Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Job Nobody Wants

Last year, Aberdeen had twelve candidates competing for four positions on the town council. This year, Aberdeen has three candidates competing for two positions on the school board. The candidate from Matawan is, once again, running unopposed. Our school district represents the norm. Across New Jersey, it’s difficult to find any district where the proportion of candidates to seats is at least two to one. Why are political activists drawn to town government but not school governance?

By any objective standard, the board of education should be the greater magnet for political activism. Our district has over 3,500 students and over 450 employees. The school budget is nearly three times as large as the combined Matawan-Aberdeen municipal budgets and consumes over four times as much tax revenue. Yet, school districts lack the one element that attracts all political activists – power.

Imagine the power of the town council. Don’t like the town manager? Fire him. The town attorney, town engineer, and all the professional vendors have one-year contracts. The town council can regulate residential and business development. They can pick winners and losers among competing proposals. The mayor and company can envision a future and build it. The council can reward friends and punish enemies. And they can demand respect. No one dares risk the wrath of the town council.

Then consider the sad predicament of a member on the board of education. Don’t like the superintendent? You can’t fire him so you harass him until he decides to get a job elsewhere. Unhappy with a teacher? Learn to live with it. Want to make some changes? Which part of the bureaucracy doesn’t have a special constituency? Which part of the school system isn’t regulated by state/federal laws? Want to focus on the big picture? First you’ll have to deal with all the minutiae that require board approval.

Then there’s the teachers union. Recently, they’ve begun picketing in front of schools and board members’ homes.

Hope you enjoy the long hours. Board members work about twenty hours a week without pay.

And for what? To be attacked by the community for not doing enough? No wonder more people don’t pursue such an exalted position.

Still, girded with determination and vision, the board of education wields enormous power. As a community, we need to attract the best among us to lead the school district. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Travel Allowances – Board members have a tough time explaining the long hours to their families. Plus, it costs about $1,000 to run an effective campaign for election. Financial compensation may encourage more people to run. Rather than give a salary, though, which could entail taxes and pension contributions, I would suggest travel allowances up to $5,000. The board members would have complete discretion how to use the travel allowance so long as it’s somehow related to education to avoid triggering legal or tax implications.
  2. Resources for Pet Projects – Provide each board member $20,000 to pursue a pet project. The projects will require board approval and must be fully available for public review.
  3. Stringent Meeting Rules – Give each board member 5 minutes to speak and you’ve blown through 45 minutes. Allow time for administration officials and you’ve passed an hour. Meeting agendas should be provided at least three business days in advance and each member should be required to submit written opinions prior to the meeting. The board president will also need to exercise greater control of the floor. By speeding along the meetings, the board can remain effective while lightening the burden on family life.
The costs involved with these proposals amount to one-tenth the annual budget increase. By compensating board members, giving them greater opportunities to be effective, and restricting the length and number of meetings, we can make the positions far more attractive. The more people want to participate in the school district, the better off we’ll be. >>> Read more!


Anonymous said...

Ha Ha! I have to laugh at this one! I had a friend on a school board at a neighboring town awhile back. He went to a Board of Ed Convention in Texas and, since he wasn't married, took a friend along using the $5000 allowance with "no accountability”. Let’s just say that they didn’t attend many meetings and neither did the others who brought their wives. This went on for many years, along with the regular meetings in restaurants, all on the taxpayers tab. I was sure the practice had to have stopped as I recall it became rather scandalous and you now want to promote it?
And what about the $20,000 for “pet projects”- what does that mean? That amount of money times the amount of board members we have could easily pay for 3 or more teachers, lowering class sizes and helping to raise test scores. Give the “extra” money you are coming up with (out of my pocket) and give it to teachers to come up with “pet projects” to raise scores. After all, they are the professionals and the members of the school board, for the most part, are not. You keep preaching on cutting costs in town councils and school boards, now you are “flip flopping” by suggesting they get incentives which are really salaries in disguise. Could it be you are planning a run of your own? Anyway- keep writing. Your views are so out there that they are entertaining!

Truth In Matawan said...

