Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Next Steps

Let’s review.
  • The local Democratic Party retains every seat on the town council, fire districts, planning board, and zoning board, despite a well-documented history of corruption, pay-to-play, and incompetence
  • The school district continues to struggle with academics and appears unable or unwilling to segregate violent students
  • Taxes will keep going up
  • The electorate isn’t anxious to change any of the above

So, where from here?

Time and hard work.  I suggest small changes and patience until everything snowballs.
>>> Read more!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Committed to Providing a Safe and Supportive Environment

Recent news reports of violence among the high school students are extremely troubling. Multiple arrests for aggravated assault against police officers. Two fifteen-year-olds brawled on school grounds resulting in a broken jaw as their schoolmates watched. One student was caught with a knife.

This was on the tail of a separate incident involving school athletes that’s gone unreported but resulted in the suspension of five high school football players. And these follow other reports of an uptick in school violence and bullying.

The school’s mission statement declares “We are committed to . . . providing a safe and supportive environment where educators inspire, empower, and encourage students to excel.”
>>> Read more!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Getting the Representation You Deserve

By all accounts, the Aberdeen Democrats are expected to retain monolithic control of the town council following this Tuesday’s election. And, since this is a democracy and the Democrats have an extensive public record, it can only be assumed the township enjoys the following:

Pay-to-Play – The township engineer gets over a million dollars a year after contributing tens of thousands of dollars to the Democrats’ election efforts. A convicted felon was appointed lead developer for the transit developer after depositing $100,000 in a township slush fund. The town’s attorneys, planners, accountants, and many of the developers are regular contributors to the Democrats’ coffers.

Full Non-Disclosure – After the Democrats’ election filings were prominently posted on this blog, including the “consulting fees” to Councilman Vinci, the Democrats engineered the campaigns and fundraising so that not a single contributor would be revealed. This year, alone, the democrats have already declared $35,000 in contributions but not a single donor who gave more than $300.
>>> Read more!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Dreams of Green

"That ain't working, that's the way you do it
Money for nothing and your chicks for free"
- Dire Straits

Wonderful news. Aberdeen’s town council has found a way to save a million dollars in electric bills over the next fifteen years and get a free roof to boot. And, if you believe that, there’s more wonderful news. The senior housing center on Church St. will finally be developed. As will the transit village, Anchor Glass, and Aberdeen Forge. And, between the cost savings and new ratables, residents will finally see some tax relief.

Find it all a bit hard to believe? You’re not the only one.

Last June, the township issued an RFP for a company to build and maintain, at its own expense, solar panels for township properties plus install a new roof for town hall and then charge the township for the electricity generated by the solar panels at sub-market rates.

New Jersey has the fastest growing solar power market in the country so you’d think there'd be a lot of competition for such a plum assignment. Yet, only one company responded. Nexus Energy Solutions, a spin-off from Nexus Development, has no experience building or installing solar panels aside from having hired other companies to install solar panels at its office headquarters and parking garage.

By coincidence, I’m sure, Nexus is also a regular contributor to the state’s Democratic Party. Another coincidence, I’m equally sure, is that the town council is all Democrat and has a well-documented history of pay-to-play.

Anyways, despite having roughly the same experience as any homeowner who hired a contractor to install solar panels on his roof, Nexus’ proposals received an average score of 93 out of 100 in the township’s proposal review.
>>> Read more!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Lesson in Bureacratese

Let’s take the following hypothetical from a board member’s perspective.

The state awards your school district nearly $600,000, no strings attached. Your superintendent insists the school district spend the money “for the children”. Yet, you’re reluctant. Your district is being ravaged by high unemployment and a wave of foreclosures. Your district is among the highest taxed in the county and, even discounting the windfall, the district has already increased spending by 4%.

The superintendent sees your reluctance and quickly outlines a plan for spending the money. Over a $100,000 will be spent on books. For the children. Who can be opposed to books? And, to make it more palatable, he insists it’s a can’t fail, “research-based” program to create classroom libraries.

You’re wondering why, if it’s such a sure thing, isn’t everybody doing it? And how does sticking books in a room really improve language arts scores? And why isn’t this concept, that’s “research-based”, listed in the federal Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse?
>>> Read more!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Reasons to Vote Democrat

Well, you know it’s election season when the town council stops publishing their council minutes. The last published minutes were for June 21st. Can’t say I’m surprised. The town council probably didn’t want to revisit Silver Oak’s $100,000 slush fund, funneled through CME to the democrat’s reelection campaign, so close to the election. Or, that if the transit village ever did get off the ground, all the tax money would go into a PILOT program allowing the council to spend money like a drunken sailor without “raising” taxes.

Still, it’s been quite a sleepy season. Not too much campaigning on either side. They don’t even have websites listing the candidates. (No, I couldn’t name them all, either.)

So, it all goes back to party politics. If you like the Democrats retaining monolithic one-party rule for over a decade, vote Democrat.

If you like the pay-to-play, the crowded schools, and the new residential developments, vote Democrat.

If you’re pleased with the progress at the transit village, Anchor Glass, Aberdeen Forge, and the shore, vote Democrat.
>>> Read more!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Remembering 9/11

There are moments, terrible moments, in our nation’s history that become part of our collective memory. Pearl Harbor. JFK. 9/11. And it becomes each generation’s responsibility to ensure the next generation never forgets. But it is also a personal responsibility, from parent to child, to share the memories and the pain and explain its relevance to today.

I was in Lower Manhattan that day. My then-girlfriend (now wife) worked across the street from the World Trade Center but chose to call in sick that day so we could spend the day together. I remember the call, remember the towers collapsing, remember people streaming along South Street covered in dust, and remember the outpouring of grief, charity, and determination across our great country.

However, the parts I remember the most were the pictures - a plane steering into the South Tower and people holding hands as they jumped from a hundred floors high to escape the flames. And knowing our nation would never be the same again.

May God bless America and comfort those in need. >>> Read more!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Found Money

After successfully passing its first tax increase in a decade, the Matawan-Aberdeen School District was delighted to learn it was the proud recipient of an additional $584,217 in state aid.

The district’s senior administrators quickly huddled to determine how to best spend the money. After all, the thinking goes, why should the money go to waste as tax relief during a labor and housing crisis when the school district could put it to good use.

And what was their master plan? Buying books. Lots and lots of books. Why? Because studies show that the mere presence of books in a room magically improves literacy rates among youngsters.

How does that work? I’m glad you asked. You see, according to this theory, kids are tired of watching TV, playing video games, chatting online or texting friends, and surfing the web. No, what children really want to do is curl up in bed with a good read. But they can’t because the school library doesn’t have any good books and Mommy and Daddy won’t take them to the public library. So, against their better judgment, kids have no alternative to social networking and mind numbing entertainment.

According to this theory, given the choice between Grand Theft Auto and Lord of the Flies, children will naturally be drawn to the latter.
>>> Read more!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Here Comes Hurricane Irene

Just wanted to wish everyone best wishes in riding out the storm.

Don't forget to clear the yard. If possible, gas your car and bring it into the garage. (It's a radio and electric charger. I always kept a car charger that converts ac/dc to power all my devices.)

There's a good chance you can lose electricity and maybe even water, so prepare. Storms hitting Saturday night and continuing through Sunday night. Roads and electric could be havoc for the next day or two. If you're on medication, make sure you have enough.

