Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Of Mice and Men (and Women)

According to an old army rule, you never look at your enemy’s family photos because, the moment you do, you realize he’s a family man, too. Though I have been a consistent and harsh critic of the Matawan-Aberdeen Board of Education and the Aberdeen Township Council, this past week I was taught a bit of humility.

Last Friday, at the prompting of some readers, I sent an email to James Lauro, Aberdeen’s acting town manager, regarding sewers in Freneau and seawall development. I was greatly, and pleasantly, surprised to receive a phone call from Mayor Sobel in response to the email; it was the first time we ever spoke.

Mayor Sobel was very generous with his time and patiently answered my questions. Regarding the seawall, he explained the township won $262,000 in matching grants, meaning the money will be released when the township allocates matching funds. CME Associates, the township engineer, is presently developing plans to widen the seawall and provide beach access as part of an overall plan to promote the shore. My guess is we’ll hear more about the project in time for next year’s election (there are no matching funds in this year’s budget).

Regarding Freneau, he explained that sewers would cost millions of dollars and the money isn’t there absent development in Aberdeen Forge. I asked about scaling back the road improvement program and using some of that money towards the sewers. The Mayor said he didn’t believe the sewers had sufficient community support to warrant the massive investment, that his understanding was many, if not most, homeowners were content with their septic tanks.

The conversation then segued into other development projects. He explained that the Anchor Glass Area was purchased by Somerset Development but that he was unaware of any real progress. He also warned against relying too heavily on proposed development plans as these projects often result in something very different from the original vision.

I told Mayor Sobel that I was very concerned with the selection of Silver Oak Properties as the primary developer for the Transit Village Project. Not only does Silver Oak have no experience with large-scale development, the owner, William Bocra, is a convicted felon, having gone to prison for three years after attempting to bribe an IRS auditor. I expressed that, given the large number of local developers arrested on bribery charges, including the original Aberdeen Forge developer, Anthony Spalliero, appearances matter.

Mayor Sobel said he understood my concerns but felt the point had become moot. He said it was his understanding that the township no longer has any standing relationship with Silver Oak Properties and that he’s not had any recent discussions with them. He further assured me that “not one shovel” would hit the transit area until the roadways were first expanded, at an estimated cost of $125 million, to handle the increased traffic. Sure enough, a cursory review of payments to the township attorney, Daniel McCarthy, reveals only a few inconsequential payments regarding Silver Oak.

My biggest surprise was Mayor Sobel expressing he had no strong opposition to merging the township with Matawan.

We ended the conversation on good terms and he offered to make himself available for future discussions.

Also last week, Patricia Demarest became President of the district’s Board of Education. We have always been on good terms since I first began attending board meetings but I had become concerned, following the heated election, that our relationship would become strained. Not so. She’s been as warm and open as ever. Though I don’t care for her allies on the school board, I have always admired her for her integrity and desire to help the students of our district. When nobody else on her side of the aisle appeared at Meet the Candidates night, she was there.

When she was elected president, I was the first to applaud her.

I mention Mayor Sobel and Board President Demarest because it takes great character to reach out to one of your harshest and most vocal critics. And I contrast their actions against School Board Member Barbato who retained legal counsel to issue me a cease and desist letter that accused me of committing “liable” [sic].

Although I will likely continue to criticize and dissent, I intend to give every opportunity to the opposition to express their viewpoints. I’m a strong believer in lively debate and I welcome any courtesy the opposition extends towards me.

Mayor Sobel and Board President Demarest, thank you for your time and patience. I look forward to speaking with you in the future.
>>> Read more!


Late last night, I posted an article stating the Matawan Regional Teachers Association had not yet ratified the employment contract and I speculated that hey had helped the Rubino/Ruprecht campaign in exchange for better terms.

In fact, the teachers ratified the contract last Wednesday. The article has since been deleted and I apologize for misinforming anyone who had already read it. >>> Read more!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Heading to Exit 117A

This April marks the 4-year anniversary of fellow blogger, the Matawan-Aberdeen Observer. For nearly three years, his was mostly a lonely voice until he was joined by the Matawan Advocate in February of last year. Then, last September, I joined the fray. While we’re generally supportive of one another, to our mutual benefit, there exists a bit of friendly competition to see who garners the most traffic or has the greatest influence. Well, it appears we’ve got a new champ in town – Marilyn of Exit 117A.

Although new to our neighborhood, Marilyn’s an old hand at blogging. Before moving here, she authored the Red Bank Blues. In addition to her lively and engaging writing style, Marilyn’s also an internet maven who specializes in online marketing at her day job. (Her fiancĂ©, an editor at the NY Daily News, does not contribute to the blog.) But it’s not her prose that makes Exit 117A the biggest thing to hit the Mat-Ab blogworld. What makes her so different, and special, is that, in contrast to the political blogs, she’s the only one who writes about daily living in Matawan-Aberdeen.

