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Despite Increase in State Aid, Eight-Period Day Remains Planned for High School Next Year

Official public hearing and adoption of proposed budget set for March 28.

The Board of Education on Monday introduced a budget for the 2011-12 school year and discussed preliminary figures in a spending plan that will be outlined more fully for the public before its potential adoption on Monday, March 28. 

The roughly outlined $82,432,885 proposal to run the district's six schools next year can be changed at any time up until the budget is adopted, Board Member Susan McGowan said. Like Monday night, the next meeting is again scheduled to be held in the auditorium.

The planned budget would stay within the state's 2 percent cap on increases, according to the school district's business administrator, Nick Markarian.

However, several board members confirmed after hearing questions from the public that the board has no intention of reviving the nine-period day at Ridge High School. The board already had voted to eight periods for 2011-12 in anticipation of receiving the same level of state aid as for 2010-11.

Instead, under Gov. Chris Christie's budget proposal, it was on Feb. 23 announced that Bernards schools will receive $1,625,312 next year—an increase of $777,421 from the 2010-11 allotment of $847,891.

Those figures are supposed to be firm, Markarian said earlier on Monday. But he and other school officials said at the meeting those figures are not guaranteed for this year—and certainly not for years going forward.

Markarian said during his presentation that the school district considers the additional $777,000 in aid promised for next year as "non-recurring," meaning the money can't be counted on for the future.

That money would be part of a $3.4-million capital account set up next year to handle necessary building improvements throughout the district, such as leaking roofs, according to Markarian's presentation.

Board members said during their comments that they don't want to return the $360,000 in estimated savings by cutting staff to go to an eight-period day to the budget, only to later find out that aid will be lower than expected, or the budget is again voted down.

"It's still a tough economy out there," Board President Susan Carlsson said. "There's no guarantee the budget will pass." 

Along with last year's state aid cut, the district was forced to absorb another $800,000 reduction after this year's proposed budget was defeated at the polls last April.

Board members said they don't want to reinstate a program and then find that it has to be cut again when final figures are in place for next year.

But some parents say they would like to use the money the district has received to keep the nine-period day, or at least save the jobs of a few science teachers.

Resident and parent Fred Douglis urged the board not to cancel school programs this year in anticipation that the funds might not be available another year.

"Why don't we keep things instead for this year?" he said. "You are closing the door on things we could actually keep."

Another parent, Vita Caravias, urged the board to use some of the money to keep some of the science teachers who now are slated to lose their jobs. She said some of those talented teachers will be gone when others who are nearing retirement age leave the high school.

"If we keep them for one year, it will make a huge difference for these kids," she said of science teachers.

During his presentation, Markarian referred several times to a board goal to come up with a school program that can be "sustainable" on reduced funding into future years.

School board members did agree they may look at hiring another guidance counselor rather than shifting a guidance counselor from the high school to middle school next fall.

But several spoke of the need to make repairs such as fixing roofs. "It's really scary how much needs to be fixed and how much has been deferred," Board Member Robin McKeon said. "If we put it off, we are going to be paying more in the future," she said.

Resident Douglas Wicks, however, brought up again his contention that the district should pursue the contractor who put up the roofs and, he said, may have failed to use proper materials. Repairs on some of those roofs should be covered for up to 25 years, he said.

Another resident, Greg Healy, questioned an architect's report that estimated a cost of $500,000 to replace 250 doors in various school buildings.

Board members said they anticipate further discussion on the budget to come up again at the next board meeting, set for next Monday, March 14 at the Oak Street School at 7 p.m.

