Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Grading the Academies

I’m an unabashed supporter of MARSD’s three high school academies, Bio Medical, Business, and Performing Arts. At least in theory. The program’s goals are to encourage academically challenging coursework, provide valuable life experiences, and increase students’ chances of gaining acceptance to selective colleges. However, at the program’s inception, I recommended the business academies’ curriculum be more rigorous, particularly in developing communications and analytical skills. Early results suggest the students may agree.

This year, the number of 8th grade applicants to the Bio Medical Academy tripled from 11 to 33 and the freshman class will double from 8 to 16. In Performing Arts, applicants nearly doubled from 8 to 15 and the class will grow by 50% from 8 to 12.

On the flip side, Business Academy applicants dropped by a third from 16 to 11 and the freshman class halved from 13 to 6. (Non-academy students will be allowed to take academy classes so class enrollment should still meet minimum requirements.)

Although one year’s results don’t make a trend, the differences are so striking that we’d be foolish to ignore them.

The first thing to remember is all three academies are competing for our most academically motivated students. These are the students most likely to pursue college degrees, most likely to pursue challenging courses, and most likely to know which course will most help them.

The most academically challenging of the academies is the bio medical, with a heavy emphasis on math and science. All participants are required to take at least two AP math classes and two AP science classes plus a research internship prior to graduation.

Next is the performing arts. Students are required to take four years of either dance, theatre, or music.

Last is the business academy. Students are not required to take a single advanced course prior to graduation and several of the classes appear silly at best. In their freshman year, the only business academy class is “Business Computer Applications”, a fancy title for learning how to use Microsoft Office. In the sophomore year, they have a selection of “Intro to” half-year business classes. In their junior year, they take accounting, which is mostly about learning to balance a ledger and bears little resemblance to finance. Their senior year involves a business plan, some more intro classes, economics, and something called investment math.

(By the way, for anyone playing the stock market game, the only winning strategy is to find a single penny stock and bet the entire wad on options. Either you’ll win or lose the game. Use any other strategy and you’re almost certain to lose.)

Accordingly, projected freshman enrollment is directly proportional to each academy’s level of challenge. Bio Medical – 47.1%, Performing Arts - 35.3%, and Business Academy – 17.6%.

The obvious solution is to increase the academic rigor of the business academy. Unfortunately, there are several obstacles to doing so.

First, I suspect there was an unconscious decision to have one “non-challenging” academy for students who may not wish to pursue the arts but also didn’t want to be subjected to heavy-duty math and science classes.

Second, our staff may not be qualified to teach the two most promising areas of business – technology and financing. Remember, our school district doesn’t teach a single computer programming class and the web design class only uses FrontPage, a Microsoft application that is shunned within the professional community.

Third, do we want to compete with the other academies? Bio Medical and Performing Arts likely draw different students. Would an invigorated Business Academy attract more students or just siphon students from the other programs?

I suspect there is a limited pool of applicants but competition among the academies can only help. Therefore, I would recommend drastic changes to the business curriculum. I suggest requiring the following courses within the business academy: AP English, AP Economics, AP Calculus AB, and AP Statistics. Next, I would dump the softball classes (which would still be available as electives outside the academy) and introduce such classes as Probability, Communications, Persuasive Writing, History of Business and Entrepreneurship, Finance, and Investment Models.

The academies were designed to attract and develop our best and brightest students and our students have wisely chosen the most rigorous academies. It’s time to raise our business curriculum to academy level.
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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Different Strokes for Different Folks

"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others" – George Orwell (Animal Farm)

Last night, after the council approved the first reading for nearly $3 million in new bonds, the council also approved the first reading of an ordinance authorizing the township to vacate a twenty foot strip of land that adjoins a private residence whose owner has been maintaining the land and whose use is of no value to the township.

Councilman Cannon told AberdeenNJlife that the prior tax maps had erroneously included the land in the homeowner’s plot and she has been paying property taxes for land that wasn’t hers.