Like sushi? Check out the restaurant reviews at Exit 117A. Curious about where to shop, where to get a haircut, or go for car repair? Try Exit 117A. Starting a new local business? Be nice to Marilyn. In a competitive marketplace, a review on Exit 117A can make all the difference.

She does have one Achilles Heel, though – Marilyn is lactose intolerant. For the moment, local pizzerias can relax.

In addition to blogging, Marilyn has also initiated a local networking group called Bayshore Friends. The friends share tips on what’s hot and what’s not and they’ll likely be planning get-togethers in the near future. For people looking to get the inside scoop or expand their social networks, Bayshore Friends is a great place to start.

As for the rest of us bloggers, I’m sure we’ll be reading Exit 117A.
>>> Read more!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Grade Inflation

In the 2007 New Jersey State High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) exam, the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District has once again scored near the very bottom of its District Factor Group (DFG). In Language Arts Literacy (LAL), out of 45 high schools, we are ranked 26th in proficiency. That’s the good news. We’re ranked 40th in math and 41st in science (see www.DataUniverse.com). Meanwhile, a majority of the school board members have been serving since 2002. Where is the parent outrage? Why haven’t parents demanded a better education for their children? Because parents and students alike have been deceived by systemic grade inflation.

I define grade inflation as the knowing assignment of a grade that substantially exaggerates the recipient’s proficiency level. If we choose to adopt the state’s minimal standards, then our students should be receiving classroom grades in line with their HSPA exams. If that were the case, 30% of our high school students would be failing science, another 29% would be failing math, and 10% would be failing English.

But wait, the HSPA scores themselves are inflated. Out of a possible 300 points, scoring 200-250 is proficient, and 250-300 is advanced proficient. That would suggest a student needs to correctly answer two-thirds of the questions to be proficient or five-sixths to be advanced proficient. However, every student starts with a base of 100 points and, unlike the SATs, no points are deducted for wrong answers. Discounting those hundred points, a student only needs to score 100 out of 200 (50%) to be proficient or 150 out of 200 (75%) to be advanced proficient.

In other words, nearly a third of our high school juniors couldn’t even score above the 50% mark in math or science. That’s a massive failure rate. Does that mean a third of our juniors are going home with F’s on their report cards or that only a minority of students scores above a C in their exams? Of course, not. Each teacher is encouraged to design the class curriculum and standards around the ability of the students. If the teacher perceives he’s instructing the “dummy” class, he’ll dumb down the material.

Both parents and students assume classroom exams reflect expectation levels, that a B means a B. Meanwhile, only 10% of our high school juniors can score 75% (the equivalent of a C) on the HSPA science exam.

Could it be that the HSPA exams are graded lower because they’re really, really, hard? No. The state provides samples of the Language Arts Literacy, Math, and Science assessments. The exams only test for competence, not advanced comprehension.

But wait, there’s more. Somehow, the vast majority of these students who don’t know math or science are still completing their HSPA requirements prior to graduation. Despite having a higher failure rate in math and science than the state average, 89% of our students ultimately fulfill the HSPA requirements compared to 80% for the rest of the state. (See New Jersey Report Card)

One possibility is that we put more effort and resources into assisting these students but there’s a problem with that notion as well. In a recent presentation to the school board, Assistant Superintendent Honnick compared our school district to others nearby and in the same DFG. Our high school was average in Language Arts Literacy and dead last in Math and Science. Yet, we have the highest graduation rate in the group.

Abysmal test scores but a fantastic graduation rate. It’s quite a feat and one I can’t explain.

As for those wondering why my earlier post was titled “Cheers – Overall Test Scores are Up”, in my book, anything below 65% is a failing grade, especially on a state exam. When measuring proficiency, I focus solely on the percentage of advanced proficient and those numbers did rise from the previous year.

What to do? First, we need to recognize that the New Jersey assessment exams are not educational tools. The state administers the exam mid-semester (March) and then doesn’t release the scores until the following year (February). It’s specifically done this way to prevent any school district from using the exams as a means of measuring teacher performance.

Our school district needs to be able to measure and track each student’s academic progress. One option is the nationally recognized TerraNova exams to measure and track each student. Personally, I prefer using an adaptive test like the NWEA exams. The difference is that TerraNova measures competency while the NWEA measures mastery. For example, TerraNova doesn’t consider how long it takes to answer a question, only whether the answer is right or wrong. It also doesn’t adjust difficulty levels based upon prior responses. When the NWEA application detects that someone is struggling with or flying through the exam, it automatically adapts until it finds questions at the appropriate difficulty level. Adaptive exams are far more accurate in pinpointing a student’s strengths and weaknesses.

Another necessary step is to raise the bar. Instead of training our students to meet the bare minimum legal standards, we can raise the bar by requiring our students to take, and pass, more demanding coursework. For example, we could begin requiring students to take Advanced Placement (AP) classes, have them pursue a degree through the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, participate in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), or require a minimum of advanced science and math classes to graduate.

