higher than the state median
  • Matawan has the highest tax rate in Monmouth County (Aberdeen is third)
  • On an equalized basis, our school property taxes are higher than the total property taxes of sixteen municipalities in Monmouth County
  • Forbes ranks Monmouth County #8 in the country as best school district (sic) for the buck
  • BusinessWeek ranks Matawan as the 12th best place to raise kids among small towns and suburbs in the USA
Compared to the average New Jersey high school:
  • We have more computers per student than the state average
  • Each high school classroom has an internet connection
  • Only 1.7% of high school students are limited English proficient
  • The dropout rate at 0.2% is one-ninths of the state average
  • We have more teachers per student
  • Our teachers earn more money
  • We have more administrators per student
  • Our administrators earn more money
  • A larger percentage of our budget goes to teacher and administrator salaries
  • We spend more per pupil even though the state contributes far less
In summary, we live in a great community that spends lavishly on our school. Yet, despite all our community does, these are the results we get:
  • Fewer students graded as advanced proficiency in Language Arts Literacy
  • Fewer students graded as advanced proficiency in Mathematics
  • Below average SAT math scores
  • Below average SAT verbal scores
  • Below average SAT essay scores
  • Fewer than half attend a four-year college
  • Less than 3% of 11th and 12th graders take an advanced placement course in science
No wonder Board Member (and former president) Donaghue doesn’t believe our students can compete in a global economy.

How far below average do our students need to go before we recognize our schools are failing? If this was a sports team, we’d fire the head coach for having so many losing seasons. Why do we tolerate our kids scoring below average? We live in an above average community. We pay above average taxes. We pay above average salaries. We should have an above average student body.

When thousands of our children are getting a below average education, it’s a crisis. Only a strong and unflinching advocate of reform has the potential to turn around our schools.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an op ed on such a person - Chancellor Michelle Rhee. As a teacher, she got 90% of her kids to score in the 90th percentile while working in a minority school district. As Chancellor, she fought for, and won, the right to fire nonunion workers. She’s closing underperforming schools and expanding the best programs. “I believe we should proliferate what's working and close down what's not. Period."

This is the kind of superintendent we should get. Not an expert in administration. Not an expert in bureaucracy. But an expert in education. Someone with a fierce desire to do whatever necessary to educate our children.

Some members of the school board have been grumbling about the high cost of a superintendent. Considering our school budget will likely surpass $65 million dollars for the upcoming year, I’m sure we can spare whatever funds are necessary to get the best superintendent for our schools. >>> Read more!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Main Street Revitalization Study

Click Here to Download a Copy of the Main Street Revitalization Study - Special thanks to Fred Carr, the Matawan Borough Administrator, for providing an easy-to-read copy.

It’s not Harry Potter but the Main Street Revitalization Study is a pretty good read. Its author, the Beacon Planning and Consulting Services, draws a detailed picture of Matawan, its environs, and Main Street. Chock full of details, the study explains why the business district has failed and what remedies the borough can take. That Mayor Aufseeser has chosen to ignore this taxpayer funded study is, frankly, bizarre.

The study, admittedly, has certain shortcomings. The initial portion was written prior to the 2006 Census estimate and never updated. Possible traffic congestion from a revitalized downtown is never discussed. Nor are there any cost estimates for the suggested remedies. I would have also preferred more demographic information, such as age of the population, education, and ethnic makeup. But these are minor complaints.

Some interesting facts:

  • The Aberdeen-Matawan train station has 3000 daily passengers.
  • C-Town is the only retail establishment larger than 85’ by 85’
  • The Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services category has the second highest number of establishments (after retail) and the largest payroll.
The problems are:

Missing Anchor – An anchor is defined as any establishment that attracts other establishments to open nearby in hope to profit from the foot traffic. Not only doesn’t Main St. have an anchor, there’s a question where one could even fit. Lot sizes are small and parking is limited.

Shopping Experience – Retail locations are interspersed among offices and private residences. The ideal shopping experience is an uninterrupted strip of stores.

Character – Main St. has no common element that defines its character. The downtown lacks a marketable theme. Each commercial building was built without regard for the look of the neighborhood. There’s no common signage, even on the same building. The types of stores don’t complement each other.

Parking – The limited parking is incapable of handling a significant influx of retail establishments or a large-scale anchor store.

The remedies range from the simple and cheap to the complex and expensive. Some of the simple remedies are:

Zoning – Zone all properties in the business district to require the ground floor be used only for retail. Existing properties can be grandfathered.

Signage – Require all banners and signs to conform to a common theme.

Parking – Draw lined parking so that vehicles don’t take more than one space. Also, enforce time limit rules to increase vehicular turnover.

Pedestrian Friendly – Have the sidewalks be of uniform size and design. Build curb extensions at crosswalks to calm traffic and shorten the pedestrian crossing distance. Replace the cobra head lighting with lighting more suitable for a retail district. Create attractive resting areas with shading and benches.

Store Hours – Have a policy to regularize store hours along Main St.

The complex and expensive are anchor and theme. On this point, the study is purposefully vague since these are political issues. Also, Matawan is severely restricted due to its size and limited resources (a problem, I believe, that would be alleviated by merging Matawan with Aberdeen).

My suggestion would be the construction of a cultural/music hall with an art studio in the front lobby. Regarding a theme, I would recommend a colonial motif with street lighting that’s reminiscent of the old gas lamps.

Financing is a bit tricky. The study advises the creation of a Special Improvement District (SID) that would levy a special assessment on the properties within the business district to pay for the improvements as well as hire an administrator responsible for marketing the business district and coordinating special activities. Considering the number of private residences that would be forced to pay the tax, I don’t consider a SID politically feasible. Plus, I’m always leery of government expansion absent an obvious need.

Location is also a problem. Were Matawan and Aberdeen to merge, the property between Church Street, Broad Street, Route 34 would have been ideal. The land is currently occupied by Matawan Borough Hall, Walgreens, and a planned senior citizen center in Aberdeen that will primarily consist of low income housing.

Another possibility is the planned transit village but that area is already slated for a combination of parking, residential, and office space.

Could the business district still blossom without an anchor? Yes, but I believe our only option is to become a food mecca. Specialty restaurants and boutique food stores can always attract traffic.

How to attract these food establishments? Implement the inexpensive improvements, market the neighborhood, and offer tax benefits.

But, of course, none of this will happen under Mayor Aufseeser. As far as she is concerned, “There [is] nothing in the report that could really help us . . . It looks like Main Street is beginning to redevelop itself.” >>> Read more!