Friday, March 27, 2009

The Incredible Shrinking School Budget

Click Here to view the proposed 2009-10 school budget.

This Monday, Matawan-Aberdeen’s superintendent, Dr. O’Malley, will be making a small bit of local history; he will present a school budget that spends $600,000 less than the previous year. Considering the contractually mandated spending increases (salaries and benefits) and the district’s new initiatives (high school academies, NWEA, Naviance, Realtime, etc.) a reduced budget is a significant achievement but an equally significant political risk. In a break from prior budgets, this budget does not encompass inflated numbers or “slush funds” in anticipation of another rejection by the school district’s voters. The question is whether a budget that actually cuts spending and taxes can break a 7-year streak of rejection. I endorse the proposed 2009-2010 Matawan-Aberdeen school budget.

The main budget busters are salaries and benefits. Of the school district’s 546 full-time employees, only 16 are non-union. Including the 33 part-timers, the combined cost of salaries and benefits is $46,388,396. That’s a $1.8 million increase over the prior year and averages to over $82,000 per full-time employee.

The other main cost increase is out-of-district tuitions - $100,000.

Since state aid is frozen, all cost increases must be covered by tax increases. Dr. O’Malley could have proposed a budget, like last year’s, to raise the tax levy by the maximum amount allowed under law – 4% or a little over $1.6 million. Instead, he cut.

Staff will be reduced by 3% (without affecting class sizes) generating a $1.5 million savings. More of the transportation costs will be brought in-house providing another $200,000 in cuts. Add another $600,000 in cuts for supplies, technology, curriculum, and building operations. Toss in $200,000 more savings from 10% across the board cuts and, presto, $2.5 million in spending cuts generating a $600,000 reduction in the tax levy.

To appreciate the savings, consider the following: Had the district proposed a maximum tax increase, knowing it would be rejected, the tax levy would likely still increase by $1,000,000 after the municipalities imposed a symbolic cut. That means taxes would be $1.6 million higher than Dr. O’Malley is proposing. That’s a savings of about $150 per household this year and every year afterwards.

And therein lies the risk. In prior years, the school district proposed budgets expecting them to be defeated at the polls. The budget process always included fluff and political theater, giving the mayors a chance to “force” the district to reduce taxes but never worrying that those cuts might affect services.

This time is different. If the budget is defeated, several programs may be adversely affected.

But that’s not what most worries me. I’m afraid that having voters reject a budget that actually reduces taxes and spending will be a strong incentive to return to the practice of past years of presenting inflated budgets with built-in fat that can be easily excised after the vote.

If we want the school district to present honest budgets then we have to be willing to accept budgets, however imperfect, that demonstrate vast improvements.

Like most of us, I believe we are still spending too much and taxes are too high. As a board member, I will work to further reduce the tax burden. But this budget cuts taxes and spending without sacrificing our students’ education. This school budget deserves our support. On April 21st, vote “Yes” to lower taxes.
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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Blood Drive for One of Ours

Jawann Brown, MRHS Class of 2005, has been attending Pace University until recently diagnosed with leukemia.

Matawan Regional High School will be hosting a blood drive on Wednesday, April 22nd, from 10 AM – 6 PM.

To sign up to donate or for more information, please contact Rebecca (732) 566-2538, or Joe Martucci (732) 705-5309.

Donors must be at least 17 years old and weigh 120 lbs. A signature id must also be presented.

I will post more information as it becomes available.

May God grant Jawann a complete and speedy recovery. >>> Read more!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Ghosts of Aberdeen’s Past

If men and women of capacity refuse to take part in politics and government, they condemn themselves, as well as the people to the punishment of living under bad government. - Sam Ervin

An honest politician is one who when he is bought will stay bought. - Simon Cameron

With the upcoming school board election “in the bag”, attention has quickly turned to this November’s municipal elections as Democrats and Republicans both try to build a winning slate. Both parties’ strategies are also crystallizing. The Republicans will frame their campaign as a fight against corruption. The Democrats will be doing a bit of a dance – using a slate of fresh but familiar faces to promote the township’s accomplishments over the past decade, including projects in the works, while simultaneously distancing themselves from anything that smells of scandal. The election results will hinge on whether the stink of corruption sticks to the Democratic candidates.

The foulest stench will be coming from the township engineer, CME Associates. Even assuming the town passes its draft pay-to-play ordinance, CME will still have their grubby hands in everything. First, the draft pay-to-play ordinance does not impair CME’s ability to collect engineering fees from local businesses and residents; those fees account for about half of CME’s annual million dollar plus take from the township. CME is also the agent responsible for tossing homeowners a lonely buck when confiscating their land for the township’s vaunted road improvement program.