Library books, Kindles, romantic candles, and classic tunes on the radio are a lovely way to pass the time. Just be careful you don't burn the house down.

For updates, you can register online with the township's Code Red alert system at http://aberdeennj.org/

Please, only call police for actual emergencies. They'll be having their hands full.

Thanks in advance to the Police, our volunteer firefighters and EMT's, shelters, and all emergency responders. It's times like these that remind us we're surrounded by good friends and neighbors.

Below are some additional tips for emergency preparedness.
>>> Read more!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Classic Case of Pay-To-Play

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into Town Hall, the council has launched a classic case of pay-to-play just in time for election season.


To capture the full breadth of outrageousness, let’s walk through all the steps.

First, a town council with a well-deserved reputation for pay-to-play designates a felon, who spent prison-time for flagrantly attempting to bribe an IRS auditor, as the lead developer for the town’s most prominent project, the proposed transit village.

Next, the town council gives a brief history and seeks to justify the shameful appointment.

>>> Read more!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

And Then There Were None

Pat Demarest’s resignation from the Matawan Aberdeen School Board marks the end of an era. On the school board, it’s the end of Barza, a political machine that corrupted the school district. Come January, the entire town council will be a group of rookies.

Will the new era mark an improvement? I believe we’re already seeing the changes taking effect despite their glacial pace. From improved budgets to greater transparency to more responsive service, the town is slowly getting better. In the school district, we’ve seen smaller tax increases and improved programs. I just hope they quicken the pace.

Whatever reasons Demarest had for returning to the board, things plainly didn’t pan out as she had planned.

In January of last year, during her run for the school board, she submitted an affidavit on Wayne Spell’s behalf, stating “I believe it is reasonable to interpret Board Policy 4117.51 as being applicable to . . . increment withholdings related to school administrators.”

(Mr. Spell’s salary increment withholding resulted from his failure to properly administer the TERRA NOVA exams, which resulted in the entire district failing the exam.)

Her stand against the school district was so egregious, she wasn’t allowed to participate in or be privy to any board deliberations regarding the matter.

On April 21, 2011, the Commissioner of Education rejected Demarest’s position and stated, “the Commissioner found that several due process safeguards articulated in Policy 4117.51 were provided to petitioner, notwithstanding that they appeared on their face to be intended for the protection of teachers.”

(The sad thing is that the board was prepared to settle with Mr. Spells and reinstate his increment. However, Mr. Spells never offered an apology to the board and we had a slam dunk case to prove we were taking a hard line with the unions.)

Ms. Demarest also lost her two allies on the board, Rubino and Ruprecht, when they both chose to not seek reelection.

To add insult to injury, Ms. Demarest was seated directly across from Ken Aitken, one of her least favorite people. (That’s an old trick. Majority, in coordination with the administration, determines the initial seating order. All board members are free to move their seats but nobody ever does.)

Following Aitken’s election, Demarest stopped attending most of the board meetings. She held on for the opportunity to present her son a diploma at graduation.

Finally, it’s become easy, even vogue, to resign from the school board in recent years; so many of us have done it.

As for the challenges that lie ahead, it’s nice to know that, despite their differences, everybody on the school board is fighting, first and foremost, for the children and the community.
>>> Read more!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Better Town Budget

Considering the township always produces lower tax hikes during an election year than an off year, it’s very tempting to say this year’s municipal budget is just another election scam. However, I’m tempted to believe it’s more evidence that interim town manager, Holly Reycraft, is doing her job.

Taxes are nearly flat, about a 0.6% increase over last year, or $8 a year for the typical property owner. Employee benefits were brought under control. The police department cut salary expenditures.

Now, we have another first for the township.

Historically, the library budget never appeared in the municipal budget but it was secretly included in the tax base. When the state imposed a cap on municipal tax increases, including the library tax as part of the tax base gave the township about a 10% boost in how much it was allowed to raise property taxes.

For example, if the township had a tax base of $7.5 milllion a 4% state-imposed cap would have restricted tax increases to $300,000. However, if the library $750,000 tax revenue was added to the township’s base, then the cap would have been a $330,000 increase.

In truth, the township has always worked around the cap, raising taxes on average 10% a year for the past number of years, but now they’ll have one less gimmick to use.

Under the revised budget, library taxes are broken out as a separate item and are no longer calculated toward the cap (Sheet 3b). It’s another step towards a more honest and fiscally conservative budget.

Since the town’s on a roll, maybe it can do something with the $100,000 slush fund that’s still “dedicated” to Councilman Vinci’s intersection, even though it’s been built for years. Or maybe actually use the $39,000 dedicated towards the Henry Hudson Trail (page 9).
>>> Read more!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Kudos to Cops

Too often, the taxpayers feel they work for the government rather than the other way around. In that light, we should take great pride in the recent actions of the Aberdeen Township Police Department. In addition to the great work they consistently do, the police department recently responded to two criticisms voiced on this blog:

1) The department needs to cut spending
2) The department should maintain a public police blotter

Well, the police department has done both. The final town budget notes a $30,000 cut in police wages and salary from the original proposal (probably in reduced overtime). Granted, even after this haircut, department wages will still increase 4.7% over last year. However, it remains precedent setting. This is the first time I ever recall seeing a budgeted salary decrease that didn’t involve a termination.

The cut also creates a new baseline and will hopefully translate into annual savings for years to come as well as reduced pension obligations.

Next, the police department has launched an online police blotter. Considering a police officer’s primary duty is to uphold the law and prevent crime, I’m happy to see the arrests have not been for major criminal activity.

Special thanks to Chief of Police Powers.
>>> Read more!

Friday, July 1, 2011

What’s Next?

The blog has been in decline ever since I left town and with good reason. I no longer live in Aberdeen. I don’t see what’s happening, my relationships are no longer the same, I’m not personally involved, and I don’t have easy access to records.

At the same time, virtually every elected official I fought against is either out or on the way out.

So, what’s left to do? I’ve given thought to writing about state or national issues, particularly in the areas of education, but this blog has always been about ideas that could be converted into policy.

There are still plenty of hot button issues in town – Pay-to-play, teacher contracts, police contracts, the fire companies, health and pension benefits, spending and tax increases, development projects, COAH, municipal elections, student performance, and the list goes on.

But I don’t have the information.

For example, CME, the town’s engineer, is being awarded big bucks at nearly every town hall meeting in exchange for their funding the Aberdeen democrats in November’s election. But the real data lies in getting a copy of the town’s payment history to CME. Easy to do if you live in town but I no longer do.

Once again, the Aberdeen democrats have chosen to circumvent election financial disclosure laws by running four “independent” campaigns that magically divide all revenue and expenses four-ways and run the identical campaigns.

The one new twist is Kathleen Olsen, the recently retired middle school principal, is now the chairperson and treasurer for all four of the democrats’ “independent” campaigns.

So, what’s next? Dunno. But Aberdeen is a great town with great people and I’m hopeful someone will step forward to assume the mantle of Aberdeener.

Till then, the blog will continue but it won’t be what it once was.
>>> Read more!

Friday, June 10, 2011

What Isn't Happening in Aberdeen

Workshop Meeting, May 17, 2011

Holly Reycraft stated she spoke to Dan McCarthy regarding projects, Anchor Glass is a standstill; New Jersey Transit is holding up Transit Village; an agreement is being worked on with the Senior Center; Seawall – garbage pails are ordered with Clean Community Grant money, we are restricting 100 feet for the fishermen to fish – 50 feet one end and 50 feet the other end.
Bless her soul. It’s a wonderful thing to have a competent town manager with no personal or political agenda.