Why would the teachers--who campaign hard for every pet project under the sun, not only those that are questionable in efficacy but even those who are proven ineffective--be entitled to spend MORE money on special projects? Seems ludicrous. After all, the teachers bottom line is just that--their bottom line. What will make them the most money, over time, period. In most businesses, you have to deal with your customers and clients over long periods of time. For teachers, it's "one and done", pass them along to the next grade. Even if they can't read. Oh wait, that's the parents' fault, we forgot. Our point is, the teachers already get every possible special project they ask for, and more and more "special teacher" positions are created for one-on-one educating that is not doing much of anyone any good--other than the teachers whose pockets its lining, of course.

Not saying the solution is to give MORE people leeway for special projects, but, if we're reading Aberdeener right, these special projects would be subject to board approval. And we DO like the idea of the special projects being from an independent source, i.e. someone who will not be benefiting materially and directly from its implementation--like the teachers.

Aberdeener said...

The district received over twenty applications for superintendent and has a three-year waiting list for certain teaching positions. Yet, we can barely find candidates for the board ultimately responsible for our children's schooling and two-thirds of our property taxes.

It would be to everyone's benefit to encourage more people to volunteer for service on the board of education. My proposals would cost the average household about twenty dollars per year. I think it would be money well spent.

As always, I'm open to other ideas.

Anonymous said...

Don't you believe that handling a multimillion dollar budget requires some training? I am not concerned with the number of candidates, but the quality of the candidate.

Aberdeener said...

If we can attract more candidates, the law of averages suggests that some of them would be more qualified than our current crop.

Anonymous said...

I'm still dieing to know what kind of special projects a Board member would come up with.

As for Truth in Matawan- it's too bad you hate teachers so much. You lost sight of who picks the curriculum, the books, the "flavor of the month" researched based teaching method, the class size, the facilities and who teaches what subject or grade level. It’s not the teachers. The teachers never pick their teaching assignment and how many students they are to work with...or even in what school they are to work in. Often the changes in what grade or subject they teach are made just days before school starts. Teachers also do want to retain students knowing that this may be the only time to save the child academically but, frustratingly, “others" make the decisions to pass them on- including parents. There is still a stigma in being "held back" even if it is beneficial developmentally. Almost everything you mention is not a decision a teacher makes. Yet, teachers accept these changes and conditions every year without grievance. In actuality a teacher doesn't need another $20,000 to enhance their classrooms. Teachers are professionals and experts in their fields. It is rare, however, that those talents are able to be utilized in a classroom without someone else (who is not in the classroom) dictating what the best teaching method is. Teachers are not your enemy. Parents and teachers working TOGETHER in the best interests of the child is the only way to ensure success-divided we fail.

Aberdeener said...

If I was a board member with $20,000 a year and the schools at my disposal, here are some of the things I'd love to initiate.

1) Robotics Club - Start with Lego Mindstorms and build cool robots. Would attract students with an interest in electronics or programming.

2) Entrepreneurial Club - Manage, invest, and build a business with real money.

3) Video Making - Learn to make movies and music videos using off-the-shelf hardware and software.

4) Fashion - Design, create, and sell your own creations.

5) Mad Scientists - From rockets, to lasers, to CSI techniques, all the crazy stuff you can't do at home.

6) Internships - Work with local businesses to teach marketable skills and provide internships.

Too bad $20,000 a year wouldn't be enough.

Anonymous said...

It is quite obvious that the Aberdeener is new to the circus that is the Matawan-Aberdeen Board of Education. As a new comer he needs to look back in the schools history before he congratulates these supposedly selfless individuals, who supposedly serve for free.

Nothing this Bored (Board) of Ed does is free, or for the good of the community.

Just look at the past when $600,000.00 in hall and classroom lighting was ripped out after only being installed six months prior, only to reinstall other high priced lighting during the $38.5 million dollar school construction program. The Aberdeener needs to understand the Bored of Ed. did not watch or question that vast amount of money, which wasted at least $10 million dollars during that project.

That is a fact that they will collectively deny to their graves, but many know it is the truth in many districts where windows by name brand companies were used only to allow kickbacks to the architects and construction superintendents. Think of it windows were changed that did not have to be changed at every school in the district. The High School alone wasted over one million dollars on that brand windows alone. Every school had their windows replacedmany which did not have to be changed.

Think about it !

Aberdeener said...

