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UPDATED: Unsettled Teacher Contracts Among Unknown Budget Factors

Some parents again question why one instructional period still will be cut at high school despite anticipated increase in state aid.

School officials further outlined a 2011-12 budget proposal on Monday night that will be considered for final adoption at the Board of Education's March 28 meeting, before being placed on the ballot for the school election scheduled for April 27.

Township Business Administrator Nick Markarian stressed that the proposed $82.4-million budget was drawn up as school officials tried to juggle several unknown factors.

For example, Markarian noted the district still is in the midst of negotiating an unresolved teacher's contract with the Bernards Township Education Association. The overdue contract, when settled, would be retroactive to July 2010.

Prior to the meeting, Denise Graff, co-president of the BTEA, said the district's teachers' union and the township had been assigned a labor factfinder to help move along stalled negotiations. However, she said no definite date has been set for a meeting.

Meanwhile, the school board has so far assigned an increase of about $777,000 in state aid for next year—up to about $1.6 million from about  $848,000 for 2010-11—to add to a capital improvements budget for projects such as fixing leaky roofs in the district's buildings.

However, members of the public— some of whom had spoke at the —asked why at least part of that anticipated $777,000 increase couldn't be used to reinstate the nine-period day at the high school, which last had been reduced to eight periods as school officials searched for areas to cut costs.

"It seems there is money if we really want to put it back," parent Amy Haskel said. "We are seeing the $360,000 can be found." Haskel, and some other speakers, said the nine-period day allows students to take more Advanced Placement courses as well as electives such as art and music.

UPDATED: In response to a question of whether the high school's students already have completed their schedules for next year, and whether it would be potentially possible to switch back to a nine-period day, Schools Superintendent Valerie Goger said on Thursday: "The counselors have through today to catch up with students who were absent and finish up their entrance of course selections into  the system. Most have already completed this chore. Students have until the 25th of March to make changes and then we will begin the scheduling process.

Goger added in the email: "It would be very difficult to revert back to the nine period schedule, but it is possible to do. We do not have the ability to schedule a nine and eight period schedule in tandem, although some have commented that they thought our system was capable of doing that. Only one schedule can be built at a time."

At Monday's meeting, Haskel added she doesn't understand why the district intends to cut the positions of eight teachers at the high school, the result of cutting a period, when next year will be the start of a three-year "bubble" of increased enrollment with more students coming up through the middle school. She said the district might need to hire back some of those teachers, or others, to teach those additional students.

Goger said at the Monday meeting that the district actually would save $500,000 through the one-period reduction beyond the first year, when the school system would still be picking up unemployment costs for laid-off teachers. She also said it is a misconception that class sizes will increase because of the move to an eight-period day.

Board members have stated they want to come up with a program that can be sustained into future years, even if state aid fluctuates. Last year, the amount of state aid had dropped sharply from the previous amount of more than $3 million.

Board member Susan McGowan said school officials want to come up with a budget that can be sustainable in future years under the state's new 2-percent cap on spending increases, "rather hemorraghing programs each year." The district also had reduced the full-day kindergarten program until parents raised $420,000 to preserve the full-day program through next year, with some contribution to the following year.

But Fred Douglis, another resident, said the board's stated rationale for cutting one period at the high school next fall doesn't make sense to him. "We have the nine periods right now. We are cutting [one period] in case we don't get it [necessary funding] next year," he said.

"Years ago, when you went from nine to eight periods, you switched right back," Douglis said.

Board President Susan Carlsson said school officials are still working on the scheduling processes to make it easier for students to take such electives as music and art in the coming school year.

School officials added they will abandon a previous proposal to transfer one guidance counselor from the high school to middle school for next year, and will instead hire a counselor for the middle school while keeping the number of guidance counselors consistent at Ridge.

Parent Michele Cappola was among those who praised that decision, as well as the board's stated intentions at the meeting to reinstate honors-level classes at the junior level, instead of just offering Advance Placement courses. She said she also agreed with a proposal by the board to possibly eliminate mid-terms at the high school next year.

Eliminating midterms would give two weeks of additional instructional time to students during the year, and also would reduce stress for students, Board member Bev Cwerner had said earlier in the meeting.

