Overcoming Bullying…Schools and Community Working Together

January 12th, 2011

Nationally, as well as here in New Jersey, bullying has been in the news of late as a result of a number of tragic circumstances. In some respects, members of the general public hear of these incidents but continue with their busy lives. After all, hasn’t this despicable behavior been around since the beginning of time?  The serious nature of this topic only garners our attention when we are impacted. My purpose in writing on this topic is to illustrate how all of us are being impacted by this preventable phenomenon known as bullying.

For years, South Brunswick School District has taken great pride in providing “safe and caring” schools. One of the ways we have done so is through programs related to character education. Our elementary schools work with the Responsive Classroom Program, a national initiative that operates on the premise that children learn best when they are provided with both academic and social-emotional skills. The program seeks to emphasize the core values of cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy and self-control. Developmental Designs operates in similar fashion in both Middle Schools, while the High School utilizes a model gleaned from the Institute for Excellence and Ethics and embeds these lessons in all our courses. The key ingredient to each of these approaches is that of staff commitment.  As a District, we believe that our students benefit most when they learn about character education through the emphasis on core values and adult modeling. The inevitable “teachable moments” are best recognized by staff members that have been provided with strong and effective character education programs and the professional development training to best utilize them. As a District, we devote much time and many resources to character education. This is an important part of our commitment to educating the “whole” child.

In addition to these character education approaches, we have a student code of conduct that is age-appropriate in design and centered on logical consequences. By taking this avenue, we are doing more than correcting unacceptable behavior. The code of conduct embeds our core values into each student behavioral infraction so that the logical consequence reinforces the desired belief and behavior. In addition, every October, during Violence Awareness Week, we provide outreach to law enforcement to jointly plan and assist us in helping our students better understand the importance of appropriate behavior and self-control. I am sure that you can sense, through these descriptions, a more than passing commitment to teaching young people about acceptable behavior.

The District has had an anti-bullying policy for many years with the present iteration entitled, Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying.  This Board of Education policy mirrors the statutory and regulatory requirements that are mandated by the state. In ensuring this compliance, the District changed the policy three times in the past two years to match changes made by the state and the Prosecutor’s Office. A major reason for these changes is the impact that technology and social networking have had on promoting bullying. Facebook, texting and YouTube have provided tools for the bully. Known as cyber attacks, some young people have turned the power of the electronic world into a relentless assault on other youngsters. While these “attacks” routinely take place outside of school, the fall-out typically has implications for our schools and staff. In an effort to educate our students about responsible and acceptable use, we begin teaching cyber safety as early as second grade. Despite our best efforts, we regularly get involved in cyber offenses committed by students against students.

Hopefully, I have offered a clear and comprehensive view of a problem that the schools can’t solve alone. We need help. While many resources are committed to educating young people about the ills of bullying, some students persist in this hurtful behavior. Sometimes adults turn away when they see or hear of bullying occurring. Until we all get involved, the problem will continue. Let’s all lend support to ending this behavior because the next victim could be someone you love.


Please Note: The South Brunswick Parent Academy plans an important workshop: Bullying & Your Child: What’s a Parent to do? This workshop will be presented Wednesday, February 9, 2011, 7:00 PM at Crossroads North Middle School. For more information about this workshop as well as others, please visit South Brunswick Parent Academy.

District Goals for 2010 – 2011 School Year

September 21st, 2010

District Administration presented its goals for the 2010-2011 school year to the Board of Education during its September 20, 2010 meeting. These goals, which were approved by the Board, are accompanied by a list of objectives that District officials would like to accomplish in addition to the District’s daily operations.

The list of goals and objectives fall under the umbrella of eight key areas of focus which include: Supervision and Evaluation, Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, Information Technology, Professional Development, Facilities, Cost Effectiveness and Cost Containment, School Safety, Health and Student Support and a category for miscellaneous items.

This is an ambitious operation that assures that all the work that we have is focused and directed according to our human and fiscal resources. It’s important to keep in mind that not only will these new endeavors be the key focus but all the goals that we have accomplished in the past become part of our operation.

The 2010 – 2011 Goals and Objectives are available as well as the PowerPoint presentation made to the Board of Education.