Lisa Winter March 11, 2011 at 12:29 PM
I think we need a Budget 2nd Question to restore much needed funding to our schools. Instead of parents putting up funds for extra teachers at the high school (which I agree, we desparately need) - why don't we ask the Board to put up a 2nd question on the budget this year? I believe that the law changed so that a super majority is no longer needed to pass it - it can pass with 51%. If the community thinks that our schools are important, maybe we can pass it. We passed the $54 million referendum in 2005 with about 60% of the vote - I think we could pass a second question, and I think we desparately need to.
Carolyn Gaziano March 11, 2011 at 01:10 PM
Over the past several months a joint task force of the TC and the BOE has been lobbying our legislators ( Asw. Coyle, Asm. Biondi, Sen. Bateman, Sen. Kean ( Education Committee), Gov. Christie and his staff, and Christopher Cerf) for additional state aid for our school district. Although I am pleased that we did receive an additional $777,000; we plan to continue to fight for permanent changes to the funding formula to gain a more equitable share of State aid. The move from a 9 period day to an eight period day does not by itself save any money. It only saves money by eliminating teachers and therefore increasing class sizes. With students only being able to take one elective per year the enrollment in electives will go down, and subsequently many of the current offerings will probably be eliminated in future years, with those teachers then being eliminated. The problem with this is that for most students who only qualify for maybe 1 or 2 AP classes, it is the rest of their schedule that is important to colleges. Has the student excelled in music over 4 years including regional band/chorus? Have they delved into art including several different media? With an 8 period day there is no room for experimentation. Students will need to decide going in as a 9th grader what they will focus on since they will only get 3 electives after requirements.
Laura March 11, 2011 at 02:32 PM
Lisa- My understanding is that there won't be an additional class period, (eg. English 5x/week to 6x/week?) but that the 5x/week class periods are a little bit longer. Could that make a real difference in instruction? Possibly, but it remains to be seen whether that will really come to fruition in a meaningful way. Second, while this is somewhat off the point of the thread, I really must disagree with your statement that colleges like Ridge so much. Through friends in other similar communities in the tri-state area, I have seen the scattergrams at various colleges, and Ridge students need far higher SAT numbers for acceptance at the same schools- in many cases by 100 points. (Not referring to Harvard here, but Patriot league, etc. type schools). I'm not saying that the high school isn't doing a good job of educating our students. I'm saying that they do not focus on college admissions, which aren't at the level they should be generally, and that the cut to an 8 period day will exacerbate this by limiting student's ability to shine in a particular talent.
Lisa Winter March 11, 2011 at 02:48 PM
Carolyn - it is absolutely NOT TRUE that moving to an 8 period day increases class sizes. It reduces teachers for a scheduling reaason that is really not intuitive - you have to do a scheduling model to see why it's true. (It has to so with the decreased number of classes). That's why the BOE has approved it - moving to an 8 period day reduces teachers WITHOUT INCREASING CLASS SIZES. I'm actually doing high school scheduling right now at another high school and know this to be the case. If we don't go to an 8 period day - we've lost the savings. Class sizes will either remain at their currently very high rate, or get higher because of increased enrollment next year. I think we should use the savings from moving to an 8 period day to reduce class sizes. I'm glad you are continuing to lobby the state - we need our full funding from the 2008 Funding Formula restored to us. However, I would be surprised if we got results in the short term, which is why I think this community needs to pass a 2nd question to restore at least some of the $6 million that our schools lost in 2010.
Lisa Winter March 11, 2011 at 02:56 PM
Laura - I so agree with you! I've had the same experience - in some ways, it is harder for Ridge kids to get into colleges than students at other less "prestigious" high schools. But I think the reason is different - I think that for the top colleges (ivy leagues and other selective schools), Ridge students have to first compete with other Ridge students for attention from the college, because let's face it - a college will only take so many students from one high school in NJ. And it's hard to compete with other Ridge students - they are all so high-achieving! That's why our top students end up cramming so many AP's into their schedules - so they rise to the top at Ridge and get noticed by the top colleges. Students in other high schools can get into the same top schools with fewer AP's - which is a lot less stress. Sometimes I think that by making so many AP's available to our students, we've really added on a lot of pressure - because they are competing with eachother to get noticed by colleges. An 8 period day might help in the area, actually - and by the way, I love our AP program and how accessible it is to students at Ridge. It's just that our juniors and seniors are under a huge amount of pressure...and it upsets me that at every college we visited, all the admissions people talked about was how many honors and AP's kids had...just adds to the pressure.