Furthermore, the draft pay-to-play ordinance only requires open bidding. Who do you think will be reviewing the bids for engineering projects and counseling the council? None other than the township engineer, our good friends at CME.

Meantime, the Democratic Party is trying to game the system by proposing a pay-to-play ordinance but delaying its passage until they’re first able to raise as much money as possible from the town’s vendors.

Then the Democrats will need to explain how they will serve with their fellow councilmen and party members, Vinci and Gumbs. Do they approve Councilman Vinci receiving tax breaks, a bypass road, free land, and “consulting fees”? Do they approve Councilwoman Gumbs garnering for herself, friends, and family “fair compensation” for their land when almost everybody else got one dollar?

Even if the democratic candidates can distance themselves from the party’s past sins, they will still need to answer the following question - In the words of Simon Cameron, will the Democratic Party “stay bought”?

Certainly, the party’s political patrons believe so. How else to explain massive contributions the party has already received. Will the Democrats retain the services of those who fill the war chest so they can pillage the town?

As for Norman Kauff, let’s just say this ain’t 2007 when the Republicans railed against overdevelopment and spoke of the need for good governance but not a word about rampant pay-to-play or corruption. We can be sure that with every public declaration, the Republicans will be whispering “Norman Kauff”.

Still, the election is far from decided. The Democrats have the money, the organization, and control of the township. We’ll be seeing more newsletters touting the township’s accomplishments, more press releases of grants and developments, and more talk of how we’re doing far better than Matawan.

The Democrats won the last election by a plurality, not majority; in most cases, a 100-vote swing would have changed the outcome. Also, the Green Party is not expected to be a wild card this election.

So, with the vote so close last time and the political landscape changed so much, will the Republicans be able to close the gap? We shall see.
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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Committee of the few . . .

By: Ken Aitken

I was in attendance at the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School Board meeting last Monday night. I can’t say I was surprised at the disgusting political farce put forth by Board President Pat Demarest. At the beginning of the meeting, Reverend Thelma Gattis expressed interest in serving the remainder of Cathy Zavorskas’ term; Ms. Zavorskas had resigned her seat amidst allegations that surfaced regarding former Superintendent Quinn’s lack of certification when hired as Superintendent of Schools and then only a provisional certificate when his contract was renewed during Ms. Zavorskas’ term as Board President in Feb. 2005.

At the beginning of the meeting, Rev. Gattis spoke to the Board about her interest in serving on the board and her qualifications. Several members of the audience also spoke in support. Later, it became obvious that board members Demarest, Barbato, Rubino, and Ruprecht had privately concocted a plan before the meeting to make an appointment that night. After some discussion, it was crystal clear that board members Kenny, Donaghue, Gambino, O’Connell and Superintendent O’Malley had no idea that the others had intended to vote on an appointment to the vacant seat in spite of the fact that formal notice of the vacancy was never advertised. Additionally, the board had not even arrived at a process to invite members of the community to apply or go through a selection according to board policy. If the other board members had proposed an appointment last night our ears would still be ringing with how “outrageous” it was and how they were not following “the process”.

Ms. Demarest, after bringing up her stale old argument about a “divided” board, forced the issue to a vote, it resulted in a 4 to 4 tie and no appointment was made. Pat, I guess this is your idea of moving the District forward. Mr. Barbato, in his support for the motion, said “people on that side of town needed representation on the board”. Frankly, I don’t know what to make of that comment, because it was an insult to the entire board, Rev. Gattis, and all community members in attendance at the meeting. What exactly does that mean? I thought board members served all the children of our community, not specific sections of town.

It is deplorable how Rev. Gattis and her supporters were deceived by a group of board members anxious to push a political agenda and create strife in Aberdeen. I hope she still applies for the open seat, and is considered by the board for her merit and service to the community.

Mr. Barbato should have informed the audience of the following:

- He did not want to support the MOST program, which was championed by the very board members described as racist by some posters on this blog. Instead, he did not attend the meeting, but was observed in the parking lot that night.

- Every year I was on the board, he wanted to cut the funding or replace Aberdeen Police Officer Darryl Richardson’s position as School Resource Officer. He claimed we could get “better performance”, even though I knew the children trusted and confided in him. Why?

- He consistently voted against giving non-English speaking parents classes to learn the English language so they could help their children succeed in school, even though we had a federal grant to cover most of the cost.

Lastly, regarding the comment made on this blog about me seeking the board seat. Next time you want to know what my intentions are, just ask.