Will students struggle to complete a more challenging course environment? Of course. That’s the point. Who ever heard of any noteworthy achievement that didn’t involve struggle? We push our athletes to win. We can push our students to excel. Even those that fail will be stronger from the effort.

At the very least, we need to accurately test our students. Inflated grades and false praise won’t prepare our children for tomorrow. Our parents and students need to know the truth.
>>> Read more!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Motivation to Expose

Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik (1853-1918) describes two types of zealots – the housewife and the cat. The housewife and the cat both chase mice out of the house. The difference is that the cat wants the house to have mice.

I have been accused of being the cat. Some people view me as the Torquemada of Aberdeen, a fanatic hell-bent on finding wrongdoing in every public servant and then destroying their reputations. In my defense, the facts prove otherwise.

Few people remember that I voted for Councilman Vinci. Until the recent school board elections, I never challenged a single board member’s integrity. In truth, when I began this blog, I believed the local leadership to be honest folk, maybe politically bent and wrong-minded on policy but honest nevertheless.

On October 17th, I requested an interview with both Mayor Sobel and Mayor Aufseeser, stating it would be an “honor” to meet with them. Neither one answered my request.

On January 23rd, prior to posting “Something is Rotten in Aberdeen”, I emailed Councilman Vinci and Councilwoman Gumbs for clarification on their respective land deals. Neither one responded.

In contrast, both Aberdeen Township Manager Stuart Brown and Matawan Borough Administrator Fred Carr agreed to meet with me in November despite the fact that I was a virtually unknown blogger at the time. We met over lunch and they each insisted that they pay for their own meals out of their own pockets.

At the same time, members of the school board (on both sides of the aisle) gave me their personal email addresses and have been in regular contact with me. Superintendent O’Malley, Deputy Superintendent Glastein, and Assistant Superintendent Honnick have all been very generous with their time. They are all dedicated public servants.

Despite extreme disagreements with members of the school board, I never personally attacked any of them until the recent school board elections. Seeing the underhanded electioneering techniques of the Barza wing, I could no longer ignore several reliable sources describing Barbato’s and Zavorska’s machinations.

Within the township, I have only directly attacked three people – Sobel, Vinci, and Gumbs.

I have never charged anyone with criminal action. Ethical misconduct, certainly, but never criminal.

I have also tried to be very diligent in writing the truth. I recognize that one falsehood would undermine everything I’ve ever written or said. Again and again, anonymous users have accused me of prevarication but they fail to provide a single example. Of the seventy articles posted, only once did someone point out a mistake. Upon receiving notification, I immediately removed the posting, corrected the mistake, and then re-posted the article a half-hour later after double checking all my other facts.

I’m very reluctant to publish anything without supporting documentation and I normally link to all relevant materials.

I raise the issue now because, this past Friday, some anonymous readers began attacking Joe McAleer, a township employee. At the time, I wrote

“I have never attacked a current or recent township employee. This blog would be severely hampered without the support of municipal employees and I am very grateful for all their help.

I respectfully request that my readers adopt a similar policy. Joe McAleer is a semi-public figure so I have not censored the comments. However, I hope people understand that such remarks could have a chilling effect on the assistance I receive from the municipality. The vast majority of township employees are good people and I wouldn't want them to think we believe otherwise.”

Sure enough, several hours later, I received an email from a high-ranking township employee that reads, in part,

“Honestly, do you think all our employees are stealing from the tax coffers???

Please stop questioning my integrity and the integrity of the people I work with, we are all like you, we put in a hard days work, get a paycheck and go home at the end of the day to our families. You know what our bonus is?? A tray of cookies at Christmas time.

. . . [Y]ou are really stepping beyond what you should be asking.”

(I have redacted portions of the email to protect the employee’s identity.)

This email was sent in response to a question regarding an OPRA request for information detailing certain payments.

For the record, I have never questioned this individual’s integrity. On the contrary, I happen to know he/she is an honest public servant. He/she is also well paid, earning over $100,000 a year plus a hefty pension.

So, let me be clear. I am exposing corruption and unethical behavior because it is rampant in our township. My only targets are chief administrative officers and elected representatives who have betrayed the public trust. I have gone to great pains to not besmirch anyone when unnecessary or unwarranted.

This blog gets over a thousand unique visitors a month. If anyone finds a mistake, a falsehood, or a misrepresentation, tell me and I’ll correct it. My views are my own and I welcome disputes but positions need to be grounded in facts.