Council Meeting, May 17, 2011
Mr. Weinstein asked what is going on with the old pool club.

Ms. Reycraft stated they took buildings down and is starting to get work done.

Mayor Tagliarini stated he is looking to move quickly, they are waiting for zoning board approvals, the plans are beautiful.
Did the Mayor say “waiting”? That seems like a fair use of the word. After all, those beautiful plans were drawn about three years ago.

As for the hundred acres at Aberdeen Forge in Freneau, why ask?

But there is good news. Cifelli appears well on his way towards building more unwanted housing and CME Associates is about to be awarded another $372,500. Come November, the Democrats’ war chest will be overflowing.

Yup, looks like the next decade will look a lot like the last decade.
>>> Read more!

Friday, May 27, 2011

On This Memorial Day

The following is an excerpt from General Douglas MacArthur’s May 12, 1962 speech at West Point, entitled “Duty, Honor, Country.”

Notice how little has changed in the past fifty years.

Duty, Honor, Country.

The code which those words perpetuate embraces the highest moral laws and will stand the test of any ethics or philosophies ever promulgated for the uplift of mankind. Its requirements are for the things that are right, and its restraints are from the things that are wrong.

The soldier, above all other men, is required to practice the greatest act of religious training -- sacrifice.

In battle and in the face of danger and death, he discloses those divine attributes which his Maker gave when he created man in his own image. No physical courage and no brute instinct can take the place of the Divine help which alone can sustain him.

However horrible the incidents of war may be, the soldier who is called upon to offer and to give his life for his country is the noblest development of mankind.

You now face a new world -- a world of change. The thrust into outer space of the satellite, spheres, and missiles mark the beginning of another epoch in the long story of mankind. In the five or more billions of years the scientists tell us it has taken to form the earth, in the three or more billion years of development of the human race, there has never been a more abrupt or staggering evolution. We deal now not with things of this world alone, but with the illimitable distances and as yet unfathomed mysteries of the universe. We are reaching out for a new and boundless frontier.

We speak in strange terms: of harnessing the cosmic energy; of making winds and tides work for us; of creating unheard synthetic materials to supplement or even replace our old standard basics; to purify sea water for our drink; of mining ocean floors for new fields of wealth and food; of disease preventatives to expand life into the hundreds of years; of controlling the weather for a more equitable distribution of heat and cold, of rain and shine; of space ships to the moon; of the primary target in war, no longer limited to the armed forces of an enemy, but instead to include his civil populations; of ultimate conflict between a united human race and the sinister forces of some other planetary galaxy; of such dreams and fantasies as to make life the most exciting of all time.

And through all this welter of change and development, your mission remains fixed, determined, inviolable: it is to win our wars.
God bless our fallen soldiers and their families. They sacrificed their lives so we may live free. God bless our military, our veterans, and their families, for their service and sacrifice. Our nation is in your debt. >>> Read more!

Staff is Policy

"Elections Shouldn't Matter as Much as They Do" – Nancy Pelosi

The real question is why don’t elections matter more. Since 2009, not a single Aberdeen representative on the town council or school board has sought reelection upon completing a full term. (On the school board, Demarest took a break and then ran again when an uncontested seat opened.) This January, Aberdeen will have its freshest crop of elected representatives in a decade. And, yet, the expectation for change is rather subdued.

In Washington, an old axiom declares, “Staff is policy”. A corollary is you can’t change policy without changing staff.

To give a couple examples, in 2007 the school administration maintained the budget had already been cut to the bone and that additional cuts would undermine critical areas. Then O’Malley was hired and the district miraculously discovered millions of dollars that could be cut without impacting the district’s core mission.

We were told controlling expenses for legal and special education was beyond our control. Then we hired a new attorney and new director of special services. Legal expenses dropped by over half and out-districting has dropped by ten percent.

Again and again, policy is driven by staff.

For years, it’s been frustrating to file OPRA requests to obtain copies of town ordinances. Regulations were posted but not ordinances. There was no legitimate reason to not post the ordinances (just as there’s no legitimate reason to not post minutes from the planning and zoning boards) but such was the township’s practice.

Recently, Ken Aitken requested the ordinances be posted. There was no objection from the interim town manager, the town council approved, and presto, they’re now posted. Having said that, some of what’s posted is truly disturbing and points, once again, to the need to change staff.


The title gives the strong impression that the bond is necessary to fund “road improvements” and “information technology equipment.” Not so. As detailed in the ordinance itself, the IT equipment only costs $7,000 and has an expected shelf life of five years; hardly the “capital improvement” you would bond for any more than a homeowner would refinance his mortgage to buy a new stereo system.

Why then did the township include the $7,000 purchase in the bond notice? Because everybody knows that “road improvements” is synonymous with CME Associates, the town engineer and underwriter for the town council’s upcoming election efforts.

These shenanigans will never end so long as the town council continues engaging in pay-to-play. Specifically, the township needs to hire a town manager untainted with the scent of corruption (as is the interim town manager), and replace the town attorney, town engineer, and town auditor. Until that’s done, no matter who’s elected, the townsfolk should expect more of the same.

The same holds true in the school district. Despite replacing nearly every administrator at the district level, educational gains have been modest and will continue to be restrained so long as the teachers are represented by a leadership faithful to former AFT President Albert Shanker’s dictum, “When school children start paying union dues, that 's when I'll start representing the interests of school children.”

Staff is policy and you can’t change policy without changing staff. Every elected representative hoping for change needs to understand this.
>>> Read more!

Reminder - Greater Aberdeen Garage Sale

It's that time of year again. The first Sunday in June is the Greater Aberdeen Garage Sale.

For those who have already registered, I apologize but must ask that you register again due to a glitch in the system. (My fault for not monitoring the system - it's designed/hosted by a third party.)

Registration is completely free and I will not share your email addresses with anybody. Also, you don't need to register to have a yard sale. Nor does Aberdeen require any permits or the like. If anybody in any of the neighboring towns wishes to participate, you're welcome to join us.

The key to success is traffic. Even if you're listed on the site, I strongly recommend you promote your spot with signs at major intersections.

The date is Sunday, June 5th, from 9AM to 4PM. Best of luck to everybody. >>> Read more!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Other Budget

Considering the resounding approval of the school district budget “despite” remarkably low turnout, it seems almost frivolous to dissect the much smaller township budget. However, for the few fiscal conservatives left in town and those on the town council driving towards a more prominent slice of the property tax, this review is for you.

Municipal Budget 15246563 15154052 0.61%
Municipal Tax Levey 9604371 9137212 5.11%
Police Salaries 3953719 3748020 5.49%
Health Insurance 1663000 1604000 3.68%
Police Pension 896988 692192 29.59%
Public Employees Pension 262417 195400 34.30%
Capital Improvement Fund 160000 100000 60.00%
Sewer Salaries 537388 483855 11.06%
Municipal Debt Service 1217902 1813703 -32.85%
Bond Principal 701112 1201111 -41.63%
Bond Anticipation 160000 75000 113.33%
Interest Bonds 276791 331068 -16.39%
Interest Notes 79999 206524 -61.26%
Water - Interest Bonds 2750 5404 -49.11%
Water - Interest Notes 41000 71645 -42.77%

As can be seen from the chart above, spending is flat but taxes will be popping another 5%, over triple the school district’s increase.