Cappola also urged the public to pass the budget, even if residents disagreed with some of the board's decision. "If you vote no, you are only going to hurt the students more," she said.

Another resident, Jim Durkin, had earlier reminded school officials that many residents still are losing jobs, or taking salary freezes and cuts in a poor economy. He urged the board to look for ways to cut "non-classroom expenses." 

Markarian declined earlier in the day to estimate the impact of the proposed budget on the local school tax rate, saying he will wait until the document is approved by the county superintendent's office.

In other business, the board and public heard additional details about the county's proposal to install solar panels on school properties. A separate story will follow.

IMHO March 22, 2011 at 02:28 AM
I have read all of your comments for days.. But hello?? Will any of this analysis and discussion amongst the Patch readers change anything? Can we change the board's decision? Can we take all of this energy and passion to save our kid's programs at the high school and DO something with it?? Who will be our "Adam Hecht"?
ajk March 22, 2011 at 02:55 AM
Hi Suzy! Please email the board asking them to save 9 periods in the day. They have the money. We need to show them we care. Email all of your friends and kids' and ask them to do the same. This is something we need to do immediately. Post it on facebook. find a friend who is in the group baskingridge moms on FB and start the conversation there as well. Send your message to boardmembers@bernardsboe.com Tell them we want the 9 periods in a day. Thanks!
JK March 22, 2011 at 10:44 AM
Suzy- We are all our Adam Hecht! There is a small group of concerned parents who have been hard at work trying to get the Board to reverse it's decision to institute an 8 period day for quite a while. We think we have been making some headway. If you have been following this thread you know the facts, and if you agree that an 8 period day would be detrimental to all students at Ridge, please send an e-mail to the Board ASAP. Encourage your friends to do so as well. Then you will be Adam Hecht too!
IMHO March 22, 2011 at 04:07 PM
Hi JK and AJK, Thanks for your advice but I think you are missing the point here. For the vast silent majority reading these posts, they don't see the "headway" that you think you are making. Perhaps more transparency would be helpful for your cause. As I recall, Dr Hecht was organized and rallied the troups. We all followed his progress. There was such a groundswell of energy that this group would have been hard to be denied. "Quietly making headway," may be the more polite Basking Ridge way of old but we need more "in your face" tactics. The budget is to be voted on soon. And our only way of showing disapproval is to vote NO. We don't want that, do we??
Linda Wooldridge March 22, 2011 at 06:38 PM
Remember that a defeated budget means that it goes to the Township Committee and will most likely be cut further. Last year the Township Committee cut $800K from the budget.
JK March 22, 2011 at 08:30 PM
Suzy--We feel that we ARE making headway with the Board and have had many people tell us that they are voicing their opinions. Perhaps they might not be as silent as you may think. We are, however, open to suggestions as to how to "get in their faces". A "no" vote will NOT restore the 9 period day as it will cause the Township Comittee to cut more from the budget. If the 9 period day is not restored, you can voice your disapproval by becoming informed about all candidates who are running for BOE and voting out incumbants if you so desire. In the meantime, please e-mail the BOE and tell your friends to do the same if this is an issure that concerns you.
JK March 22, 2011 at 10:06 PM
The fact is that we have money to do capital improvements and save the 9th period. Another fact: parents approached administrators to see if we could contribute money to our cause and we were rebuffed. Money is not the issue. If the cut is paid then many parents will have to fund their child's Option II online classes which cost $300 or more per class. These classes will not count to GPA and are "only for the most independent student". They will have to be taken in the students' "free" time. Option II is a lose/lose for students and parents alike. I hope that you have taken a look at the architect's estimate for repairs. There are many things that need to be addressed, like the roofs and leaks, but do we really need to purchase 295 interior doors for 5 schoos at a cost of $2,000 each for a grand total of $590,000?
ajk March 22, 2011 at 10:15 PM
I don't think you seriously understand the situation. For starters,, some on the board and in the administration do not want to go to a 9 period day having nothing to do with money. In fact they think that our children will be better suited to stay focused on the core classes and have fewer electives. They think it is better for the students to be in the classes longer. Not only is this completely against the freedom of choice for the students, against the arts and interests of a diverse group of hundreds of children, but also students then lose the opportunities to diversify their education and become well rounded 18 year olds going off to college. Presently we have the benefit to chose from such a great variety of courses to best suit each child. Kids have the chance to keep a study hall for personal reasons, or fill their days with a great number of different learning opportunities. Decreasing the number of periods in a day will eventually lead to fewer teachers in the arts staying on, lower teacher morale, students not having the same competitive edge to get into the colleges of their choice etc. The board does not look at the future, but is going backwards with the move to 8 periods a day!