Like every other citizen, I demand only one thing of our elected representatives – uphold your oaths of office to faithfully, impartially, and justly perform all the duties of office to the best of your ability. Do that and you’ll never need to worry about the Aberdeener.
>>> Read more!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Councilman Vinci's Compulsion

Poor Councilman Vinci. As an avid reader of this blog, he knows how much I love to chronicle his fiduciary infidelities. He may not know where I get my information or who has betrayed him but Councilman Vinci knows I’m watching. Yet, he just can’t overcome his compulsion to “pilfer” from the public treasury. Once again, with a little help from his friends, he has snatched public land adjacent to his home. Is this compulsion to take what is not rightfully his a congenital defect? Is he a sick man deserving our sympathy and support? Or is Councilman Vincent Vinci just a pig?

In January ("Something is Rotten in Aberdeen"), I recounted how the New Jersey Highway Authority gave Vinci about 2,000 square feet of land adjacent to his house for the rock bottom price of $1 (see attached).

Not only did he get this land for free, but the extension to his lot was never recorded in the tax rolls nor did his assessment ever go up. His 1994 tax record (lot size and assessment) is identical to his current tax record (Block 265 Lot 1).

Then there was the March story ("Campaign Finance Fraud in Aberdeen) detailing how, in 2007, the Aberdeen Democratic Executive Committee paid “consulting fees” to Councilman Vinci during his own re-election campaign.

Now, Vinci provides us another land scandal. On February 19, 2008, Mayor Sobel, representing Aberdeen Township (i.e. the peons who live here), gave Councilman Vinci another 2538 square feet of land adjacent to Vinci’s home for the grand sum of $1 (see attached).

Will this parcel be added to the tax rolls? We’ll have to wait and see. More interestingly is what Vinci plans to do with all this land. Perhaps he has a fondness for mowing grass. Or maybe he needs the space to set up a lemonade stand. Or maybe, just maybe, he requires a lot large enough to subdivide and sell to a developer to finance his retirement.

Excluding the two free parcels, Vinci’s lot has a little over 14,000 square feet. With the two parcels, he now has about 19,000 square feet, plenty of land for a pliant planning board to re-zone for two lots. (In 2003, the planning board approved a request by Joe Ciaglia to subdivide a 13,000 square foot lot on Atlantic Avenue.)

As a dedicated reader of this blog, Vinci must have known his latest land deal would be exposed. Is this a call for help from a councilman whose fellow council members insist on feeding his addiction? Is he a man obsessed with self-gratification by violating the public trust? Or, as I suggested earlier, is he just a pig? Whatever the case may be, it’s time to put this “public servant” in rehab for his sake and ours.
>>> Read more!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Barbato-Zavorskas Regain Control

Yesterday’s Matawan-Aberdeen school board election was a blowout by any measure. Despite complaints of ethical misconduct, Jan Rubino garnered 1105 votes, possibly a new record in local school board elections. Her running mate, Martin Ruprecht, won 986 votes to Ken Aitken’s 759. It may also have been the most divisive with a record 758 undervotes and write-ins. The proposed budget was defeated for the 7th consecutive year .Yet, the people breathing the biggest sigh of relief were never on the ballot.

Yesterday’s election only saw a 17% voter turnout, in line with historical norms. While Aitken ran a campaign of ideas, his opponents worked to get out the vote. (Although Aitken’s numbers were lower than his prior election bid, this was likely due to his name being last on the ballot, the loser’s slot.) In an election where organization matters more than ideas or principles, the “powers-that-be” have every advantage.

The Barbato-Zavorskas (Barza) wing has the organization. They have aligned themselves with the local teachers union, members of the town council, and activists in the PTO. Barbato and Zavorskas also have deep ties within the community. Zavorskas has been living in the same house nearly her entire life. Barbato has been on the school board for almost a generation.

The Barza wing thrives on voter apathy. As long as most of the township remains convinced that no school board will ever improve education or reduce taxes, they will not take the time to vote. Unfortunately, the voters have squandered a real opportunity for change. Dr. O’Malley’s appointment, opposed by the Barza wing, could have been a watershed moment. He may now be driven out like the former superintendent, Bruce Quinn.

Meanwhile, Aberdeen’s town council members are relieved that grassroot efforts are so easily defeated. Despite every attempt by the current school board leadership to increase citizen participation through public and televised meetings, they could not raise voter turnout.

Yet, I remain optimistic. Ken Aitken lost this election, not the ideals of creating a low-tax, high-performing school district. There were nearly 1000 undervotes and write-ins for the Matawan and Aberdeen candidates but only 102 undervotes on the question of the budget. The budget was soundly defeated 54.76% to 45.24%.

Additionally, I credit this blog with the record number of undervotes in Aberdeen. Hundreds of people chose to not vote for a second candidate rather than push a button for someone without honor.

The Barza Wing and Sobel Gang may be celebrating now but even they must realize that change is afoot. And when it comes, it won’t be a tinkle but a torrent.