That increase doesn’t include the hike in sewer rates that appears to be sneaking into the general funds. Sheet 10 of the budget shows a $120,000 revenue item from sewer surplus funds. I guess that’s one way to increase revenue without “raising taxes”.

Police are getting another 5% raise. Hopefully, they’ll go easy on the residents during contract negotiations.

Pension payments are 30% higher, partly because the town council took a payment deferral and then marketed it as a “spending cut”.

Health insurance appears to be under control with costs “only” increasing another 3.7%. Makes you wonder how much money the township wasted during the prior years before getting it under control.

The big mystery to me is how did the township cut municipal debt payments by over 30%. Considering how quickly assets and surpluses are dropping and how fast costs are rising, it’s inconceivable we’ve cut our debt that quickly in a single year. Nor did we accelerate any of the debt payments last year.

One possible hint is the doubling in Bond Anticipation fees. The township may be refinancing its debt and stretching out the payments, which, given the likelihood of rising interest rates, isn’t necessarily a bad idea.

On a side note, any updates on the Cambridge Club? Always wondered if someone from Matawan understood what it took to build in Aberdeen.
>>> Read more!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Dead At Last

Compassion towards the wicked is cruelty to all beings.” – Maimonides, Guide to the Perplexed

Osama bin Laden died at the hands of U.S. Navy Seals.

Thanks to God. Thanks to our courageous and capable military. Thanks to our CIA. And thanks to our civilian leadership who had the backbone to make the hard calls.

A nation thanks you all. >>> Read more!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Congratulations, Ken Aitken

Ken Aitken has won the final year of my unexpired term with a resounding twenty votes.

No doubt the teachers union will be thrilled to see him back just in time for contract negotiations. Maybe they'll even pay him a home visit like last time, though I doubt it. They're far better at frightening children than adults.

Then again, I've been wrong before. Just look at the school budget. >>> Read more!

Greater Aberdeen Garage Sale

It's that time of year again. The first Sunday in June is the Greater Aberdeen Garage Sale.

This is the fourth year and we'll keep it going for as long as people continue to show real interest. (Note to township - The site costs me $77 per year to run. Would sure be nice if the township could take it off my hands.)

Registration is completely free and I will not share your email addresses with anybody. Also, you don't need to register to have a yard sale. Nor does Aberdeen require any permits or the like. If anybody in any of the neighboring towns wishes to participate, you're welcome to join us.

The date is Sunday, June 5th, from 9AM to 4PM. Best of luck to everybody. >>> Read more!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

When the School Budget Gets Defeated Again

There’s obviously some kind of disconnect between the school board and voters in the school district. For the past decade, the townsfolk have been crying No Mas! No Mas! Yet, with the exception of one year, the school board keeps voting to raise taxes.

This year, they’re understandably in a bind, having to transition between administrations, but you can already tell how they’re planning to deal with the next budget defeat.

I remember a school board meeting in May, 2008. The budget had just been defeated and Dr. O’Malley, new to the position, was explaining how they were cutting the budget. The big ticket item was replacing the roof at Cambridge Park. I asked Dr. O’Malley if the “spending cut” was going to cost the district more money since the roof would still need replacement plus immediate maintenance. When he was slow to answer, I said, “It’s okay to say ‘yes’."

Well, guess what’s back on the budget and sure enough the price has gone up 21% since 2008 – Roof Replacement, Cambridge Park, $454,485

Expect that item to be the first thing to go overboard when the budget fails. The roof is about 40 years old and does need to be replaced but I suspect they’ll wait until they finish their ADA obligations and then use a “payment plan” for the roof like they did for the football field.

As usual, employees provide the bulk of the expense. Despite all the agonizing cries of yesteryear when Dr. O’Malley slashed the employee rolls, I’ve not heard any stories of the district collapsing. (I did inquire regarding the stories of violence and there does seem to have been a temporary upsurge but that appears to have been quelled.)

I believe we can cut still more. Outsource where you can and transition some non-core programs to after-school programs. Right there is over half a million dollars. There’s a couple hundred thousand more by allowing class sizes to rise to twenty children. From there, we need to “convince” certain employees to retire and then eliminate those positions. That would be another half million. In the high school, we can offer some students to swap their first class for an online class and give them a late start.

After that, we need to bend the cost curve. As the budget shows, in a single year without any major layoffs, "Personal Services - Employee Benefits" is up 10.5%. As those benefits keep skyrocketing, the school district will have no choice but to keep firing personnel.

And the only place to bend the cost curve is in contract negotiations.

One thing to beware in contract negotiations is retroactive pay increases. For example, let’s say the board awards a 3% pay increase with no retroactive pay. School boards tend to promote the teachers are only getting a “1%” increase because that’s the hit to the current budget but the 3% increase creates a new baseline that lasts forever.

Another gotcha is abuse of the salary guide – teachers garnering $9,500 pay increases for worthless degrees that do nothing for the students.

Then there is the endless number of past practices agreed to by prior administrations. No superintendent could possibly know all the past practices but the union does, with written proof going back decades. Any contract that doesn’t address past practices is an invitation for more union abuses.

Finally, I would ask the board to make one more change. Do not sign any contract before a non-binding resolution has been voted upon by the district residents. Before the school board votes upon a contract, allow the community to have their say. After all, it’s the residents who’ll be paying for it.
>>> Read more!

Friday, April 8, 2011

When the Teachers Union Goes Too Far

This week, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called teachers union leaders “political thugs”. At the same time, the people of Wisconsin repelled the national labor unions who attempted to overturn an anti-union law by electing a left-wing state supreme court justice. Meanwhile, anti-union bills and executive orders have been marching forward in other states across the country.

It’s a dramatic turnaround from two years ago when the nation elected the most pro-union president in our history.

So, what happened? In short, the unions overreached during a financial crisis and refused to share in the national sacrifice.

As for why there’s so much animosity towards public unions, here are a few local stories from my short stint on the school board.

When unions work for private companies, they understand that if they demand too much the company will go bankrupt. Public unions have no such restraint. When the custodians were about to be outsourced, rather than offer meaningful concessions, the union leaders shamelessly demanded we raise taxes to the max and then distributed flyers claiming the school board was endangering the children just to save a few bucks.

That part the public knows. What the public didn’t know was that the custodians had sent signals to the administration that they were willing to take pay and benefits cuts to save their jobs. They were willing to meet us part way. But their union representatives refused to allow them to make the offer. The custodians considered creating a separate union but there wasn’t time. And they were warned against acting without union support.

In other words, any chance the custodians had of saving their jobs was stomped by their union representatives. As for the “infamous email,” I and the other school board members still retain a copy ready to go public in case the union leaders “misbehave”.

The same thing is going to happen to the transportation personnel. They may have dodged the bullet this year but it’s going to happen. Holmdel just outsourced their transportation department. The bus drivers have sent signals to the administration but the union won’t allow them to negotiate to keep their jobs. The union would rather see the bus drivers fired than offer job concessions.

There was the time we hired a wonderful young lady who was excited to secure a job with good pay and benefits during a recession. When we hired her, she agreed to a salary that placed her among the top half of school employees.

After she began work, her union leaders told her she was being grossly underpaid, that she was doing “administrator” level work, and that she must demand fair pay. Sure enough, within a couple months of starting work, she filed a grievance against the district demanding a 60% salary increase.