n March 23, 2011 at 04:49 AM
I understand perfectly and I have no problem with 8 periods or even going to 7 periods. Longer class time is not a bad thing for a child having problem with the material, they'll have more time to ask questions. Concerning "completely against the freedom of choice for the students", well you are starting to sound like a student yourself, because children do not have that freedom and parents who think the way you do, are part of the reason the cost of running Ridge High cost so much. There is no reason to have a dozen types of course selections. There are so many minutes in a day and not everybody is going to get to every class they want. It's time for the kids to learn to make choices and for example, out of five AP classes offered and they can only take three, then decide for themselves which three to take. If you, the parent think it is so important for their child's college transcript to learn a specific subject, then take them somewhere after school to get this class, but from experience, colleges like to see community involvement and volunteering more than the extra pottery class.
ajk March 23, 2011 at 05:01 PM
The freedom to chose a class elective and stick with it for 4 years is MY choice as a parent paying high taxes in our schools. We have different children who would benefit from different types of teaching perhaps! Perhaps some students benefit from the AP offerings and others music while still others need more 1:1 help. Colleges are interested in different types of students who have different passions and yes community service after school is certainly important, as is the students' job or whatever it is each student pursues. However while in school, 8 periods limits each child's opportunity to learn more in the way he/or she does best. Without 9 periods in a day some students will not get the help they need and complete required classes, and pursue the passion of music.
n March 23, 2011 at 07:44 PM
"Without 9 periods in a day some students will not get the help they need and complete required classes, and pursue the passion of music.", Nonsense, the students have four years to choose required courses in order to graduate and go to college. If and when they go to college, they can take all the electives they want for their majors & miners, you have the freedom to pay for their college. I pay the same taxes, maybe more since I don't have children, and it is my choice to limit those sacred electives, so that my high taxes don't go higher.
maryann.caballero@att.net March 23, 2011 at 08:30 PM
Here is a solution ... Hold the budget FLAT. Do NOT take the 2% increase,WE cannot afford to PAY MORE TAXES!!!!! Finalize the Union Contract so there are no surprises. Cut one, maybe two Assistant Principals (non academic/staff) from EACH school. If you want a 9th period elective, you can pay for music lessons outside of school, it is your choice. The 60% residents who do not have children in the school system should not, in this challenging economic environment be asked to pay for this. The money you get back from paying lower taxes could be used to pay for your child's music lessons. Everyone wins - especially the children!
n March 23, 2011 at 10:12 PM
WOW, you're tougher than me, lol. You better get the vote out, because you know the PTO's & BOE will get their voters out. BTW you'll be lucky if it's only a 2% increase, I bet there will be a 2nd question for more money.
Fred Douglis March 23, 2011 at 10:29 PM
It's been in the news since yesterday that the state education funding is found to be below adequacy in general, and our township has been spending less than it should be for a district of its size. The costs have been held extremely low yet provided a very good education. And you want to strangle our schools by rejecting the budget? I hope you figure that your home's value will hold up if the reputation of the district goes from excellent to sucky, because I think you might just lose more in home value than it costs you in increased taxes if the schools go down the drain.
Amy Haskel March 23, 2011 at 10:38 PM
Perfectly stated Fred. I was just thinking about how to respond to those comments but you summed it up perfectly. I really don't think people (both with and without children in the schools) are aware that the value of their property is directly related to the strength of our schools.
LisaB March 24, 2011 at 12:59 AM
I'm sorry, but while music is important, it is not just music classes that are at stake. Each student will now have 6 core courses, English, history, math, science, language, and gym (in some cases replaced by a mandatory study hall) each year. State-mandated elective requirements will add 2.5 courses to that total during a student's time at Ridge. That leaves 1.5 courses left over as free selections for the bulk of a student's Ridge career. Under the 9-period day, that student would have had 5.5 course selections. Which 4 of the following 5 full-year courses, which some student would have been able to take under a 9- period day, do you think he should now do without -- advanced chem, advanced bio, statistics, genetics, European history? I suspect that this question does not make you uncomfortable at all. Keep in mind that the 9-period day is currently funded, so the tax increase is due to other factors.