For over seven years, the people of Aberdeen have been begging for a candidate who will reduce the tax burden and expunge the corruption. For over seven years, we have been seeking a candidate who will prepare our children for a competitive, complex, and uncertain future. For over seven years, Aberdeen has been searching for a candidate who actually fights for the people. And next year we shall have it.

Mark your calendars. Plans are underway. 2009 will be the year we take back our town and take back our schools.
>>> Read more!

Friday, April 11, 2008

School Budget Masquerade

Special thanks to the school district for making the budget presentation available for download.

The Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District has been marketing itself as the picture of fiscal self-restraint. The budget presentation states the tax levy will only rise 2% and that “[c]omparative costs per pupil are below the state average.” Though technically correct, it’s a distortion of the complete picture. The truth is that the district began the budget process by raising taxes to the legal maximum, we’re spending more than necessary, and this is a budget that should be rejected.

Slide 8 describes how they arrived at the 2% increase. They took last year’s tax levy and then increased it by 4%. Had they gone beyond the 4% mandated state cap, the county would have likely rejected the budget and enforced budget cuts.

Meanwhile, state aid increased by 10% under Corzine’s new funding formula, which reflects the student body rather than the zip code. However, the state believes the district is spending more than necessary so, of the 10% increase, only 2.89% can be used toward expenses to cover inflation. The remaining 7.11% must be applied to tax relief.

During the budget review, both the administration and board of education made clear they opposed using any additional state funds towards tax relief but that they had no choice.

As slide 8 shows, the maximum tax levy permitted by law is $44,326,599. Then, on slide 11, that same number, the maximum tax levy permitted by law, is the proposed tax levy. Is raising taxes to the absolute maximum a sign of fiscal restraint? According to our board of education, which unanimously supports the budget, the answer is yes.

Next is the item of per pupil costs being below the state average. Once again, technically correct but there are two caveats. Slide 12 shows our district’s average per pupil cost is $12,227, below the state’s $12,806. But what exactly is “average per pupil cost”? Slide 4 shows we have a projected student body of 3,859. Multiply the number of pupils by the per pupil cost and you have $47,183,993. That means $16,172,023 of a $63,356,016 budget, or over 25%, is not being counted as part of the “per pupil costs”.

Another point to remember is that “state average” is the lowest of standards. In virtually every measurement, district officials use the more appropriate District Factor Group (DFG) which groups school districts according to socioeconomic measures. Matawan-Aberdeen’s DFG is FG (upper middle income). In that group, we had the 28th highest per pupil cost out of 89 similar school districts in the 06-07 school year.

The one notable bright spot in the school budget is the employee contribution (including teachers) towards healthcare benefits, a first in our district’s history. (One of the reasons the teachers union is “secretly” opposing Aitken’s candidacy is because he demanded that all employees begin contributing towards their healthcare just like workers in the private sector. During contract negotiations, about 70 union members picketed outside his home.)

Still, there are far more places we can cut. Promethean boards, as beautiful as they are, have not been proven to improve education. Last year, the district spent $9,000 on proposals for converting the TV studio into an instructional facility. I would rather see Huskievision become self-sufficient or shut down; it’s a luxury item we cannot afford. We’d be better off leasing time from another school district. The Response to Intervention (RTI) program uses teaching methods that are either harmful or ineffective and should be shut down. The district could make more of an effort to remove unwanted teachers and administrators. We could purchase refurbished equipment. We could reduce utility costs by using state funds to develop “green” energy sources and become more energy efficient.

Additionally, we could develop alternative revenue sources such as grants (one of Aitken’s proposals), business sponsorships, for-profit community services, and making Huskievision profit-oriented.

The Board of Education and the administration worked very hard on the proposed budget and had to make lots of unwanted spending cuts but, in the end, they did the absolute legal minimum. I would never eat in a restaurant that only adhered to the legal minimum and I would never support a school initiative that only sought to meet the barest legal standards.

The Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District is the highest taxed area in Monmouth County. Once again, the citizenry needs to say “NO”.
>>> Read more!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Barbato's Yellow-Bellied Response

Yesterday, I received the following letter from John Barbato’s attorney; John Barbato sits on the Board of Education for the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District until he gets ousted in next year’s election.

Dear Mr. Warren:

It has been brought to my attention that on April 21, 2008, [sic] you have caused to be published on your website false and liabliss [sic] statements concerning Mr. Barbato with respect to his position on the Matawan Borough Board of Education. [sic]

1) You have falsely accused Mr. Barbato of not attending a meeting that was a planned debate, which was moderated by the League of Women Voters, which was held for Candidates. You are aware Mr. Barbato is not a Candidate for re-election and had not been invited to that meeting.

2) You talk about the damage Mr. Barbato has done to the district in his “insane grab for power at the expense of the people.”

3) You also accuse him of providing patronage jobs, which is false and unfounded.

4) Further, you accused him of crossing the line “in his latest fundraising attempt” and you posted an email Mrs. Rubino sent out knowing that he had nothing to do with that.