A few months later, the superintendent provided the board a long list of possible cuts. Not one board member suggested keeping this woman and she lost her job.

Then there’s the administrator who was grossly negligent in administering a district-wide exam. Rather than fess up, he participated in a cover up. When the board learned the truth, they withheld his raise that year. In the private sector, most people would have lost their jobs but the district has spent thousands of dollars in legal fees defending its right to withhold the employee’s raise.

There was another employee who filed a grievance against being moved to work at another school building within the district.

There was the grievance when the district decided to stop paying teachers for speaking to each other. There was the “Aberdeener Grievance” demanding the school board attempt to silence me. And the list goes on.

It’s no surprise that tenure charges haven’t been successfully brought against a single New Jersey teacher in over a decade. The teachers union is actively involved in “screening” administrative judges who review alleged legal violations. For example, we had one case of an employee who kept disappearing during the day. After a couple of warnings, the employee was fired. The judge ruled we had given the employee insufficient warning and terminating the employee was unduly harsh.

When a grievance involves contractual issues, the district goes before a mutually agreed upon arbitrator who gets paid by the hour. At the state level, the teachers union maintains a list of preferred arbitrators and these arbitrators won’t get jobs if they find themselves on the teachers’ naughty list. (Imagine the outcry if the school district colluded with other districts on such a list.)

At one arbitration hearing, the arbitrator declared that proctoring your own exam to your own class during your scheduled class time was a “non-teaching duty”.

Meanwhile, since the administration can’t fire any of the teachers, we have to beg and plead with them to do their jobs.

One-third of high school students regularly fail the HSPA Math exam. Not coincidentally, that’s the department where the teachers union president happens to work part-time for full-time pay.

The teachers labor contract specifically sets aside time for 30 hours of “professional meetings”. During one of those professional meetings, the high school math teachers were asked to review the HSPA Math test to review where we should tweak the curriculum to help the students.

The math teachers objected to reviewing the test data without additional pay. “Data analysis” wasn’t part of their job description.

Not only does the staff have a 7% absentee rate, sometimes they simply choose to take time off. We had one instance of an administrator who didn’t show up for work for months. When we demanded a doctor’s note, we got a letter saying she suffered from wrist pain.

On the Friday before Christmas, one-quarter of the staff regularly takes the day off.

One time, the union told the teachers to stop helping children off and on the bus until the district agreed to pay extra. Fortunately, that time the teachers openly rejected their union’s demands.

The district spent thousands of dollars training teachers to post their information on the school website but only a minority of teachers have done so.

Meanwhile, the district receives numerous complaints from district teachers upset by their union’s actions but they have no choice. By law, the teacher must belong to the union. By law, the teacher’s salary must be confiscated to support the union.

In Matawa-Aberdeen, the district pays the union about $1,000 per union member that otherwise would have gone to the employees. The union then uses a large portion of that money towards “advocacy”, i.e. political campaigns.

It wasn’t lost on any of the board members when Marty Ruprecht sat across the negotiating table from the guy who recently spent thousands of dollars helping Marty get elected. (To Ruprecht’s credit, he never gave the union any special consideration. It’s also funny to note that the teachers union campaign to oust Ken Aitken set in motion a chain of events that led to the destruction of Barza.)

We had teachers who were so bad we had to shift them into special programs to limit their exposure to students. But when the budget cuts came, we had to save the bad teachers and fire the good ones.

Then there was the occasional story of the teachers lining up by the school entrances in a show of force to send a message to the parents – We have your children.

Then there are the teachers who do terrible jobs but think they’re doing fantastic. On these pages, one teacher (CB) publicly proclaimed that he was proud of his record and challenged me to hold him accountable. The guy teaches an enrichment class to some of the best students in the grade and still a majority of his class scored below 70% on the standardized exams. But he, the proud teacher who once did me the honor of reading my blog aloud at a public meeting, is boasting that most of his kids scored above 50%. Talk about your low standards.

The overwhelming majority of teachers are good people who want to do the right thing. But teachers shouldn’t be surprised when the public judges them by the actions of “union thugs” the teachers elected to represent them. And they shouldn't be surprised when board members are forced to act in the best interests of the people they represent.
>>> Read more!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Making Goals Mean Something

About a year and a half ago, the Matawan-Aberdeen school board had agreed upon three goals:

  • Grade level reading/writing proficiency for all students
  • Among a pre-selected group of twenty-five school districts, ours rank among the top fifteen on all state assessment exams
  • The district would not raise taxes above 2% in any year
Since that time, we haven’t heard much, if any, discussion related to those three goals. That’s a mistake. Like the mission/vision statement, those goals should be a constant focus of the school board.

In the meantime, how are we doing?

Reading/Writing Proficiency
I think it’s a mistake to use the state exam as a standard. Proficiency should not be defined as knowing half the material nor should we rely upon the state to set consistent standards.

Still, considering the resources being used to train our students to pass the state exams (curriculum rewrites, professional training, consultants, etc.), it’s certainly fair to ask how we did.

Here are the results. Don’t get too excited by the 11th grade LAL. The state dumbed down the exam resulting in a big jump across the state. That’s why school ranking is a better indicator of performance than year-over-year score improvement.

3rd LAL TP
4th LAL TP
5th LAL TP
6th LAL TP
7th LAL TP
8th LAL TP
11th LAL TP

Top 15 Ranking
The school board selected 25 districts in the GH district factor group (one above Matawan-Aberdeen) and set a goal to rank among the top 15 in both total proficiency and advanced proficiency for each state exam.

Click here for the full report on the Top 15 ranking.

As seen in the chart below, Matawan-Aberdeen’s Top 15 ranking increased from 8 to 12 categories out of 32, including all 3rd grade categories. On the downside, the district finished dead last in 11th grade math. More on that to come.

Rank Percent Goal Above/Below 1-Yr Change
3rd LAL AP 19 7.6 7.6 0.00 2.6
3rd LAL TP 3 78.4 68.9 9.50 10.1
3rd Math AP 13 53.2 47.2 6.00 3.8
3rd Math TP 9 90.7 88.1 2.60 0.2
4th LAL AP 11 12.1 12.1 0.00 3.3
4th LAL TP 18 64.8 71.7 -6.90 -9.2
4th Math AP 14 39.8 42.7 -2.90 -3
4th Math TP 15 81.5 86.5 -5.00 -6
4th Sci AP 18 53 51.6 1.40 3.6
4th Sci TP 23 95 96.9 -1.90 -1.3
5th LAL AP 19 8.9 10.9 -2.00 4.7
5th LAL TP 25 65.5 71.6 -6.10 -4.6
5th Math AP 18 48.7 44.6 4.10 7.4
5th Math TP 19 83.6 87 -3.40 -0.4
6th LAL AP 18 8.7 9.4 -0.70 5.3
6th LAL TP 22 73.5 76.2 -2.70 -1.5
6th Math AP 18 30.9 28.8 2.10 5.5
6th Math TP 20 81.9 79.7 2.20 3.2
7th LAL AP 23 19.4 21.1 -1.70 3.6
7th LAL TP 22 77.1 77.9 -0.80 2.6
7th Math AP 9 34.3 28.3 6.00 7
7th Math TP 17 78.7 74.8 3.90 -2.6
8th LAL AP 19 21.8 24 -2.20 -1.6
8th LAL TP 18 88.9 90.9 -2.00 -0.6
8th Math AP 8 41.9 36.7 5.20 2.5
8th Math TP 9 77.5 78.7 -1.20 -5.2
8th Sci AP 25 34.1 39.8 -5.70 -5.5
8th Sci TP 16 89.5 90.9 -1.40 9.3
11th LAL AP 21 19.9 22.3 -2.40 2.1
11th LAL TP 21 90.5 93.6 -3.10 1.2
11th Math AP 26 16 25.9 -9.90 -0.9
11th Math TP 24 67.1 81.3 -14.20 -3.2

Tax Increase of 2% or Less
Given the state’s newly mandated 2% cap on school budget tax increases, this goal doesn’t sound as impressive as it did when first passed. Unfortunately, the district has used newfound state funding to avoid the aggressive cost cutting still needed for taxpayer relief.

