Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Yesterday, Cathy Zavorskas resigned her school board seat following revelations at Monday night’s televised BOE meeting that the school district allowed Bruce Quinn to serve as superintendent without proper certification despite notification from the county. At that same meeting, Rappaport’s story continued to unfold – filings to the county listing her as a supervisor pre-date the December, 2003, BOE meeting assigning her that title. Plus, shortly after that same meeting, the school board negotiated with the MRAA to pay a Director of Special Services a higher salary than any other director and then awarded that salary to Ms. Rappaport even though she no longer held the title. The number of laws broken in the district has become too much for me to count.

Though there’s more to this story, and I will certainly continue to investigate, I have no plans to publish any more discoveries. I recognize that many of us wish to see justice done to those who abused our community over the years but that is not the purpose of this blog. My intention has always been to improve our community. I exposed past misdeeds to hold our public servants accountable and ensure history doesn’t repeat itself. Nothing more.

Now is the time to move forward. Per statute, the school board has 65 days to appoint a new member and will likely refrain until after the election. As of today, the two school board incumbents representing Aberdeen have still not retrieved their candidate packets and the deadline for submitting candidate petitions is this Monday. Should they choose to run, Liz Loud-Hayward and I have prepared a massive ground campaign targeting all segments of our community. We will run a vigorous campaign holding board members accountable for their records while promoting our promise to break from the past and build a better future. However, should they choose to resign with dignity, we have no plans to live in the past.

Regardless, I will honor my commitments to engage community leaders, parents, and teachers, to express my vision, hear their concerns, and develop common goals.

As for the township, I still have my concerns. Though I’m heartened by the democratic leadership’s clear intent to begin next year with a clean slate, I am troubled by the seeming attempt to “cash out” while there’s still time. From irregular financial filings to unwanted development to possibly locking the township into multiyear contracts with political contributors, it almost looks like they’re either sabotaging next year’s slate or don’t believe the populace will punish the new candidates for the party’s past sins.

Still, I believe Aberdeen’s future is bright and look forward to a new leadership untainted by corruption. I also appreciate Councilman Tagliarini’s personal notification that he has officially registered as a Democrat. This is a sharp contrast from past years when all things political were considered state secrets.

Soon, this blog will be taking a softer and more constructive tone. Yet, for those who are considering public service, please note – Don’t mistake a soft voice for a soft head. Our community has awakened and we will hold all public officials accountable to uphold and defend the public trust.
>>> Read more!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Launch Party

Liz and I will be hosting a Launch Party at my house on Tuesday, February 24th, at 7:30 PM. Though we’d like to invite everyone, I’m afraid we’ll have to limit attendees to invitation only. However, we welcome our invitees to bring friends as well.

At the party, we will introduce our officers, explain our strategy and platform, and formally begin our campaign.

If you would like to come and are concerned you may not receive an invite, please email me at

We look forward to seeing you.
>>> Read more!

A Litmus Test for Aberdeen's Town Council

Lately, Aberdeen’s town council has been taking steps, baby steps to be sure but steps all the same, in the right direction. I maintain we should encourage the council so long as it continues to move in the right direction. Others hold we should distrust anything the council does because it has so frequently betrayed our confidence. Both views are valid and founded upon recent events.

  • The town council has recently drafted a pay-to-play ordinance that would open most of the professional services to competitive bidding
  • In the prior election, save Councilman Minutolo who was forced off the ticket, all the council members ran for re-election. In the upcoming election, it appears only the rookie (and lifetime Republican), Councilman Tagliarini, will run again, this time for mayor. (Those who feel they can discount the Democrats in November’s election should reconsider. The Dems are assembling a formidable slate)
  • Councilman Vinci will finally pay his fair share of property taxes and is no longer receiving “consulting fees” from the party
  • The town passed an ordinance to have a separate vote on council members’ salaries so that it would no longer be “hidden” or “buried” in another ordinance
On the flip side,
  • The town council doesn’t need to wait for an ordinance to end pay-to-play
  • Financial shenanigans continue – Bill Shenton, new chair of the Aberdeem Democratic Executive Committee, didn’t just forget to file last quarter’s D-1 report with the state. He and Mayor Sobel created two new committees – One (ostensibly) for Mayor Sobel’s primary campaign and the second (even more unlikely) for Councilman Perry’s campaign. Excluding the names of the campaigns, Sobel's financial filing is identical to Perry's financial filing – identical contributions, identical contributors, identical dates, etc., including simultaneous $1,500 contributions from our good friends at CME. Worse, both candidates will be announcing in the next month or so that they have decided to not seek re-election - $8,250 for two local primary campaigns the party knows won’t happen. (Disclaimer: Councilman Perry is not involved in any party fundraising)
  • The township is pushing through another Cifelli development, this time under the guise of COAH
  • The town continues to reimburse homeowners $1 for confiscated land
(The APP’s recent headline that CME won a $402,259 grant to perform a remedial investigation of the South River Metals site is a rehash of a story from last April.)