Sametta Thompson of the APP has reported that the board of ed and teachers union have agreed to new contract terms but we won't know any of the details until after the contract has been ratified by the teachers.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I have a nephew who works for Aberdeen and we laugh at the stories he tells us on occasion. The sad part is how leadership fails the people of Aberdeen and the students they are supposed to help and lead.

Not that Old Bridge does any better for us in reality. Sine our nephew is a teacher the stories of problem students, too many administrators and more shows how really screwed up that and other districts can be allowed to be.

Gov. Corzine will not cut aid to districts that have failed histroically and everyone says nothing. How about starting with internal audits and efficiency studies to target who works and who slides along. POrove to the taxpayers who really works and where our tax dollars really go.

The likes of administrators given jobs rather than risk lawsuits who in turn do little if anything must end. The secrets of such activities are getting out to the public and the public should be outraged.

Kids first, not in Aberdeen especially with a divided board that act like children in their meetings, the public ones or otherwise. It is a shame.

We know our nephew will be a credit to society and make a difference, unfotunately that will not happen under the leadership as it exists today in his district.

Anonymous said...

The real truth that is going to come out is that the former superintendent, Bruce Quinn wrecked this district. He bought the expensive name brand windows over the objection of many community members. He hired all of his friends and spent millions of dollars exploding the size of our budget with no result. He ruined our schools with a reorganization that most people did not want. Lloyd Road used to be one of the best schools in the county. Thank God we finally were able to get some new board members elected that would not rubber stamp his projects.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous #11 was right about the newly elected Board of Education members but one thing that should be mentioned is that Aiken, Kenny, O'connell, Donahue and Gambino came in and took over from the divisive group that remains collusional of Barbato, Zavorskas, Dumarest and Rubino. The Barbato group are upset and crying constantly like the bitter former power hungry that they are, except that they no longer are in control. I do not know what Zavorskas does with her days now that she cannot go in and tell Quinn how to run the district. Perhaps she needs to stay home and keep her two cents to herself. The worst mistake Quinn ever made was letteing her into his office. She is not the queen of the district.

The arrogance and pressuring tactics they employed all of these years have cost every taxpayer and student plenty. Their arrogance was their demise and I say good riddance.

I see that Rubino has a running mate probably hand picked by Barbato and Zavorskas after a call to Aberdeens democratic party cheif Bob Axlerod. Nothing goes on without Axlerod and his bosses approval.

Another group of geniuses who could not lead themselves out of a wet paper bagthat Axlerod and his group.

What a story it would make or better yet headline. Barbato and the others have ruined this district only they will never admit it.

While my wife is displeased at the group of men who are in control of the school board they seem to run it more efficiently. Now if we could only trim the overpriced management levels, get rid of Martucci, Spells and a few others who do nothing, we could invest in people who could truly make a difference. It is time for the stale and wasteful positions in our district be done away with.

How many asistant principals do they need? We for sure have too many.

Anonymous said...

You don't need to give a board member $20,000 to start those projects. Most of them we have already, created by teachers, and are implemented in class. Or they have been requested to be clubs (try golf, now reinstated) and were turned down or cut. We have fashion design as a class in the high school. MAMS does a Knex competition. Stock market game is played in the high school along with mock trial and speech and debate. Project Lead the Way (http://www.pltw.org/index.cfm), which is one of the programs that High Tech uses to teach engineering, was suggested to the administration more than once but turned down for whatever reason, probably cost. Digital photography is in the high school and we have a TV studio. There is also a reciprocal program with Communications High School and the Freehold Votech where students spend part of the day at Matawan High and part of the day bussed to those schools for special interests. We also have Fast Start at Brookdale where students can also take these kinds of courses for college credit. Sure, special programs are great but don't think most of them are new ideas because the majority were already suggested and turned down. You can't have it both ways- cut costs and create new programs. The residents of both towns, with understanding, have decided on the former.

Anonymous said...

you can't open those windows more than a few inches on the second floor of Lloyd Road School because there is a danger of students falling out.

Aberdeener said...

The projects I envision are quite different from the ones being implemented in school.

Stock market games and an entrepreneurial club using real money are quite distinct. A fashion design class and actually making, selling, and marketing fashion are different. If you've watched Huskievision, then you know there's nothing to brag about there.

If we want to attract the best people to serve on the board of education, we have to enable them to take initiative and make changes without having to battle the bureaucracy at every step.