Although the proposed tax hike is only 1.69%, at $61.8 million the proposed budget will increase spending 4% during a recession.

We can save over half a million dollars from outsourcing personnel (bus drivers, secretaries, guidance counselors, child study teams, teacher aides, etc.) and another half million by cutting extraneous personnel.

Let’s make sure the 2% is a cap and not a target. More can be cut.

The board set goals. Let’s make those goals mean something.
>>> Read more!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Resetting the Comments Policy

This site has an established tradition of being extremely liberal in its comments policy. That now has to change. The vulgarity being regularly posted has crowded out all civil discourse, making it difficult, if not impossible, to have an intelligent discussion of the issues.

Therefore, I am lowering the bar for comment exclusion. Any comment that includes inappropriate language or innuendo may be deleted at my discretion.

I have confidence that posters will be able to fully express themselves without resorting to the same language they would forbid their children from using. >>> Read more!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Fallacy of Guaranteed Pensions

"Don’t place your trust in princes" - Psalms 146

When the Bernie Madoff story first broke, the public was incredulous that one man could steal so much. Then, as details emerged, the public was incredulous that otherwise intelligent people could be so stupid when it came to their lifesavings. How could anyone believe a financial guru who claims to deliver consistent returns regardless of market conditions?

Well, I could think of a whole bunch of people who act just like that. Specifically, the public sector unions. Public union workers spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year to elect political halfwits who know nothing about finance but promise lavish retirement benefits to be delivered long after their terms expire. Then, for reasons unknown, these government employees, who should know better than anyone, plan their entire retirement around these empty promises from unaccountable politicians long gone.

Here’s the list of former Aberdeen employees earning a government “guaranteed” pension. The dollar amounts don’t include health benefits, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or any other program.

Here are some quick tidbits –

  • In the Matawan-Aberdeen school district, for every dollar of salary going to a school employee, the state is spending 40 cents for a district retiree
  • Including Aberdeen’s portion of the school district and library, the state will spend over $10 million dollars in pension payments this year. That compares to a $15 million municipal budget and $9 million municipal tax levy
  • In addition to the pension payments, for every 5 school district employees on the state healthcare plan, so are 4 district retirees
Ah, you say, we don’t have to worry about that because the state manages a pension fund.

Well, about that fund.

Pension funds are supposed to work as follows – Each year they get a little larger so that the investment income earned is enough to cover payouts without endangering the principal. Unfortunately, the state pension plans are designed to fail for several reasons.

Using the Teachers Pension and Annuity Fund as an example, consider the following –
  • Pensions are based upon salaries, which, over the past decade, have risen far faster than inflation or the market
  • In the drive for smaller class sizes and one-on-one instruction, more teachers means more pension liabilities
  • When the market's down, the fund has to sell assets on the cheap to fund benefits, meaning the fund gets smaller and goes into a death spiral as it will never earn enough to payout benefits
  • Pension managers are pushed to assume higher levels of risk to meet the state's unrealistic projections
In 2000-01, the TPAF paid out $1.33 billion in benefits. In 2009-10, the payout was $3.08 billion, a 230% increase in just nine years.

During that same time period, the fund itself has shrunk from $31.05 billion to $25.89 billion. In other words, over a nine-year period, the ratio of assets to one-year payouts, has dropped from 23.35 to 8.41.

The dramatic fall in pension assets occurred despite a sharp rise in pension contributions, an increase from $371.6 million in 2000-01 to $658.8 million in 2009-2010.

As the chart below shows (all numbers in billions), even assuming rosy projections, as the state likes to do, that contributions will increase 8% a year, net return on investments will consistently run a little over 5% a year, and pension liabilities, in contrast to history and common sense, will only increase 4% a year, the Teachers Annuity and Pension Fund will go bankrupt in under 15 years.

Year Withdrawal Contribution Assets
2010 3.08 0.66 25.89
2011 3.2032 0.7128 24.6941
2012 3.331328 0.769824 23.3673
2013 3.464581 0.83141 21.90249
2014 3.603164 0.897923 20.29238
2015 3.747291 0.969757 18.52946
2016 3.897183 1.047337 16.60609
2017 4.05307 1.131124 14.51445
2018 4.215193 1.221614 12.24659
2019 4.3838 1.319343 9.794465
2020 4.559152 1.42489 7.149926
2021 4.741518 1.538882 4.304786
2022 4.931179 1.661992 1.250838
2023 5.128426 1.794952 -2.0201
2024 5.333563 1.938548 -5.51612
2025 5.546906 2.093632 -9.2452

The unions’ response will be to declare unfunded pensions and health benefits are the state’s problem and the state must fix it. In other words, the unions will turn to the very political process that put them in the whole in the first place. Imagine what will happen if they get their wish. >>> Read more!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Unwanted Development

Well, we all saw this coming, at least everybody but the developer, our “dear leaders” on the town council, and their political hacks on Aberdeen’s planning board and zoning board. Six years after being built, the Cambridge Park development remains over three-quarters empty. The one sale went to a Californian transplant whose employer fronted half the mortgage.

The developer continues to “update” the year built – now showing 2009 – and maintain the properties, but no amount of window dressing will hide the plain fact that the lots are too small. The house at 75 Cambridge practically touches its property borders on all sides. The other homes lack fences and decks to maximize their puny yards.

The four houses plus the undeveloped lot in the back provide the town an annual windfall of $50,000. But those short-term gains will soon become long-term losses.

Tax sale certificates, totaling over $30,000, have been sold against the three vacant houses indicating the developer may be struggling to maintain the properties. If so, the homes will be forced down to market prices. Once occupied, even an average of one public school child per house will cost the district over $5,000 per house. At two children per house, the development would lose the town $75,000 a year.

Of course, by the town council’s calculation, even if each house was home to a dozen kids, the municipal tax rate would still drop from the additional ratables and the inevitable school tax hikes would be blamed on someone else.

Meanwhile, the neighbors can’t be too pleased with an oversized empty development. Which brings us back to the original point – What was the town council thinking?
>>> Read more!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Aberdeen’s Police Contract

According the to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the “Great Recession” began in December 2007. Though technically over, we still have high unemployment, lackluster growth, looming inflation, and unsustainable government spending and debt.

Aberdeen’s police contract
covers this time period, 2008-2011.

As a whole, the Aberdeen Township Police Department, including salaries, benefits, and other operational expenses, will run over $5 million this year. Here’s a breakdown on why it costs so much.