Until last night, I had no intention of applying for the vacated seat. I may decide to do so now because of the morally corrupt display of politics and brazen attempt to divide our community that I witnessed Monday night. Yes, I fully expect you to call me a racist, anti-Semite, the recently added misogynist and whatever else you choose to anonymously post. It is the only response left for people who know they have lost an argument. Cathy, many people have told me about your destructive gossip over the past few months and I am well aware of the lies that you and other board members spread all over town about me last election. I have attended almost every meeting for five years, both on and off the board; I will be at the next meeting, so you can confront me about this post, instead of hiding like cowards behind the gossip and innuendo you purvey. I am eagerly looking forward to April 21st when most of you will not be members of the board. That will be the day the School District can really make progress.

The sad part about last night’s pathetic charade is that Dr. O’Malley, Business Administrator Susan Irons and the administration of the school district put forth a zero tax levy increase for this school budget. This is a very positive accomplishment that was lost in the political noise. I applaud you for your hard work to keep programs in place for our children and presenting a serious budget that holds the line on rising costs. Dr. O’Malley, I know that I made the right decision when I cast my vote as Board Vice-President to hire you last year.

Thank You.

Ken Aitken represented Aberdeen Township on the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School board from 2005-2008
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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Public Apology to Reverend Gattis

Dear Reverend Gattis,

As a presumptive school board member-elect, I hope you will accept my apology on behalf of the Matawan-Aberdeen School Board. Though I was absent from last night’s meeting due to the Purim holiday, I have spoken with several people in attendance and have heard how you were treated wretchedly and shamelessly. You presented yourself with the honorable intention to serve on our school board only to discover that you had been used and abused by a spiteful troll who would rather watch our community burn than grow under the leadership of those she hates. Reverend Gattis, I and my friends on the board are very sorry for your treatment last night.

As the pastor of St. Mark AM.E. Zion Church, I’m sure you can appreciate the school board has established policies for appointing board members to a vacated seat. First, the board officially recognizes the seat has been vacated and then announces a process for community members to apply. All applicants are interviewed by selected board members and considered by the entire board.

Given the current board is split 4-4, it is highly unlikely that any appointments will be made prior to the reorganization meeting following the April 21st election.

Had Ms. Demarest truly desired your appointment, she would have consulted with all members of the board or, at the very least, secured a majority of votes prior to inviting you to the board meeting. She would have discussed your appointment with Dr. O’Malley and advised you to contact other board members. But your appointment was never Ms. Demarest’s goal.

Ms. Demarest knew the other board members were already discussing community members who had expressed an interest to serve. She knew the board rarely takes action at a Committee of the Whole meeting and never without prior notification that action may be taken. She knew my friends on the board would never appoint anyone without first consulting Liz Loud-Hayward and myself.

Instead, she used you to inflame racial tensions in our community and defame her fellow board members. She cared not one whit that you and your church would be embarrassed by having your offer publicly rejected. Ms. Demarest forced a vote knowing you lacked a majority. She wanted you shamed and then to lay the blame on a school board she has repeatedly failed and ultimately chose to abandon.

But Ms. Demarest only succeeded in shaming herself and those who once supported her.

Reverend Gattis, you are one of the most respected members of our community and I sincerely hope you will consider applying for the open seat once the board has announced the application process. I assure you Ms. Demarest’s nefarious actions will not taint your application.

Should you choose to not pursue the seat, I hope you will be open to working with the school district in a private capacity to improve education for all our students.

Sincerely yours,
Joey Warren
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Thursday, March 5, 2009

As I prepare for service on our local school board, here’s a little website I hope many of you will appreciate.

For those of us who can’t remember which Wednesday of the month it is (or which day of the week it is, for that matter), I’ve developed a site to help us comply with the township’s recycling regulations –

The site is very simplistic (as you can tell by the all text design). Mark when your regular garbage is picked up, submit your email address, and you will receive an email reminder on the Friday and Monday immediately prior to your recyclables pickup. The email reminder will also tell you whether the pickup is for paper or glass, cans, and plastic.

The site is completely free and you can remove or edit your info by simply mailing me at

Please feel free to share any feedback or tips on how to improve the site. If anyone would like to submit any designs, that would be most welcome as well.

In the near future, I’ll be posing questions to the community as an open brainstorming session. There’s a lot to be done and the school board will need all the help it can get.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll enjoy
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Monday, March 2, 2009

It's Official

As of the cutoff time for school board candidate petitions, today at 4PM, Jerry Donaghue, Liz Loud-Hayward, and myself, were the only individuals to submit candidate petitions. Congratulations to the presumptive winners in the forthcoming Matawan-Aberdeen school board election. >>> Read more!