5) Finally, you accuse falsely accused [sic] him that “he uses the school district as a personal playground,” without providing any grounds to support the accusation.

At the time that you published the Website, you knew that the statements were unfounded, false and you have entertained serious doubt as to the truth thereof.

With respect to all of the above, you acted with reckless disregard for the standards of truth and verocity [sic] ordinarily followed by a responsible person.

As a result of the false and misleading information contained in your website, Mr. Barbato has been liabled [sic], held up to ridicule and Mr. Barbato’s reputation has been greatly damaged.

THEREFORE, THIS IS TO PUT YOU ON NOTICE that you are to immediately cease and desist from any further actions against Mr. Barbato.

Very truly yours,
Gerald A. Del Tufo

The letter was signed by Mr. Del Tufo’s secretary.

Following is my response.

Dear Sir,

I am sorry to hear you had to be informed of the article as I would have preferred you be a regular reader of my blog like so many others. I am also saddened, though not surprised, that Mr. Barbato has chosen to defend himself through an attorney for I cannot imagine any more lame or cowardly response from a public official.

Regarding my statements on April 21st, I have not yet had an opportunity to make any though I will endeavor to do so as to not make a liar out of you.

As for your other items, I shall respond point by point.

1) I did not “falsely accuse” Mr. Barbato of not attending a scheduled debate among candidates. He wasn’t there. I was.

2) How would you characterize his “grab for power at the expense of the people” if not “insane”?

3) If Mr. Barbato denies providing patronage jobs, let’s see to what former Superintendent Quinn and other school officials testify under oath.

4) In Ms. Rubino’s public election filing, she could neither spell “Monmouth” nor determine what month it was. I do not believe she was capable of crafting that email without support from her aligned board members.

5) Please define “personal playground”. Once again, I am eager to hear Mr. Quinn’s testimony.

As for any “damage” to Mr. Barbato’s reputation, I assure you it was all self-inflicted.

We all know that it is nearly impossible for a public official to sue for libel; you could never prove my statements were false, with malice, and caused financial loss. Nor would you ever try. (As a piece of advice, the next time you instruct your secretary to write a cease and desist letter, you should advise her to use the spell check. At the least, she should learn how to spell “libel”.)

In summary, please inform your client that he can take his letter and shove it where the sun don’t shine! I’m not some weak-kneed administrator who’s going to be intimidated by an ethically challenged blowhard. I ain’t backin’ down. Not now. Not ever!

I shall not cease from writing what I believe to be the truth. I shall not desist from attacking Mr. Barbato so long as he continues to poison our community. I shall not be silenced.

I remain respectfully and without malice,
Your friendly neighborhood blogger,
Joseph Warren
A.K.A. Aberdeener

>>> Read more!

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Battle for School Board Control

On April 15th, the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District is having its annual school board elections. Council members John Barbato and Catherine Zavorskas are waging a relentless campaign through their Mini-Me’s, Jan Rubino and Marty Ruprecht. They’ve abandoned all pretense of fighting “for the people” in their mad quest for power. The only thing standing in their way is the truth.

The stakes are high. For the first time in years, we have a school board trying to restrain spending and raise standards. They’ve won concessions on employee contributions to healthcare, halted all new construction, hired a demanding superintendent with a proven track record, and taken the prior administration to task for not raising test scores. Baby steps, for sure, but at least they’re steps in the right direction.

Opposed to the board majority is the Barbato-Zavorskas wing. For years, they’ve turned the school district into their personal fiefdom, doling out jobs and special favors for the privileged few. They supported every one of former Superintendent Quinn’s empire building schemes and have fought every effort to impose standards, including the appointment of Superintendent O’Malley.

Representing the board majority, Ken Aitken has tried to wage a campaign of ideas. He appeared at the BOE Meet the Candidates Night and created a website stating his record and platform.

In contrast, Rubino and Ruprecht have used every unscrupulous tactic Barbato and Zavorskas could imagine.

Meet the Candidates
As detailed in my prior posting, they engineered a no-show to prevent any press coverage and then disseminated false stories to justify their actions.

Soliciting Contributions from District Employees
The school board bylaws specifically forbid any board member from soliciting any employee or vendor for campaign contributions (No. 9270, Sec. H, I). Board members are further prohibited from accepting any campaign contributions from these same people (No. 9270, Sec. N). Even if a family member had received a substantial gift ($100 value) from a district employee or vendor, that board member must recuse himself from all discussions regarding that employee or vendor (No. 9270, Sec. O).

In complete disregard of the school board’s bylaws or any sense of propriety, Rubino and Ruprecht sent school employees, including a non-tenured principal, an email soliciting campaign contributions.