LisaB March 11, 2011 at 03:17 PM
Lisa, I know Millburn has more money per pupil with which to work. That said, some of the points that have been made are not directly tied to funding. For instance, if their high school, at 1300 students, can get by with 2 assistant principals, looking at this proportionally, Ridge may be able to get by with 3. Also, they have combined the roles of assistant superintendent and curriculum supervisor. Is that something we could also consider? Admittedly, I don't have the job description for these roles within our district, let alone theirs, so I don't know if the duties of their single person subsume the duties of our two. I agree that we have been given a raw deal by the state. I personally have written to the DOE and our lawmakers on various occasions to plead for fairness toward our schools. Hopefully we will get justice one day. We need to keep working for that. We need to deal in the short term, however, with the hand we've been dealt. Do I want to cut admin positions, coaching positions, etc? Not at all! I do, however, see real value to the 9 period day across the spectrum of students, and if it were up to me to prioritize cuts, I would explore other areas of our $81M budget to cut before I cut this.
LisaB March 12, 2011 at 06:48 AM
Lisa, I understand your point. If next week we were to start telling students to leave after period 8, their other classes would not grow in size. And if you were to permanently get rid of the 9th period, you would not need the staff-hours to man it, so you could reduce staff without increasing class size. Of course, you are reducing educational opportunities for students by reducing the number of courses they can take, but that is another issue. You then say that you would like to take the savings realized by reducing staff in the move to an 8 period day and apply it to the reduction of class sizes. The only way to reduce class sizes would be to open up more sections of classes. To do so, you would need more teachers! (This assumes, of course, that the classrooms in the high school are not already being fully utilized and that there is room to put the extra sections. What is the space utilization picture like, anyway???) In the extreme, if you were to hire back all the teachers you had laid off, then the issue would become one purely of smaller class sizes vs. more courses taken per student. I doubt, though, that having laid off teachers in conjunction with the move to the 8 period day, the administration would then hire teachers to reduce class sizes. Going forward, students will have fewer course opportunities and classes that will only get larger as the population bubble makes its way through the high school.
GM March 12, 2011 at 03:02 PM
Actually Lisa Winter, the BOE presentation last year specifically stated that moving to an 8 period day would increase the science classes to up to 26 students in a class.
JK March 13, 2011 at 01:18 PM
And so the question remains......WHO BENEFITS FROM THE 8 PERIOD DAY? The students certainly do not benefit, no matter what their interests or level of academic success, the teachers do not benefit, class sizes are bigger, choices are limited, music and art will suffer....AND WE HAVE THE MONEY TO PAY FOR IT!! Do we have to "swallow" the change for this year, or is there anything we can do to prevent it from being part of the final budget? Can anyone better explain the 2nd question for the ballot and if it can save the 9 period day?
Lisa Winter March 13, 2011 at 06:02 PM
JK - classes are NOT BIGGER from the 8 period day - moving to an 8 period day reduces needed teachers without increasing class sizes. See LisaB's explanation above - she's got it exactly right. So if we move to an 8 period day, there are losses to our elective programs, such as Art & Music. But students get more time in their core classes, and teachers spend a greater part of their day doing instruction with students. The instructional minutes per day from each teacher increases. And it saves the district $360,000 without increasing class sizes. I personally would like to see the $360,000 used to hire more teachers at Ridge and William Annin to reduce class sizes in those schools. I am worried, however, on the impact of an 8 period day on our wonderful Art and Music programs, and would like to hear more from the Board and Administration on how that might be alleviated.
Lisa Winter March 13, 2011 at 06:04 PM