As can be seen from the below chart, officers received a 3-year salary increase ranging from nearly 17% for senior officers to 63% for junior officers. Police officers begin earning over $100,000 a year after 7 years on the force.

Officers also have the opportunity to earn time and a half for overtime and up to $1,000 a year for unused sick time (not including a lump sum payout at retirement). Detectives earn an extra $3,000 a year.

3-Year Growth
0 Year*
1 Year
2 Year
3 Year
4 Year
5 Year
6 Year
7 Year

*During the first year, officers receive different salaries between the first six months and the second six months. I averaged the two.

Sick Time and Vacation Days
Like schoolteachers, sick time is cumulative. Although the final payout is capped, there doesn’t appear to be any barrier to a 20-year veteran simply calling in sick the entire last year of service.

Police officers receive 15 sick days per year in addition to 15 vacation days. (20-year vets get 22 vacation days.) Officers have the option to cash-in up to 5 unused vacation days per year.

Job Protection
Also like schoolteachers, police officers are protected by seniority – any reduction in force would first hit the most junior officers.

Health Insurance
In addition to a $2,000 deductible, here are their out-of-pocket expenses:

Current Employee Contributions
Medical single $312
Medical Family $528

Current Employee Contributions
Dental $80.00
Rx Single $120
Rx Family $264

Doctor Visits $20.00
Emergency Room $50.00
Rx (prescriptions) $10/20

After 25 years of service, through the Police and Firemen's Retirement System, officers can retire at age 55, with full health benefits for life, and a guaranteed pension equal to 65% of their final year’s base pay.

New Jersey residents have the nation’s largest unfunded pension liability per capita with a total unfunded pension liability at $53.9 billion. That’s on top of an unfounded liability for health care costs at $66.8 billion. By comparison, the entire state budget last year was $29.4 billion.

Naturally, living in a free, secure, and healthy environment is worth all this and much more but that’s not how prices are set. If they were, water would cost more than gold. Instead, the only question is cost – How much does it cost to attract and retain a highly motivated and excellent police force?

It would be nice to think $5 million a year is enough but we all know that number will be going up and up and up. >>> Read more!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Aberdeen’s Cadillac Plans

Aberdeen’s town council must’ve thought it was pretty funny passing a budget nine months after the fiscal year had already begun because they recently performed an encore, posting the 2010 budget in 2011. Heaven forbid the taxpayers might want to know how their money is being spent.

These pages have detailed before the skyrocketing taxes and plummeting reserves but, with a budget like Aberdeen’s, it’s so chock full of surprises there’s always something new to discover.

The latest nugget is the township’s Cadillac group healthcare plans. At $1,604,000 for 85 employees, that’s nearly $19,000 per employee. (See sheet 14) Considering that’s just an average, we can only imagine what a family plan must cost.

Healthcare is also the fastest growing part of the budget, having doubled from $810,000 in only four years.

It’s all the more shocking considering the town council’s repeated claims of tackling healthcare costs. In June, 2009, Mayor Sobel stated, ”health insurance costs and contractual costs skyrocketed this year. That is why we changed our health insurance carrier to save $300,000 a year.“

Three months later, Mayor Sobel insisted, “next year we will see a savings from our health insurance.”

The town even issued a press release announcing, “Savings from this strategic move should be realized beginning in the first quarter of 2010.”

In fact, over that “next year”, insurance costs rose 35%, adding another $400,000 to the budget.

Thank goodness for the savings. I guess the next announcement will be about ending play-to-play. Oh, wait. Aberdeen already did that one too.
>>> Read more!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dissecting the Upcoming Fire District Elections

"Give me chastity and continence, but not yet." – Saint Augustine

After Aberdeen’s town council rejected the school district’s proposed 1% tax increase to defend the taxpayer, the council enacted an 11.4% tax increase and raised sewer fees. Now their flacks in Fire District #1 appear to be playing the same shenanigans for this Saturday’s elections.

Quick quiz – Who are the candidates for the fire district commissioners? If you’re among the 99% of residents not directly involved in FD #1 on Lloyd Road, chances are you don’t know. Nor would you be able to find out. No sample ballots. No public notices. No listing on the township website. Heck, you probably didn’t even know there was an election this Saturday at the firehouse from 2-9PM.

Well, to end the suspense, the candidates are Michael Ash (independent), and Vincent Vinci’s pals, Jimmy Lauro and Paul Percussi.

I’m saddened to see Jim Vena dragooned by the geezers to serve a two-year term. I’ve known Vena for years. He’s been living in Aberdeen since the days Lloyd Road was a dirt path. As the local plumber, he has a well-deserved reputation for ethics and competence. It’s too bad he’s putting his name at risk of being dragged behind Jimmy Lauro into the rat hole.

How do I know who’s running? Because I got a copy of the marching orders they’ve been handing out at the firehouse. Notice they don’t even tell the men what they’re voting for, just to vote yes.

The proposed budget is a showcase of gimmickry. They’re cutting taxes by 11% while increasing operating expenses by 3%. How, you ask? By raiding the reserves. Normally, the fire district levies taxes to fund reserves and purchase protective equipment. This year, they’re doing the exact opposite, draining reserve funds meant for fire trucks to buy personnel equipment.

Then again, maybe they’re just being proactive – using their reserves before the town council seizes the “excess funds” like happened to the library.

The big driver for higher spending is the 17% increase in fringe benefits, the second largest budget expense following salaries. Whatever fringe benefits covers, at nearly $100,000 and almost a fifth of the tax levy, it’s obviously not “fringe”.

Another 5% of taxes goes to cover the fire commissioners’ salaries. Add another 3% for the part-time district chief and you begin to wonder how much of the tax levy actually goes towards fighting fires.

Given the traditionally low turnout, a hundred votes could change the election outcome. Let’s see if this year is like all other years. I hope not.
>>> Read more!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

School Board Takes Back Seat to Another Superintendent

Despite opposition from within the administration, the Matawan Aberdeen School Board appointed David Healy to replace outgoing superintendent, Dr. Richard O’Malley. Healy is well known to the district and therein lies the dispute – in 2005, then superintendent Quinn appointed Healy as a high school principal and, suffice to say, Healy never made tenure. Most recently, Healy was director of operations at Middletown.

True to form, the Barza wing of the school board, now reduced to Demarest and Ruprecht, were noticeably and non-coincidentally absent the night of Healy’s appointment. (Apparently, they lacked the courage to put their opposition on the record.)

However, Healy’s remarks to the Independent reveal a disturbing trend in school governance; Healy made it very clear that he’s in charge and he’ll be setting the agenda for the school district. Not once in his published remarks does he defer to, or even mention, the school board. And the scary thing is the school board will likely allow him to take the lead.

That’s not how it’s supposed to be. The superintendent is supposed to be an agent of the school board, enacting school board policies and achieving school board goals. The district mission statement should be his and the board’s guiding light.

Unfortunately, the school board is only too happy to take a back seat, to let someone else shoulder the responsibility, and thereby make themselves unaccountable for any failures but free to share any praise.

During my brief stint on the board, Ruprecht once told me he would not consider or discuss any proposal that had not been offered by the superintendent. While the board majority doesn’t share his opinion, their actions lead to the same result.

Ask the school board if Everyday Math should be discontinued? Should elementary students be allowed to use calculators? Should high school graduates be expected to speak a foreign language? Should guidance counselors have an expanded role overseeing students’ curricula and performance? How are the academies being evaluated? Are we providing sufficient opportunities and incentives for our most gifted students? How are we partnering with the parents to educate their children?