Enlisting Support from the Teachers Union -
While individual teachers are free to support whomever they like, the teachers union normally remains steadfast neutral. Not in this case. Not only did the local teachers union endorse the solicitation of school employees, they actually encouraged it. Rubino and Ruprecht were provided a mailing list of all teachers residing in the district, regardless of where the teachers actually work. A number of teachers who live locally but work elsewhere reported receiving this postcard from Rubino and Ruprecht.

Campaign Finance Shenanigans
The postcards say they were paid for by “Educators for a Quality Education”. If any such organization actually exists, it is not listed anywhere in New Jersey State records or on Google.

Meanwhile, according to state election filings, Rubino and Ruprecht have only donated a measly $25 each to their own campaign. What greater proof exists that these two stooges are only stand-ins for Barbato and Zavorskas than they’re too cheap to even fund their own campaigns.

The question remains, however, who is funding their campaign?

(The filing was a bewildering display of incompetence - legally unnecessary (only contributions over $300 need be reported), highly damaging, full of errors, and submitted by Rubino. Here’s a fun game – I found seven errors in the one-page filing (counting liberally). How many can you find?)

Using the PTO for Political Purposes
In 2006, Barbato was re-elected by only 23 votes. He would have lost but for an absentee ballot campaign engineered by Krista Ruprecht, Marty Ruprecht’s wife. Under the guise of a “Kidz Count” campaign, Krista used PTO resources to recruit college students to submit absentee ballots for Barbato. Krista is a current PTO president. Rubino is a past president. We should expect more of the same.

Slanted Press Coverage
It’s no coincidence that the Asbury Park Press has been running a series of Letters to the Editor (plus one nonsensical editorial) critical of the current board leadership but not one letter in support. Nor is it a coincidence that these pieces began after Rubino and Ruprecht announced their candidacies.

Rubino and Ruprecht are running an unconscionable campaign to represent us in the education of our children. How sickening. A vote for either one of them is a vote against Aitken.

Vote for Ken Aitken. Leave the others blank.
>>> Read more!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Aberdeen's Inflated Pensions

Riddle me this:

  • Whose retired chief of police has the highest pension of any police officer in Monmouth County?
  • Whose retired town manager has the highest pension of any municipal administrator in Monmouth County?
  • Whose retired township attorney has the highest pension of any municipal attorney in Monmouth County?
If you’ve answered Aberdeen Township to all of the above, you’re a winner. Unless, of course, you actually live in Aberdeen.

Pension costs in Aberdeen are skyrocketing. In the past two years, pension expenditures for policemen and firemen have leapt 147% from $238,883 in 2006 to $589,487 in 2008. During that same period, pension costs for personnel have ballooned 155% from $51,558 to $131,669.

Township officials have blamed the state for these astronomic hikes. True but it’s not the whole truth.

Retired Chief of Police, Joe Kelly, receives an annual pension of $104,034, more than any other retired police officer in Monmouth County.

Former town manager, Mark Coren, has an annual pension of $82,138, more than any other town manager in Monmouth County. Like Kelly, Coren also receives free medical for life.

Then there’s Mayor Sobel’s “close personal friend” and former township attorney, Norman Kauff. He gets $49,015 a year from his government pension.

Pension benefits are calculated by the following formula – (Years of Service) / (55) X (Average Salary of the Last 3 Years). Any town can easily game the system by simply inflating salaries during the last three years of service.

For example, Mark Coren’s average salary from 2003 thru 2005 was $145,679. That figure isn’t only 13% higher than Stuart Brown’s 2008 salary of $129,000, it also exceeds the current pay range of $95,000 -145,000 for a township manager. Mark Coren and the town council were able to augment his pension by simply expanding the township manager pay range to $165,685 and then reducing that cap after hiring Brown.

During Joe Kelly’s final years, he not only got a pay hike, he took another job, teaching a Criminal Justice course at Monmouth University. (On RateMyProfessor.com he gets top marks for being an easy “A”.) All that work, it’s no wonder he developed a reputation for taking power naps in his squad car. His average salary in his last 3 years was $148,620. The current salary cap for chief of police is $140,000.

Norman Kauff gets the prize for highest pension per hours actually worked. During his tenure as Hazlet’s “special counsel” he received the township attorney’s pension contributions, even though that role was being performed by another attorney at his then firm, DeCotiis, FitzPatrick, Cole and Wisler.

Next time the town council complains about pension costs, let’s hope they have the honesty to acknowledge their share of the blame. Then again, asking for honesty from this town council might be asking for too much.
>>> Read more!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Meet the BOE Candidates

Last night, the community had an opportunity to meet the Board of Education candidates for the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District. The planned debate was moderated by the League of Women Voters and provided local residents a format to question the candidates. Unfortunately, there was no debate. Only two candidates actually came - Charles Kenny, who’s running unopposed in Matawan, and Ken Aitken of Aberdeen. In a remarkable display of hubris and disdain for the citizenry, two candidates, Jan Rubino and Marty Ruprecht, both of Aberdeen, ignored the event. Yet, I still consider the event a success for we got to see who the candidates truly are.