Considering the conflicting data, I’d like to propose a litmus test for the town council –
  1. Open all professional service contracts above $5,000 to competitive bidding
  2. Give landowners fair compensation for land seized
  3. Identify all people and entities that contribute to local campaigns and do business with the township
I’m even willing to make this easy on the town council and give the benefit of the doubt for 2 out of 3.

Should anyone complain that my litmus test is too difficult, please let me know which request is unreasonable. >>> Read more!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

We're Running!

Liz Loud-Hayward and I are very excited to announce our candidacies to represent Aberdeen Township on the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School Board.

We believe our community has some of the finest administrators and teachers to be found anywhere. We believe our children are second to none. We believe our district can be among the best in the state.

But, somewhere, the system is broken.

We’ve had administrators legally unqualified for the positions they’ve held. Our students test scores are below average across the board. Yet, school spending has risen 25%, over $13 million, in just the last five years.

We agree that our children should not be shortchanged. We agree that teachers should be fairly compensated for doing that most important job, educating our children.

But something is wrong when we pay so much for so little.

In June, our school board set a goal to increase the number of students passing the state assessment tests but only “maintain” the percentage of students scoring advanced proficient. How sad. We need to set high expectations for all our students. And ourselves.

Shame on us for allowing our once great school district to deteriorate so drastically. Shame on us for treating the parents of special needs children as the enemy and an unwanted burden. Shame on us for failing to educate our children to the point that one-third of high school seniors needed remedial education because they couldn’t pass a state exam.

We can do better. And we will.

Liz and I have a plan to move our district forward. We will work with the administration to focus the curriculum on college preparation. We will work with the administration to reduce the tax burden by increasing non-tax revenues and cutting unnecessary expenses. Furthermore, we will work with the administration to use data to improve what works and repair or remove what does not.

We can do better.

Our new superintendent, Dr. O’Malley, has done a wonderful job this past year and he has our full support. However, it’s not the school board’s job to simply rubber stamp everything a superintendent recommends. We intend to hold all administrators accountable. By doing so, we will hold ourselves accountable to you - the students, the parents, and the taxpayers.

Though no one else has yet announced his or her candidacy, we expect to have formidable opponents and we are eager to begin our campaign.

Our strategy is simple – Be of good cheer and spread the message to every nook and cranny of our beloved community. Together, we will break from the past and work toward transforming our school system into a place where all children can excel.

Dozens have already offered their time and support but we’re looking for scores more. In the near future, we’ll be announcing the details of our launch party and introduce our campaign officers. We invite those who share our vision of excellence to join our campaign and be a part of building our children’s futures.

Until we have our new website up and running, please contact us by email at my address,

For the few of you who are wondering what will become of the blog, nothing will change until after Liz and I are elected. Looking ahead, however, the blog will need to change its focus from investigative reporting and opinion pieces to providing general information and seeking new ways to improve our community. I hope the blog will become one of many communication vehicles between the school district and the community.

Liz and I are extremely grateful to those who have already helped us so much and we look forward to working with you during the campaign and beyond.

Our best days lie ahead. We are thrilled to work with you on building a better school system for our children and our community.

Thank you for your support.
>>> Read more!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

MARSD Fails the HSPA

Goals – By the end of the 08-09 school year, 10% of the partial proficient students will achieve proficiency on the state assessments while maintaining our advanced proficient student percentages.
--- Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District Board of Education, Special Meeting, June 12th, 2008

Research has shown that schools achieve best when expectations of achievement are high.
--- Matawan-Aberdeen High School Student Agenda, Page 9

Our shameless school board set a goal to “maintain” our advanced proficient student percentages. Not increase, not improve, but “maintain” the percentage of students able to score 75% on a state assessment exam. Are these the “high expectations” that research has shown to improve achievement? Is this leadership? By the way, what are the advanced student percentages the school board hopes to maintain?

I’m so glad you asked.

The goals were set in June, 2008, after the 2007-08 school year but prior to receiving the district’s scores for that year. The goals were likely intentionally ambiguous to allow the board the flexibility of picking and choosing whichever year was most beneficial to them.

So, let’s read it both ways, first using 2006-07 as a baseline, and then using 2007-08.

Click Here to view the 2007-08 New Jersey Report Card
Click Here to view the 2006-07 New Jersey Report Card

Advanced proficiency is a score of 75% or above. It is a level that School Board President Demarest considers “outstanding”. During the 2006-07 school year, the percentage of high school juniors scoring advanced proficiency on the state HSPA exam was 19.4% and 25.4% in Language Arts Literacy and Mathematics, respectively.