LCB@home March 24, 2011 at 02:17 PM
I have two comments. First, relating to the cutting of the HS teachers and fall out from that. There is a large influx of students coming in from William Annin next year - but this 'bubble' of students doesn't stop until the current 3rd graders hit the middle school and HS, and that is assuming no more movement occurs to our district - a stretch. This is well known by the district, as the over crowding concerns at Annin have been discussed for years. Cutting teachers now is going to further penalize the students in grades 3 through 8 disproportionately (and of course current and future HS students in general). Increased class size is ALREADY a challenge. Second, on the teachers contract. I find it interesting that there is no 'date set' for negotiations or mediation with the state and feel that this is a delay that will end up hurting the residents. If we don't know the content of the teacher's contract, namely what is being proposed in regard to salary increases and benefits, then how are we to have a full view of the budget process and make an informed decision? There ought to be a statement on the part of the Board and Superintendent as to what they are proposing for the teachers contract. Please don't say the content of negotiations is private. There are ways to inform which will not breach the 'bargaining in good faith' clause - especially given the great concern on the part of the public regarding salaries and teacher cuts.
n March 24, 2011 at 09:49 PM
The value of my property going down would only concern me if I was planning on selling, but unlike many people of the people who only came to town for the schools, stay til their child graduates, then flees, I didn't come for the schools and I don't plan on fleeing.
n March 24, 2011 at 09:58 PM
Hate to break the news, but English, history, math, science, language, and gym, have always been required courses in NJ and we were able to fulfill the requirements w/seven periods/year! Thanks for pushing the panic button.
Linda Wooldridge March 24, 2011 at 11:02 PM
Since my son graduated from Ridge in 2007, the state has added 3 more semesters of required courses; Financial Literacy is new this year. It is possible that the state may add new requirements in the future.
n March 25, 2011 at 02:40 AM
The proposed graduation requirements include: •Language Arts Literacy -- 20 credits aligned to grade 9 to 12 standards •Math -- 15 credits including algebra I content (effective with the 2008-2009 9th grade class), geometry content (effective with the 2010-2011 9th grade class), and a third year of math that builds upon algebra I and geometry and prepares students for college and 21st century careers (effective with the 2012-2013 9th grade class) •Science -- 15 credits including laboratory biology (effective with the 2008-2009 9th grade class); chemistry, environmental science or physics (effective with the 2010-2011 9th grade class); and an additional lab/inquiry-based science (effective with the 2012-2013 9th grade class) •Social Studies -- 15 credits including histories and integrated civics, economics, geography, and global content •Economics -- 2.5 credits in financial, economic, business and entrepreneurial literacy (effective with the 2010-2011 9th grade class)
HK March 25, 2011 at 04:36 AM
At the heart of this discussion, and other budget related ones for that matter, is a rather simple question, namely: "what School District does Bernards Township want to be, and to what can it realistically aspire given the realities of financial boundaries?" Many studies have been conducted, and research has proven that there has to be a core offering. Not only because it is mandated by rules and regulations, but also because those core subjects lay a basic minimum knowledge foundation to build on for further curricular and extra-curricular activities. We need to review the above fundamental question on a grander scale, outside the immediate boundaries of our School District, beyond our state, and possibly even beyond the nation for two reasons. Firstly, many have made Basking Ridge their home because of the strong reputation of the School District. This is true for families that have moved from nearby, as well as those that have come from afar, including overseas countries. Reputation is a relative measure, and determined by benchmarking Bernards versus other School Districts and systems. Secondly, our children will have to be equipped for a much more diverse world. This will be important for them no matter where they end up living, or how they will end up living their lives. That readiness will be shaped and formed by providing programs beyond the core offering so our children have options when they enter their next stage in live.
HK March 25, 2011 at 05:02 AM