According to Councilman Cannon, the township agreed to vacate the land. In exchange, the homeowner will cover all related transactional expenses and accept a deed restriction preventing a future subdivision of the property.

This all sounds reasonable. My only question is why this homeowner isn’t getting the same deal as another homeowner who happens to sit on the town council and got 8,688 square feet of land from the town council and state highway authority for the grand total of $2. Nor is there any deed restriction on his property to prevent subdivision.

Why the different treatment between a local homeowner and a town councilman? Enquiring minds want to know.
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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Those Pesky Sunshine Laws

At the May 18th Aberdeen Town Council meeting, the council members knew they would be challenged for failing to provide the statutory 48 hours public notice prior to the school budget vote. They knew this blog highlighted how one of the biggest votes of the year was glaringly absent from the agenda. They knew the agenda was amended to include the school budget vote on the very day of the meeting. So, how did they do with all this foreknowledge? Not so good.

As expected, former vice president of the school board, Ken Aitken, objected to the council voting on the school budget without proper public notice.

First to respond was township attorney, Diane Dabulas. “The resolution was not done and that was one major reason why it was not posted. The requirement is that the agenda, which is not even required to be on the website, states to the extent known.”

So, our legal eagle for hire believes that the statutory language requiring advance public notice of the meeting agenda “to the extent known” means you don’t have to publicize any upcoming resolution until that resolution is “done”. Well, as a school board member who’s received legal counsel on this very topic, I can confidently state that’s poppycock. “To the extent known” means exactly that. If you know you’re going to vote on something, it has to be included in the agenda, even if you haven’t finalized the language of the resolution. Otherwise, what’s the point of having the 48-hour notice requirement if the administrative body could always claim it was still working on “final language”.

Dabulas, feeling a wee bit overconfident, dug a bit deeper. ”We did not know whether or not if we were going to have a special meeting.“

The agenda was posted on Friday, May 14th. The meeting was scheduled for the night of Tuesday, May 18th. The statutory deadline for the vote was normal business hours on Wednesday, May 19th. When was this fictional “special meeting” going to take place? The following morning over crumpets and tea?

Town Manager Joe Criscuolo then made the mistake of jumping into the deep end. “Council can also choose not to have a resolution and do nothing.”

The budget was roundly defeated at the polls. The school district offered to cut the proposed tax increase by half. The council wanted further cuts. Yet, two business days prior to the meeting, the town council still didn’t know if it was going to vote or let the original budget stand?

Then freshman Councilman Cannon joined the fray. “The agenda must only be posted to the fullest extent known. The agenda was not fully known until about 9:30 a.m.” See the word play? Cannon acknowledges the law requires advance public notice of the agenda to the “fullest extent known” but argues the agenda was not "fully known” until that morning.

Well, an agenda doesn’t need to be “fully known” in order to give the public proper notice to the “fullest extent known”.

Missing the irony, Mr. Cannon suggested the township had actually gone above and beyond the law by granting public notice on the day of the vote. “There is no requirement to post resolutions within 48 hours . . . It was posted at 11:44 a.m. As soon as it was reviewed by our attorney and past onto the Municipal Clerk.”

So, according to our beloved township, there’s no requirement to give the public any advance notice of any vote unless the administrative body is absolutely certain to vote on a particular resolution where the wording has been finalized and undergone legal review at least 48 hours prior to the scheduled vote.

Even if the town council was legally correct, which it wasn’t, the great tragedy is the council members’ inability to distinguish between what’s legal and what’s the right thing to do. It’s a difference that makes all the difference.
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Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Independence Day

Great thanks to everyone who protects and promotes our nation's freedoms and prosperity. Below is the Declaration of Independence. Its words ring as true today as they did at our nation's founding. God bless America.

Declaration of Independence
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature.

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states:

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing taxes on us without our consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:

For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses:

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies:

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments:

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have we been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.
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