In other words, only a quarter of juniors scored 75% or above in math and only a fifth in English. Did the board truly believe that these were such exemplary achievements that we shouldn’t strive for more? Is 75% on a state assessment exam truly “outstanding”?

Well, if that is our goal, we’re failing miserably. For the school year, 2007-08, the English and Math percentages for advanced proficiency fell to 6.9% and 12.5%, respectively. That’s a 64% drop in English and a 51% drop in math compared to the state’s record of a 37% drop in English and a 2% rise in math.

Here’s another way to look at it. Our students are scoring advanced proficiency at half the state average. Half!

By today’s standards, the idea of seeing a quarter to a fifth of our juniors scoring 75% on the state assessments looks optimistic.

But wait. Maybe, when setting our district’s goals for next year, the board was using the 2007-08 school year as a baseline. Maybe they think 1/14th and 1/8th of our juniors scoring advanced proficiency in English and math, respectively, is sufficient for our district. Maybe they think this is enough preparation for the fewer-than-half of high school graduates who plan to attend a 4-year college. Maybe this is how they interpret our mission statement – “To provide every child with the highest quality of instruction.”

Remember how one-third of seniors took remedial classes for failing to score 50% on a HSPA exam? Looks like that number’s about to pop a bit higher for the upcoming year. The failure rate on the Language Arts Literacy exam jumped 33% higher to 12.9%.

Remember how African Americans were the only sub-group that repeatedly failed to make adequate yearly progress (AYP)? Looks like their dropout rate doubled to 1.1%.

Ah, but the good news keeps coming.

Computer to student ratio dropped 17% and is now below the state average.

Attendance rates at each of the high school grade levels dropped from the previous year, except for seniors, of whom 7.5% are missing on any given school day.

27% of high school students were suspended during the school year.

The number of administrators per student increased by 23% but the number of faculty per student dipped slightly.

Faculty turnover jumped from 9.6% to 22.7%.

Despite the abundance of Walden graduates in our district, the number of faculty with masters degrees has decreased, suggesting that our Walden contingent has garnered a plurality.

The number of teachers certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards is the same as last year – Zero.

The median teacher salary dropped $4,500 but the expenditures for teacher salaries and benefits increased 10%, twice the rate of the prior two years. Looks like the wage gap among teachers is growing.

But here’s the most amazing statistic of all – Student enrollment is down, expenditures are up, yet the cost per student has decreased. Wow. Talk about creative financing.

Yet, despite all the doom and gloom, there are some bright spots. SAT scores are slightly higher and more students are taking and passing the AP exams.

Perhaps, and maybe this is just wishful thinking on my part, things would be different if we had a school board that held itself accountable. Then again, school board elections are only two months away and not a day too soon.
>>> Read more!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Aberdeen Dems Reforming the Party

It’s impossible to know whether the local Democratic Party’s actions represent true reform or if it’s just more election year tactics but the list of changes is growing more impressive.

First, Bill Shenton, the Aberdeen Democratic Executive Committee’s new chairman, ended Councilman Vinci’s “consulting fees”. The committee appears to be in violation of New Jersey election law for not filing a Receipts and Expenditures Quarterly Report in January but I’m guessing it was an oversight due to there being no receipts or expenditures. Councilman Vinci’s “raise” won’t cover his loss of fees.

Next was the selection of Fred Tagliarini to replace Councilwoman Gallo on the town council. Unlike Councilwoman Gallo, Councilman Tagliarini was chosen despite having no personal interests in the township aside from public service. (Ms. Gallo has been unable to make any public statements since her resignation because her son-in-law is a recent hire for the Aberdeen Police Department.) There have been rumors of grooming the councilman for the mayor’s seat but I hear he has yet to change his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat.

Then the Democratic council introduced a draft pay-to-play ordinance that would theoretically introduce some competitive pressures for professional services and, for the first time, allow us to see the true cost of engineering projects. The draft will likely be passed prior to this year’s mayoral campaign.

The latest development is Councilman Vinci will finally pay his fair share of property taxes. As previously reported, Councilman Vinci never paid taxes for land he received in 2003 from the highway authority. He then received another 2,538 square feet this past year from the township. However, those two parcels don’t seem to account for the whole story.

Last year, Councilman Vinci’s property was recorded as 86.7’ X 163’. This year, it’s 140’ X 163’, a difference of 8688 sq. feet. Also, the total property footage, 22,820 sq. feet at the end of a cul de sac, is plainly large enough to subdivide.

I can’t account for the 8688 sq. feet but I’m happy to see he’ll be paying his fair share of property taxes. By my calculations, the councilman’s taxes will be increasing over $2,000 this year.

Whether the motivations are altruistic or political, they certainly are an improvement. I’m happy to see the township moving forward.
>>> Read more!