We can debate long and hard what those options ought to be, and what it exactly should include. Arguably, every High School makes a core offering of language arts, mathematics, science, social studies. world languages, PE, and fine arts programs available to its students. The question is how does the program cater to the needs of students of different abilities (regular, honors, AP), and how far does it reach beyond the minimum treshold requirements to equip students with knowledge, skills and values well beyond the minimum. What are those formative programs that have a lasting positive effect on mind, character and physical ability? A well balanced program with appropriate choices, engaged and motivated faculty and administration, parents and a broader community that truly care are obvious ingredients for success. We have much of that today, and the BR community should treasure it. However, we need to be open to change. School programs have evolved, and will need to continue to evolve, to stay relevant to a changing world. Macroeconomics and geopolitics continue to change, and we cannot predict what it will look like 5-10 years from now. The thing we do know is that the pace of change will continue to accelerate, and the demands on our children to be multi-faceted in their skill- and mindset is paramount.
HK March 25, 2011 at 05:20 AM
The debate around the 8th versus 9th period at RHS is clearly loaded with emotion and understandably so. We should take ourselves back to the fundamental question posed above. We know that Bernards wants to be a School District that performs well above average, moreover it wants to be in the top quartile of performance, by whatever standard or metric we wish to use. However, this debate goes well beyond rankings and ratings. The four years of High School are hugely important for our young adults. These are formative years during which they make critical decisions about first steps into the rest of their lives. These decisions will be influenced by the learning environment we create, and by the choices that are available to them. Diversity in offering (within the obvious constraints of financial and operational practicalities) is critical. The School District needs to decide as it answers the strategic question (to what do we aspire?) what it logically needs to include in its curriculum, and how those programs are being offered to students. The crux of the issue with the proposed move to 8 periods is that the ramifications on the total program is not thought through. This is evidenced by guidance counselors and faculty not having answers to scheduling questions. We run the serious risk of implementing an ill-conceived concept. The notion of a 8 period day may have a logic, but it is quite obvious that communication of its rational leaves a lot to be desired.
HK March 25, 2011 at 05:38 AM
We have an option! Good governance is about reviewing positions taken and weighing in constructive arguments. Good governance is also about putting personal pride aside, and lending a listening ear to legitimate concerns voiced by all of those that passionately care about the quality of our School District. Again, the world around us is evolving and we cannot close our eyes to that fact. There is the potential of loss of face of an ill-conceived change that jeopardizes the existing curriculum beyond intention. Scheduling is a huge issue borne by factors in addition to the period change that are well documented by other writers on this forum. Although the 8th period has been years in the making, it seems apparent that the implementation plan is not in a state of readiness for this upcoming school year. We have an option given the available funding. It seems to make utter sense for such a weighty decision to be only made when it is absolutely clear how the programs will work. Split periods and part-time participation are not a solution, but a band-aid. I would very strongly encourage the Board and the Administration to review their "go-live" plan and carefully assess whether we set ourselves up for failure or success. My recommendation would be to use the available funding to stay with the current 9 period format, and "buy" a year to properly engage, plan, communicate, and then successfully execute. I wish the Board and Administration much wisdom.
Fred Douglis March 25, 2011 at 10:34 AM
HK, your several postings last night are very well stated. Bravo!
th March 25, 2011 at 01:54 PM
Regionalize the police force or do away with it. Contract NJ State Police to patrol it. Seven supervisors making way over 100,000 and officers close to it. For what? Look at the crime rate. Look at the money bordering towns are spending as well (bernardsville). Who is paying attention and watching the pay-to-play violations and "entitlements" of local government... There is no police force patrolling ethics and fraud...
Fred Douglis March 25, 2011 at 02:09 PM
What does the police force have to do with the school budget?
n March 25, 2011 at 08:55 PM
Grasping at straws, lol. The majority of property taxes goes towards schools, that have their own budget and not controlled by municipal taxes. The police dept. is the largest part on the municipal tax bill, but reducing the PD will have not effect on the school taxes. Anyway if you noticed, the municipal taxes on you tax bill, is the only part that has either stayed steady or gone down for the last five years, to bad we can't say the same about school taxes. They never had a year that was steady or decreased.
LisaB March 26, 2011 at 12:53 AM
HK, wonderful commentary!

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