Here's info on the "Second Question": From nj.com: "In addition to the budget, additional questions may be posed to voters. Second ballot questions seek spending for specific projects or staffing positions beyond the school district’s proposed budget. They give voters the opportunity to approve spending that exceeds the cap, but which the community might find important. These questions have been used to fund teaching positions, expand to full-day kindergarten, pay for aides, or expand extracurricular and enrichment programs, repair facilities. " Just this summer, the NJ legislature passed a bill that, among other things, allows second questions to pass with a simple majority vote. So it's no longer necessary to have a 60% "super majority" vote to pass a second question. And here's the beautiful thing about a second question - if it passes, the money is permanently added to the budget for subsequent years. So if the $360,000 is added back in for the 9 period day for next year, it permanently increases our base budget for subsequent years.
Linda Wooldridge March 13, 2011 at 06:52 PM
I encourage people who have been participating in this Patch discussion to come to the Board of Ed meeting on Monday, March 14 at Oak St. to provide your comments to the Board of Ed, or to send email to the Board of Ed before they vote on the budget.
SM March 13, 2011 at 07:11 PM
DITTO Linda! I won't be in town for the meeting but I hope that those of you who feel strongly about the additional school funds and how they are spent should attend, read some of the commments on this blog (if you agree w/ them), ask questions and rally friends to join you. We need to speak up and let the BOE know we are concerned. ~Susie
Lisa Winter March 13, 2011 at 07:31 PM
One more comment about the Second Question - I know that we parents want so much to preserve the quality of our schools, and so many people are suggesting that parents raise the funds themselves to preserve the 9 period day. We are then talking about parents contributing hundreds or thousands of dollars a year to do that. Many parents in this community would have a hard time affording that. But when the whole community pays for education, the cost is distributed over all the households and isn't close to as onerous an amount. I believe that an additional $360,000 added to our school budget would cost the average household in Bernard Twp about $16.00 a year.
LisaB March 13, 2011 at 08:59 PM
Lisa, I will make the point again that, although some students use the extra period to schedule art and music electives (which I think are very important), other students have used the extra period to double up on core classes. Personally, I think allowing a student to take both European history and the government/economics class together or take calculus II and statistics together or take AP Chem and AP Bio together is a very good thing. The 9th period has allowed students across the spectrum to concentrate more on their areas of academic interest. The upside to the 9 period day is so high for so many students, whether they want to take a traditional elective like art or music or take an elective academic class. What is disturbing is that this year's budget allows for the 9 period day, but the budget proposed in the fall for the coming school year exceeded the allowable 2% increase, thus making cuts to core programs seem necessary. I acknowledge that the budget for new textbooks probably needed to rise after years of neglect, but the increases for such other items in the proposed budget created the impetus to save money by cutting the 9th period at the high school. I wonder how carefully all the items in the zero-based budget were thought out, because it is the increases to other budget items that are squeezing core academic programs.
LisaB March 13, 2011 at 09:08 PM
Lisa, since we are getting close to the school election, is there still time to get a second question on the ballot? If so, will the PTO's have time to do a massive get-out-the-vote drive? Given that the budget was shot down last year, I am worried that the current budget may not be approved, let alone a second question. The amount in question represents less than 1/2% of the total budget. Are we sure there is absolutely no way to find this money by reducing amounts budgeted to other items? I am not convinced of that. Must we really go the second question route? Do you think it could succeed?
SZ March 13, 2011 at 10:28 PM
Lisa B. - I don't object to the whole concept of the AP program, but do think there needs to be more balance at the high school in terms of developing all the students. Your daughter is fortunate and has taken advantage of the opportunities available, but it comes at a price to the students at Ridge who struggle and need more assistance. In my experience, Ridge does little to help struggling students who need more support in developing college readiness skills - reading, writing, organization, study skills, note taking, etc. There are no classes to help these students, so it frustrates me when there are so many AP classes available, but virtually nothing for the non-AP students. I think they rely on students like your daughter to keep the AP stats high to make up for the students who can't take any or can only taken one/two.
SZ March 13, 2011 at 10:43 PM