Aside from Rubino, every member of the Board of Education was present except for John Barbato and Catherine Zavorskas. Their staged absences were broadcast in advance to the local newspapers so that not a single reporter covered the event. Rubino is now trying to cover her tracks by circulating a letter that she opposed the forum and, the last time they held this type of forum, the police had to be called to control the crowd. Lies and more lies. Rubino was the board member who seconded the motion to adopt the new forum to use the League of Women Voters and the police were never called.

Rubino and Ruprecht are firmly ensconced in the Barbato –Zavorskas camp. Just as this left-wing cabal has chosen to not defend themselves in public, neither will I grant them any benefit of the doubt.

This election has become a referendum on the new direction the board has taken. Will Dr. O’Malley’s demanding standards be supported or undermined? Will the school district be judged upon services provided or actual academic achievement? Will parents and students be lulled into believing they are getting a good education or will the district publicize the stark results of standardized testing?

We should not understate the damage Barbato and Zavorskas have done to this district or their insane grab for power at the expense of the people they’ve sworn to serve. The stories of them using the school district to provide patronage jobs are true. Providing teachers lifetime tenure after 3-years of service, probably the largest impediment to educational reform, was only enacted to protect teachers from the likes of Barbato and Zavorskas.

I can appreciate the tactics used for political gain, such as feeding stories and Letters to the Editor of local papers, or recruiting college students to submit absentee ballots, but Barbato and Zavorskas have crossed a line with their latest fundraising attempt.

Below is an un-edited email (in its original red) that was sent to several school district employees, including one non-tenured principal and a staff member whose obligations include working closely with the board.

Dear friends,
As we begin our campaign we find ourselves in need of many things. We are hoping you, our valued supporters, can help us once again.
The days of simply placing signs on lawns, shaking hands and hoping that it will be enough to win an election are gone. Yes, our signs are a great help but we have found, after many campaigns that flyers, signs, magnetic reminder cards and postcards (along with postage) are all essential when trying to get the word out.
We are at a critical crossroad in this district, needing to make some critical changes. With your continued help we can accomplish so much. As board members we will show support of our new Superintendent and help to ease his transition. We will move forward and do what's best for our children and not get caught up in the day-to-day micromanagement of the district. We will work to educate every child at every level so all of our children can reach their highest potential. We will show our community, and its organizations, that we respect and value their input and opinions and support their efforts on behalf of our children.
Simply stated, we need your support of time, effort and money to run an efficient, effective and successful campaign. Only with your support can we win the election and dedicate our efforts to making the Matawan Aberdeen School District an environment where all of our children will thrive.
We are currently soliciting monetary contributions to get this campaign moving in the right direction. We can no longer afford to do it alone and need your help to raise the money that will allow us to run this campaign the best way possible.
Thank you in advance for whatever you can give. We promise to work hard to win this election for all of you.
Jan Rubino and Marty Ruprecht

P.S. of course, any contribution will be greatly appreciated but…
A donation of $25.00 will pay for 6 signs. (we need 200)
A donation of $50.00 will pay for 200 postcard stamps (we need 3000)

Please make checks out to: J.R. and M.R. for Board of Education Election.
We have opened an account at Commerce, by law, for any and all donations and expenditures.

Jan Rubino
824 Arbordale Drive
Cliffwood Beach, NJ 07735
Marty Ruprecht
8 Ambler Court
Aberdeen, NJ 07747

The Board of Education is constantly reviewing personnel matters including decisions regarding tenure and disciplinary actions. Does anyone believe Rubino or Ruprecht would recuse themselves from any review involving a recipient of this email? Does anyone believe a school district employee receiving this email wouldn’t feel pressure to contribute or fear retaliation if they didn’t? Does anyone believe this email was issued without the foreknowledge and consent of Barbato and Zavorskas?

I have been very reluctant to enter the political fray within the school board and I’ve been a fierce critic of all the board members but these machinations must come to an end and it’s time to choose sides.

Ken Aitken has been a strong proponent of fiscal reform – that all new budget items be directly attributable to academics. He opposed the lease-purchasing scheme to bypass the voters and fund a $1.45 million dollar football field that continues to be a drain on the educational budget. He blockaded Quinn’s massive construction plans. Ken supports hiring a grants writer to obtain additional outside funding.

Ken is also the reason so much school information is now becoming publicly available, such as the public broadcasting of all board meetings and podcasting from the school website. He supports Dr. Gambino’s efforts to introduce more tools for measuring student performance in a timely fashion. And he believes that a program’s continued failure is a reason to cut, not increase, funding. You can learn more about Ken at his website, www.KenAitken.com.

I fully endorse Ken Aitken. As for Rubino and Ruprecht, I’ll be leaving that space blank. It’s time to send a message. >>> Read more!