Goals for 2009-2010 School Year

September 17th, 2009

At the South Brunswick Board of Education meeting of August 24, 2009, the District Goals and Objectives for the 2009 – 2010 school year were approved for dissemination and posting on the District Web site (www.sbschools.org). This annual action is among the most important in which the Board engages.

Read the rest of this entry »

Looking Back On The Year That Was

July 17th, 2009

For most of us, the conclusion of an activity, event or time period gives the opportunity for introspection and assessment of our efforts.  Being no different, I am looking back over the 2008 – 2009 School Year in analytical fashion.  The pertinent questions that I utilize are: How did our students perform?  What did we achieve as a District? What did we do well?  and Where can we improve?

While no column in a newsletter will adequately accommodate a comprehensive response to this retrospective examination, I would like to share several of my year-end reactions.

First, and certainly foremost, our students have performed admirably on the many academic, artistic and athletic fronts available to them.  Statewide testing, juried art contests, athletic endeavors, National Merit competition, band shows, music festivals, debates and science competitions are but a few of the forums where our students regularly demonstrated their skills and talents.  In every instance, they achieved exceedingly well.

None of these many successes just happened.  On the contrary, these successes were created through the efforts of many.  Committed and motivated students, dedicated teachers and exceptionally skilled administrators created the conditions in which success thrives.  I couldn’t be more proud of our students and staff.  Our School District enjoys an outstanding reputation because of these individuals.

When I consider what we did well this year, aside from our student and staff successes, my thoughts are immediately focused on our “operational behavior.”  As an administrative team, we have been able to systematize our approaches to almost all that we do.  For example, the planning for and construction of the 2009 – 2010 budget that yielded no tax increase required a very disciplined sense of accountability.

The budget process required all decision-makers to submit requests that reflected financial/personnel reductions without direct impact on instruction and students.  Painful as it was, especially for those who lost jobs, the economic reality and the sense of fairness to our taxpayers required this approach.

Another area that has required a systematic style of operation is our budget deficit.  As you no doubt recall from past reading here, the New Jersey Legislature, several years ago, created a bill that reduced General Fund balances of school districts to two percent of the budget.  The manner in which this was done has created an annual $4 million budget deficit.  In other words, we must always end each financial year with a balance of $4 million to be applied to the next year’s budget.  Very prudent and disciplined spending has allowed the District to create this balance each year.

To the question, “Where can we improve,” I can speak for the Board of Education and myself by stating, “Every where.”  Our plan is to continue our thorough analysis of all areas of our School District.  Ongoing scrutiny of all costs will continue to be the practice.  While the ever-upward moving benchmarks of NCLB will continue to challenge the District, we will do all that we can to assist our students in their quest to meet the standards.  Student success and school success should never be narrowed by one measuring stick, so we will continue to prepare our students for the many opportunities that will allow for even greater successes beyond South Brunswick.

All things considered, as I look back over the 2008 – 2009 School Year, I know that our focused efforts and goal-driven approaches have made a difference.  The power of careful and comprehensive analysis has been and will continue to be essential to our success.  But analysis alone is never enough.  The words of Einstein say it best:

“Everything that can be counted doesn’t necessarily count, and everything that counts cannot always be counted.”

Your support of the South Brunswick School District, both past and hopefully in the years to come, “counts” greatly and for that, we are all deeply grateful.

Low Spending, High Achieving District

April 14th, 2009

The 2009 – 2010 proposed school budget was approved by the South Brunswick Board of Education at a special Public Budget Hearing conducted during the March 30 meeting.  On April 21, the annual school election will provide our community members with an opportunity to vote on this financial plan.

So that our residents can cast the most knowledgeable vote, I will attempt to provide an overview of our budget.  Keep in mind that this budget was designed through an intensive process that sought to balance the interests of education and the interests of taxpayers in containing costs.

The total proposed budget is in the amount of $139,383,922.  Voters previously approved the Debt Service (expansion and renovations of our facilities) portion of this budget that now totals $9,916,340.  On Election Day, we are requesting that you vote on the local share of the General Fund budget in the amount of $96,009,320.  It is this amount, when coupled with State aid, our local year-end fund balance (we are forced to deficit fund the 2009 – 2010 budget with $3.95 million to reduce the need for a tax increase) and a small amount of miscellaneous revenue that makes up the total proposed Operating Budget of $126,972,109. (The Operating Budget does not include Debt Service and Federal Program funds which, when added together, make up the Total Budget.)  No New Taxes will be needed to support this proposed budget.