Lisa - I have to disagree with you. Ridge HS does not do an outstanding job preparing all our kids for college level work in all of it's classes. I know too many kids (mostly boys) who return home because they fail out or go on probation. Boys typically mature later than girls, but Ridge is not developing the college readiness skills (study skills, organization, etc) and writing skills for students who struggle in these areas. The AP/Honors classes may do a better job because they require a lot of writing, but in my experience the CP Language Arts classes do not adequately develop the writing skills needed to do college level work. To be fair, with 26 kids in a class it is impossible for these English teachers to assign long writing assignments and be able to grade them all. The only way you can assess how well Ridge is doing in preparing students for college is to conduct an independent survey of former students/parents or at least develop some type of feedback process.
LisaB March 13, 2011 at 10:53 PM
SZ - I wish we could conduct this conversation in private, since it is off-topic. You said: "Your daughter is fortunate and has taken advantage of the opportunities available, but it comes at a price to the students at Ridge who struggle and need more assistance." I'm not exactly getting your point here. Students who take AP courses still need to be in SOME course, as there are graduation requirements in the various subjects. How does the fact that some sections of history are AP courses, for example, prevent other students in other non-AP history sections from getting more assistance? I'm not saying that students who struggle should not have help; I'm just not seeing a strong cause and effect.
SZ March 13, 2011 at 11:39 PM
If all AP classes had maximum enrollment of the 30-35 students and the AP classes are to only address graduation requirements, then there would be no issue because it wouldn't take away from non-AP students. But that is not the case when you see a small number of students in an AP class because that is a teaching resource. This is probably also the case with the elective classes. I personally think there are too many elective options at the high school and I think the number of AP classes can be reduced. Reducing the number of class options, would enable greater efficiency across all classes. This would enable smaller class sizes in core areas and maximum efficiency in elective or non-core classes, and maybe support classes for struggling students.
LisaB March 14, 2011 at 02:05 AM
SZ - I'm sorry, but are you saying that AP students should be required to have class sizes of 30-35 students so that other students can have smaller classes? That would not be fair. As a matter of fact, the AP US History class has currently has 36 students. I have not heard of a larger history class, and this situation is extremely unfair to the teacher as well as the students. I understand your concern about struggling students, but I don't think eliminating AP classes would do that much to divert resources toward them.
JK March 14, 2011 at 03:49 AM
Lisa Winter-I understand that you are generally in favor of the 8 period day and the extra instructional time it affords our student. I also like the idea of more time foe class discussions and extra teaching time, but would trade those 10 minutes per day for a quality music and arts program. You keep saying that you are concerned about what will happen to those programs but have offered no suggestions. I have been thinking about this fof quite a while as I have two children who are very much involved in the music program. Our administration seems very proud of themselves that they are "flexible" enough to allow students to drop into band and chorus during their PE period (if the periods line up), but even that would severly hamper the music program and our musicians. Imagine the Football coach trying to work out his plays with inconstitent numbers of athletes, all of whom play different positions, each showing up 2 days a week for practice. Now imagine those athletes trying to become competitive football players. It would be impossible. This is the compromise that our administration thinks is a wonderful way to stay involved in the arts. I don't agree and I am not alone. Art and music classes are not just for the "middle od the road" kids, or just for the super-achievers either. Music is all-inclusive. It is welcoming place where kids go to be creative, learn to work in a group and often lessen the stress that the academic classes at RIdge help create.
JK March 14, 2011 at 03:51 AM
Sorry for the typo's above. I am tired, frustrated and somewhat uncoordinated with my keypad, I guess.
Lisa Winter March 14, 2011 at 11:33 AM
JK - I appreciate your comments about the music and arts program. My kids are not involved in either program, so I am not familiar with the details of how they may or may not be accommodated with an 8 period day - but certainly I can see that those programs will be affected. I love the flourishing music and art at Ridge - I agree with you that those programs are as vitally important to Ridge as the sports that we offer after school. I think these are good questions to ask at tonight's Board meeting. As you know - what appeals to me about the 8 period day is that it's a way of achieving cost savings while also providing at least some benefits. I don't think the benefits are insignificant - 10 minutes extra per class - that's almost 1 hour of additional teacher instruction time a day. I'm a little surprised that so few parents think that's worth anything. I worry that our teachers are so forced to "teach to the test" these days - all those "timed writes" - that our kids don't have time in their classes for what I remember being so valuable when I was in high school - great class discussions that go to unexpected places. Our curriculum is so rushed - I think the additional 50 minutes a week per class would be very valuable to all of our students. I'm also very worried about the big class sizes at Ridge - I'd like to see some of the extra state aid be used to lower class sizes. If we stay with the 9 period day - then there's no opportunity to lower class sizes.