I'm asking for a small step in that direction that would cost the average household about $20 a year. Unless someone thinks of a better idea, the only question is whether it's worth the twenty bucks.

Anonymous said...

You are missing the point. The point is when a teacher ( or parent) suggests a more challenging environment such as Project Lead the Way or an in-school coffee house that would produce an income, they are denied because of the cost or because the program does not involve a large amount of students. Yes it is a shame. The Board does not need to come up with the idea for $20,000. Anyone should be able to come up with the idea. Teachers are in a unique position because they have the experience to deal with the kids, find resources, and know how an idea or program can impact the students yet still cover those core curriculum standards. I would rather our Board oversee the wasteful spending that involves something other than salary or benefits than think of more ways to spend money.

Aberdeener said...

I've previously argued that when departments save money, a portion of the savings should go into the general fund, a portion should go towards teacher bonuses, and a portion towards a "mad money" account to be used at the department's discretion.

I support each department maintaining an account for special projects to be used at the department's discretion so long as everything is readily available for public review.

Teachers should have the ability and encouragement to initiate special activities for their students.

There are many places to save money. This doesn't need to be one of them.

Anonymous said...

A new contract! Can't wait to hear what our elected board will save us for the next three years in benefits and salaries. The paper seems to make you think they went down without much of a fight.

Anonymous said...

Aberdeener- you said... (When) "departments save money, a portion of the savings should go into the general fund, a portion should go towards teacher bonuses, and a portion towards a "mad money" account to be used at the department's discretion." Which portion goes back to the property owners in the form of tax relief?

You know, don't you, that MARSD has an Educational Foundation that finances these start up programs each year with money gained from private sources? The amount is not $20,000 for each project but many wonderful projects were created using this method- at NO expense to taxpayers.

Anonymous said...

It is time for the Political Action Commitees that purport to be the PTO's start to worry about the kids rather than bowing to the pressures of the Barbato and Zavorskas team. It is still amazing to me that people extole their supposed caring attitude, when all they really care about is themselves and their power. They do not hold the power and it is affecting them from the inside out, everyday. We love it! We know firsthand the negative effects they have had on this district and our kids from within.

For example our son who is very intelligent and who was on the honor role, struggled in College. We are also very concerned for those who left college for the lack of being well prepared in high school. But Zavorskas and Barbato would rather attempt to regain their lost status than work to streamline the district.

Well their power is dormant and their attempts to regain power will not work. Barbato and Zavorskas have probably already started the power struggle to control O'Malley. The smartest thing he will do is kick the two of them out of his office and block their phone calls, on day one.

We certainly hope that O'Malley learns from former Superintendent Quinn. While we really thought he had some inovative ideas he too succumbed to the vengeful power of Barbato and Zavorskas. The jobs they gave away and allegiances shown to them puzzle many of us in the faculty. Every time Zavorskas eneters the school buildings or central office there should be a warning bell to protect the children. Something like a fire alarm indicating DANGER, in her case a warning bell or siren needs to sound and indicate that a self centered, power hungry egomaniac is on the premises.

Yes you can probably tell that we do not like her, we feel strongly that her, Barbato and the others they control are a very negative impact on our district, and its taxpayers.

Take the hint Superintendent O'Malley.

Anonymous said...

Shame on you for saying that Bruce Quinn ruined this district! Obviously you haven't been around long enough to see what little was accomplished under his predecessors! He was a fantastic superintendent and a great loss to our district!!! Go soak your head!

Aberdeener said...

In response to the anonymous poster who asked about tax relief, the portion of departmental savings that go into the general fund would be used to restrain future tax increases.

There are many places to cut spending and increase non-tax revenue and I wish the board would spend more time investigating measures that would provide tax relief.

In regards to the Educational Foundation, they raise several thousands of dollars a year for our students and their efforts are greatly appreciated. Unfortunately, if we want to create an environment where faculty and board members are encouraged to take the initiative and experiment with new programs, we're going to need more resources than the Educational Foundation has, so far, provided.

The questions are: 1) What's the best way to create and administer such an environment? 2) Is it worth the money?

Anonymous said...

Shame on you who does not face reality. It is going to take a long time for this district to get out of the hole Bruce Quinn put us in. Look at the budget and test scores...

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