In each case, the board will likely defer to the superintendent, forgetting that he doesn’t set policy but merely enacts it. The superintendent doesn’t set goals. He achieves them.

I wish Healy luck and I can perfectly understand his enthusiasm and excitement in becoming chief. However, somebody on the school board needs to remind his colleagues that accountability begins with them and they must set the policies, the goals, and the expectations. The school board must take the lead. That’s what they were elected to do.
>>> Read more!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Sample Exam for High School Seniors

One of my perennial complaints against the school board is that the board has never established educational standards for the students, instead relinquishing that role to the state and the school administration. The result has been a predictable diminished level of expectations and a graduating class largely unprepared to pursue higher education or the most promising labor fields.

I have long argued the board must set its own standards and hold the administration accountable for meeting those standards. Furthermore, everyone, from the teachers, to the parents, to the students, should know exactly what those standards are. That means providing exhaustive study guides from which all exam questions are drawn so that there's no doubt of nor divergence from those standards.

Below is a list of sample questions that I would expect every student to know prior to graduation and, contrary to the state's standards, anything below 70% is a failing grade.

I doubt a majority of our high school seniors could properly answer most of the below questions but the question for the community is this - After spending 13 years and $200,000 per child, which of the below questions is outside what we should expect a graduating senior to know?


  1. Romeo and Juliet, Catcher in the Rye, and Huckleberry Finn are among the most revered and reviled works of literature in our nation's public schools. Choose one of the above works and write a 400-500 word persuasive essay arguing why it should be included in the school curriculum. Be sure to include quotations from the story and discuss the plot and central characters.
  1. Prove 4X^2 - 16XY + 16Y^2 + 2 is always greater than zero
  2. Provide the mathematical equation for a circle whose center is (5,5) and radius is 5.
  3. A mutual fund advertises “An average 8% annual return over the past five years”. If the fund returned 8% each year, how much would $10,000 have earned over the five years?
  4. The actual track record of the fund for each of the five years was 15%, 25%, 10%, -40%, and 30%. Plus the fund has an annual 2% management fee. How much would a $10,000 investment have returned over the past five years?
  5. 5 years ago, a bank offered a 5-year CD with a 2.2% annual interest rate. Which would have been the better investment?
  1. What is the chemical equation for photosynthesis?
  2. A police car's siren operates at 300hz. The patrol car is traveling at 95 mph to catch a car traveling 80 mph. What is the siren frequency the pursued driver would actually hear?
  3. What is positive feedback? Where is it found in nature? Why is it rare? Why is it central to man-made global warming theory?
American History
  1. Why was George Washington unanimously elected to be the nation's first president? Discuss his personal qualifications, the political considerations, and both the needs and fears of a strong presidency.
  2. Per capita, the Civil War was our nation's bloodiest. Why was it so important to Abraham Lincoln to preserve the union?
  3. Of America's 44 presidents, a few are noted as having significantly transformed the role of the presidency. Pick a president who significantly transformed the presidency and discuss how he changed the office.
  1. What is a government of enumerated powers? Name three things, excluding civil violations, that the federal government cannot do.
  2. What is the constitutional question regarding the individual mandate in the recent healthcare reform legislation?
  3. The 14th amendment states, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States”. When adopted, did the 14th Amendment protect against sex discrimination? Does it now? Discuss.
  1. What is the Laffer Curve? Why is it a source of disagreement in Congressional Budget Office projections?
  2. The Federal Reserve is trying to stimulate the economy and prevent deflation by lowering interest rates and increasing the money supply. How would that stimulate the economy? What is the fear of deflation?
  3. Critics have complained the Federal Reserve's actions will lead to inflation. How might that happen and why is it a concern?
World History
  1. How is Western Civilization different from other civilizations? Compare and contrast to at least one other civilization.
  2. Discuss the differences between the American Revolution and the French Revolution, including what sparked the revolutions, what were the underlying philosophies, and how they were effectuated.
  3. On December 7th, 1941, a “Day of Infamy”, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt responded by sending most of the armed forces to fight Germany. Why?
Foreign Language
  1. Translate Goldilocks and the Three Bears into a foreign language.
  1. Most of the families in a small town earn their livelihoods at a local profitable factory. One day, the owner, a local businessman, decides to close the factory and move operations oversees where labor is cheaper. Would it be ethical for the townspeople to levy a “millionaire's tax”, which would only impact the businessman, to support the newly unemployed? Discuss.
  2. A hospital's nurses feel they are not being fairly compensated and that management is not negotiating with them in good faith. Would it be ethical for them to strike? Discuss.
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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Same Script, Same Characters at Town Hall

Last month, I wrote the following: “The township’s ‘secret plan’ is to offset [future] spending increases with new development through PILOT programs.”

Sure enough, last week Aberdeen Township posted an RFQ for an “Attorney experienced in Pilot Agreements”. And, as predicted, the town council will use the PILOT programs to hoard the lion’s share of projected revenue from all major new developments, such as the new housing projects on County Road and Rt. 34. The town council will use the new funds to mask increased spending and crow about holding down taxes while the school district is burdened with integrating and educating the influx of new students.

Next to appear will be the reappointments of Aberdeen’s three stooges –

Town Attorney Dan McCarthy – Infamously lied to the town council and over a 100 residents at a packed public meeting that Aberdeen would lose its COAH certification in two days if the council did not approve unwanted housing development despite knowing Aberdeen wasn’t even on COAH’s agenda for that month.

Town Planning/Zoning Board Attorney, Michael Leckstein – First denied residents the right to make comments at a public meeting. Then threatened to use “police force” against those residents who asserted their right to speak.

Town Planner Richard Coppola – He was against the COAH housing before he was for it.

These three stooges kept telling us that we had no choice but to accept a massive COAH development on County Rd. and an accompanying development on Rt. 34, that it was a done deal, and the town council would be acting irresponsibly if it did not approve the development.

Shortly thereafter, the developer contacted the Cliffwood Housing Association, negotiated a smaller development, and the town council quickly claimed credit.

These three stooges will all be reappointed. After all, pay-to-play, patronage, and political corruption has its privileges.

Then there’s Tom Fallon, our eternal auditor, who never ever warns the township it’s burning through all its reserves. His father, a fellow CPA with whom Tom worked, was a bigwig in the Monmouth County Democratic Party until he went to jail for bribing a public official.

Talking about jailbirds, let’s not forget our famed transit village developer, William Bocra, who sat in prison for bribing an IRS official. Or former Aberdeen Forge developer, Anthony Spalliero, also convicted of bribing a public official, who died last month.

(Yes, our town does have a penchant for felons and their families. It’s no surprise given the council’s willingness to skirt the law – See the last campaign where a majority of the council conspired to circumvent campaign disclosure rules or just think of retired policeman Vincent Vinci.)

Of course, the trophy goes to CME Engineering, a firm that bills for nothing but time yet scores over a million dollars a year in a small town of 6,000 homes and a smattering of businesses. Not that CME hasn’t earned it. Without its generous support, the Aberdeen Democrats may not have been able to maintain monolithic control of the council for the past decade.

This dreary show repeats itself every year and gets more expensive with each showing. The public knows it, hates it, but believes that’s the cost of living in America.

Not so. It’s just the cost of living in Aberdeen.
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