BR Mom March 14, 2011 at 11:45 AM
Lisa - I agree with you that the extra class time is appealing. The administration, however, hasn't loosened it's restrictions on using the study hall gained from playing a sport so that an elective may be taken in its place. The administration is mandating too many new restrictions at one time for the students to absorb: 1) Eight-period day 2) Tighter restrictions on honors and AP placement 3) Not allowing kids to use their gym exemption to take an elective There are a lot of required electives that must be taken during the high school years, and it seems as if we are being "squeezed" into a tight corner.
BR Mom March 14, 2011 at 11:47 AM
AP classes are taught at the pace of a college course, and as such, it DOES seem reasonable to put more students in an AP class than in a regular class. The students in the AP classes are signing up for the challenge and rigor that the class offers, and a larger class size should not be an issue for them.
Fred Douglis March 14, 2011 at 12:02 PM
BR Mom, I don't know that the comparison with a college-level class is entirely appropriate. I agree that the students should be able to deal with larger class sizes than they might otherwise, within reason. But in the college environment there are a lot of other things we don't have: teaching assistants, office hours (something the extra period currently allows for but we're basically losing), etc. LisaB said it was unfair to both the students and the teachers, and you said the students should suck it up. I think the students but especially the teachers are in a bad position when the course size increases too much.
Lisa Winter March 14, 2011 at 01:04 PM
LisaB - I just want to say something about the Second Question and your question "Are we sure there is absolutely no way to find this money by reducing amounts budgeted to other items?" Here are two things about our district: 1. we know our cost per pupil is well below the state average and below most of the schools we compare ourselves to. 2. our district frequently asked for cap waivers from the state when our costs rose higher than the state budget cap. (This is permission to raise the budget beyond the cap - no longer allowed.) The last time our district asked for a waiver, in 2009, we were told by the county Superintendent to "get ready to have your budget gone through with a fine tooth comb down in Trenton, because the DOE doesn't want to give waivers to any district." The DOE looked for any costs savings it could find in the budget in order to deny our district the cap waiver. So guess what happened: the state offered our district $2 million in cap waivers and said "you really need it". We were one of a very small number of districts in NJ to be offered cap waivers that year. The BOE ended up taking only $800,000 of the $2 million. That cap waiver request was two years ago - we've lost over $6 million since then. Is it really likely that there are lots of costs savings available to our district right now? That's why I think we need a second question - we need to at least try to get more funding to our school district.
Laura March 14, 2011 at 01:45 PM
LisaB raises good questions about the feasibility of a second question. The political climate being what it is, it will be difficult enough to get the budget passed (which already includes a tax increase) without adding a second question, which might even further galvanize the anti-increase voters. With all due respect, that the DOE in Trenton found no excess in the district's budget is about as convincing as Imelda Marcos's stylist saying she really needed all those shoes.
Lisa Winter March 14, 2011 at 02:13 PM
Laura - good point about the political climate - I know it's a concern. Certainly no one wants their taxes raised ever. Regarding the DOE's examining our budget - it wasn't just the DOE - it was the Executive County Superintendent for Somerset County who also reviewed our budget. These County Superintendent's were established and charged with finding cost savings in their county's schools - that was their primary job. You might remember the political climate at that point - Gov. Corzine had just given all NJ schools an increase in state aid, and he was determined that property taxes would not rise under his watch, and so wanted to stop giving school districts cap waivers. Is it really impossible to believe that perhaps we have an efficient school district and perhaps there aren't lots of cost savings to be found if only the Board and Administration could be more "creative"?

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