I am often asked about the funding sources that provide dollars for our budget.  To assist in the response, Chart #1 provides an illustration of the revenue sources.

As you can see from this illustration, local sources (Local Tax Levy and Other Local Sources) provide approximately 79% of the dollars needed to fund the budget.  The good news is that, on a percentage basis, the local share of the budget has declined for the two previous budget years and will decline again in this proposed budget.  The reason for this decline is the State aid share of the budget.  State aid has increased for the second consecutive year.

While the State aid contribution to our schools is less than 20% of our total budget, increases in this area reduce the need for the local contribution to grow.  Chart #2 graphically illustrates the relationship between State and local aid.  While the relationship isn’t totally inverse, increases in State aid significantly reduce the need for local tax increases.

So that you might better understand this financial plan, let me share the most significant factor that shapes this budget.  South Brunswick School District projects an increase of 87 additional students for the 2009 – 2010 school year.  This will bring our K-12 enrollment to 9,097.  This increase is modest indeed when compared to the earlier years of this decade.  A quick review of Chart #3 illustrates enrollment history from 1995 when the K-12 total enrollment was 5,440 to the projected 2009 – 2010 total.  This period of growth provided the School District with a 67% increase in student enrollment.

As you well know, enrollment growth touches almost every other budget category.  Additional students over the years have driven our building expansion needs, increased our maintenance and operations costs, required additional staff, expanded program offerings to meet a wider continuum of needs and increased transportation costs.  While our proposed budget supports these costs, the small student enrollment growth and a moratorium on new instructional initiatives (second year of not adding new programs) are central factors in limiting budget growth and not needing an increase in taxes. 

The process that was utilized to shape this proposed budget involved analyzing every area of current spending.  This review process allows the administration to ask the questions, “Why do we do this?” and “Just because we have done this before, do we still need to?”  This analysis has revealed, over the years, some time-honored practices that were no longer necessary. In response to the question, “Are there more cost-effective and cost-efficient ways to do what must be done?” we have identified at least 14 shared services, purchasing consortiums (insurance, energy, technology, supplies, etc.), joint efforts (transportation) and re-financings (1997 School Bonds).

To be a bit more specific, we are presently engaged in an Energy Audit that has costs of about $196,000.  We successfully secured a grant that will pay almost all of the audit costs.  We fully expect the audit results will yield significant energy cost savings.  During the past three budget years, we have saved over $500,000 in the area of insurance costs because of our consortia memberships.  Likewise, transportation efficiencies have resulted in savings of $355,000.  This is not a mutually exclusive list but offered rather as an example of District efforts to be cost-effective.

In any budget construction process, and school districts are no exception, “fixed costs” must be recognized and analyzed.  These are the costs associated with such things as heat, light, water, air-conditioning, gasoline, natural gas, fuel oil, diesel fuel, transportation vehicles, pension costs, salaries, benefits, insurance costs, legal fees, etc.  Again, this is not an exhaustive list but meant to provide a clear indication of the type of costs that represent approximately 90% of our Operating Budget.

After our students, the District’s most valued and important resource is our staff.  Quite frankly, schools are labor-intense organizations that develop reputations based upon the competence and caring nature of the staff.  The District’s reputation for excellence is a direct reflection of the commitment and quality of the staff.  With all things of quality, there are attendant costs.  Because we are involved in the collective bargaining process with each of our eight unions, we do not have cost data to share at this time.

Continuing with some of the major factors that shape our proposed budget, we anticipate increasing energy costs to require an additional $210,000 over present funding levels.  Pension costs will require an additional $150,000 and Transportation costs will increase by $418,000.  Mandated bus replacement costs represent about 50% of the Transportation increase.  Facility capital improvement needs such as roof replacement sections, HVAC unit replacements, energy-efficient window replacements, etc. will cost approximately $1.8 million.  We will be utilizing almost $600,000 from our Capital Reserve Fund to reduce the budgetary cost of these projects to $1.2 million.

Obviously, the Expense side of this proposed budget would require a tax increase unless additional revenues and/or budget reductions were realized.  This budget reflects both.  As previously mentioned, State aid has increased.  In a year in which we anticipated no increase, this additional aid was significant in developing a budget that does not require a tax increase.  This increase alone was still not enough to forestall a tax increase.  Another action was unfortunately necessary.

This proposed budget reduces the personnel portion by 25 positions. Coupled with the position reductions of the previous four years, we have now eliminated 66 positions since 2004.  Because we are a labor-intense organization and the overwhelming cost of our budget is associated with personnel costs, the only significant way to realize slower budget growth is to reduce positions.

As part of our coordinated budget process with the State of New Jersey, we met with the Executive County Superintendent in January.  During that meeting, which provided a forum to analyze the current budget, we were directed to reduce personnel labeled as administrative, paraprofessional and operations/maintenance.  Based upon that directive, we eliminated/consolidated 13 positions coded as “administrative” (Public Information Officer, Assistant Principals at three levels, Assistant Athletic Director, South Brunswick High School Supervisor and secretarial support at all levels.)  In addition, we eliminated paraprofessional positions, custodial positions and a part-time social worker position.  A reorganization of our Basic Skills program will eliminate two positions.

Of the 25 positions, 14 were eliminated through attrition.  The remainder of the personnel were informed recently that their position was being eliminated.  In every instance, a great amount of thought and discussion was involved prior to making the decision.  The reductions were made apart from the classroom and the instructional program in every instance.  These cuts will not impact class size or instructional delivery. 

To provide an illustration of the impact of the reductions on the proposed budget, Chart #4 identifies increases/decreases by major budget categories.

All three areas of administrative costs are reduced in this financial plan as a result of the position reductions.  The Debt Service reduction is a continuation of the previously mentioned refinancing.  We are in the second year of a three-year savings that has reduced our Debt payment (think mortgage) by over $1million per year.  The 2007 – 2008 cost was slightly more than $11 million. 

South Brunswick has long enjoyed a reputation for educational excellence.  This column will not attempt to recount the abundant evidence of this fact.  A visit to our Web site, attendance at a Board of Education meeting or reading other articles and issues of this publication will provide compelling examples of student successes.  Ours is truly a high performing District.  “But at what cost?”

This Chart illustrates quite clearly that our School District is a low cost, high performance organization.  At a time when per pupil costs in New Jersey range from a low of $9,100 to a high of over $18,000, South Brunswick is $1,656 below the state average.  When viewed in consultation with our performance indicators (State testing, SAT scores, National Merit qualifiers, Bloustein Scholars and the many other student recognitions), we have much to celebrate.

I hope that every reader will view this proposed budget as an investment in our students, their future, our future and the reputation and value of our community.  I also hope that this information will assist your understanding of this proposed budget.  Should you have questions, please visit our Web site, www.sbschools.org, or call me at (732)297-7800, ext. 5104.  As always, your support is greatly appreciated.

Gary P. McCartney

Offering thanks to a hard-working group of people

January 26th, 2009

            By Governor’s proclamation, January has been designated as School Board Recognition Month in New Jersey.  During the month of January, Board of Education members in South Brunswick School District will continue what they do every month of the year.  And while public meetings are held and televised throughout the community, most people know very little about the incredibly important volunteer service that is being provided to the community.

            In New Jersey, 4,800 men and women serve as members of local Boards of Education.  There are nine you should thank for their enormous commitment to children of our community:

Martin Abschutz

Harry J. Delgado

Robert F. Long

Barry Nathanson

Stephen F. Parker

Arthur L. Robinson

Matthew Speesler

Deborah Taylor

Anna Tupé

            Besides providing an incredible volunteer service, our Board Members provide first-hand role model examples for our youngsters.  Each member serves on several sub-committees of the Board and, inasmuch, study preparatory materials and attend meetings to discuss issues.  The outcome of these committee meetings typically frame recommendations for the entire Board to study and take action.

            Election to the South Brunswick Board of Education provides new members with the obligation for local orientation training and mandated State training.  Upon completion of this initial training, the new member joins incumbent members in an ongoing annual training cycle.

            The heart of the Board of Education experience is to shape a school district into a positive and productive place for children to learn.  Public evidence of Board of Education work is routinely reported in the media in the form of test results.  Likewise, Board members oversee the budget process that is placed, annually, on the ballot for voter action.

            If that sounds like tough, time-consuming work, you are understanding this message quite well.  I’m proud to report that, based upon South Brunswick’s student achievement results, your Board of Education is doing exemplary work.  In my twenty-three years as a public school superintendent, I have never worked with a better Board of Education.  I am proud to be a colleague with the members of the South Brunswick Board of Education and I hope you share in that pride.

            Often a thankless job, I hope you will seek out our Board of Education members and express your appreciation during the month of January.  Their contact information can  be found here.  


Gary P. McCartney

District Announces Goals for ’08-’09 School Year

September 4th, 2008

The  hallmark  of  a  successful organization is the commitment to “stretch”  itself  in  the pursuit of  its mission.  South  Brunswick  School District  is  no  exception. At  its August 18 meeting, the Board of Education approved  the 2008 – 2009 District Goals  and  Objectives  which  were designed  to  focus  and  extend  the efforts and  resources of our  schools.

Packaged  in eight areas, the goals included  the  following  major areas: Curriculum and Instruction; Professional Development; Information Technology; Facilities; Cost Effectiveness/Cost Containment; School Safety; Health and Student Support; and Miscellaneous.

Within each goal area, a host of behaviorally-stated objectives have been  framed  in  order  to  provide specific definition for the work. For instance,  under  the  Curriculum and  Instruction Goal,  objectives have  been  formulated  to  identify  the work being carried out within  the District’s Curriculum Review Cycle. As we  enter  the  fifth  year  of  the  cycle, every  content  area  of  our  curriculum will be in some stage of renewal. To allow  our  curriculum  to  be  in  a dynamic  state,  it  must  always  be involved  in  such a process.

Objectives will  be  pursued  to  create a  more  consistent  framework  for lesson planning, as required by New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum  (NJQSAC). Likewise,  in the  Curriculum  and  Instruction Objectives, the District will finalize work  in  its  grades 6  –12 Character Education  Program,  study  and  create a Pre-school Program  for  eligible low socio-economic  children  and  develop a community presentation to share the  initiatives  that are being utilized to support our struggling and least-able  learners.

Continuing  in  the  Curriculum and  Instruction Goal  area,  one  of  our objectives  involves  placing  curriculum online  for  ease of  access. Parents  and community members will be able to  view  a  shortened  form of  the curriculum, while  the  full  document will be available to staff. As always, all  curriculum  documents  are  available in hard  copy  for  review  by  anyone.

The Professional Development Goal area has objectives  that  support all  curricular,  technology  and  training needs of our entire  staff. To enhance institutional  agility,  a  flexible  delivery system  for  professional  development will  be  developed  and  implemented. This  model  is  designed  to  create more  latitude for staff in gaining the insights needed to improve practice. Anther objective of Professional Development  involves  a  focus  on equity  and  exceptionality  needs within the District. This work area seeks to indentify and refresh time-honored  practices  through  exposure to  speakers and  study.

Information technology  objectives will focus on several key areas of instruction. We will begin  the  first of a three-year plan to create “powerful” workstations for classroom teachers. This model will serve to enhance the use of technology as a tool to support effective  teaching.  We  will  also continue  our  work  in  cyber  safety instruction,  adding  a  secondary component to the elementary work completed  last year.

In  addition,  we  will  conduct proficiency assessments  for Fourth and  Eighth Graders  to  better-evaluate student technology knowledge and skills. As well, we will  survey  staff  in order  to  ascertain  similar  insights about  classroom  technology  practices.

Under  theFacilities Goal,  a  critical objective involves the completion of an energy audit. With sky-rocketing
costs in all energy areas, the District will use  the audit results  to determine avenues  of  cost  containment.  In
addition,  another  objective  will have  us  continue  to  assess  the security measures in place in each of  our  buildings  in  light  of technological  advances. Another related  objective  will  have  the District develop  a new  (we  already have  one)  State-mandated work order procedure.

Several objectives  in  the goal area of  Cost  Effectiveness  and  Cost Containment relate to the implementation  of  our  budget.  One  in particular involves a shared service arrangement  that  will  result  in  a joint  paving  project  with  South Brunswick  Township  working  on one of our  school parking  lots.  In  the area  of School Safety,  the  objectives include the submission of a grant to acquire  security  cameras  and  the completion of the  installation of the proximity  building  access  cards for  staff.

Health and Student Support objectives are framed around Child Study Team training in the area of Functional  Behavior  Assessments, the establishment of a District-wide Medication policy and practices as well  as  refinement  of  our  District Intervention and Referral System.

In the Miscellaneous Goal area, objectives will  include  an  investigation of  the  International Baccalaureate Program,  the  acquisition of  software to  better  link  Human  Resources  and  Professional  Development and  further  analysis  of  both NJQSAC and the recently enacted Accountability regulations.

We  believe  that  this  ambitious undertaking  (complete  listing reviewable  on  the District Web  page) coupled with  our  daily operational  practices will truly “stretch” the District  but  allow  us  to  remain  focused  in our approach.  

Fixed Costs Drive Budget

April 2nd, 2008

The 2008 – 2009 proposed school budget was approved by the South Brunswick Board of Education at a special Budget Hearing conducted during the March 19 meeting. On April 15, the annual school election will provide our community members with an opportunity to vote on this financial plan.

So that our residents can cast the most knowledgeable vote, I will attempt to provide an overview of our budget. Keep in mind that this budget was designed through an intensive process that sought to balance the interests of education and interests of taxpayers in containing costs.

2008 Budget Chart 1

The proposed budget is in the amount of $135,953,172. Voters previously approved the Debt Service (expansion and renovations of our facilities) portion of this budget that now totals $10,067,390.00. We are requesting that you vote on the local share of the General Fund Budget in the amount of $94,949,620. It is this amount, when coupled with the State contribution of $24,485,493 (19% of Operating Budget as referenced in Chart #1), our local fund balance for 2007 – 2008 (we deficit fund the 08-09 budget with $3.78 million to reduce the need for a higher tax increase), and some miscellaneous revenue that makes up the total proposed Operating Budget of $123,696,844. The cost increase necessary to support this budget is 5.8 cents per $100 of assessment.

Obviously, no one wants to pay higher taxes. Unfortunately, public schools in New Jersey have only State-prescribed methods to fund their operations. Because of this, property tax represents the funding strategy that must bear the weight of the public schools.

So that you might better-understand this financial plan, let me share some insights and identify the issues that served to shape the proposed 08-09 budget. First of all, education is a labor-intense endeavor. As student enrollment grows, the staff necessary to meet student needs expands, as well. While we experienced a welcomed slow-down in our enrollment growth this year, our projections anticipate an increase of an additional 134 students for the 08-09 school year.

2008 Budget Chart 2

2008 Budget Chart 2A review of our student enrollment (Chart #2) reveals a significant and sustained pattern of growth over the previous 10 years. With an anticipated enrollment of 8,957 students in September, we will have witnessed a 10-year increase of 2,286 students. The result of this continual enrollment has created an ongoing need for more staff and expanded facilities.

I am pleased to report that all of the renovations and expansions to our facilities that were financed through the 2003 Referendum Bond Issue have been completed. While we have a never-ending list of maintenance issues given the number of facilities that we operate, there are no current plans under consideration for a future referendum related to our buildings.

The process that was utilized to shape this proposed budget involved analyzing every area of current spending. This review process allows the administration to ask the questions, “Why do we do this?” and, “Just because we have done this before, do we still need to?” This analysis has revealed, over the years, some time-honored practices that were no longer necessary. In response to the question, “Are there more cost-effective and cost-efficient ways to do what must be done,” we have identified at least fourteen shared services, purchasing consortiums (insurance, energy, technology, supplies, etc.), joint efforts (transportation), and re-financings (School Bonds). In each of these undertakings, the savings have resulted in direct budgetary reductions.

Upon completing the budget analysis, our next step was to calculate the costs associated with our “fixed cost” areas. These are the costs associated with such things as heat, light, water, air conditioning, gasoline, fuel oil, diesel fuel, transportation vehicles, postage, pension costs, salaries, benefits, insurance and legal fees. While this is not offered as a mutually exclusive list, it does represent over 90% of our Operating Budget.

After our students, the District’s most valued and important resource is our staff. Quite frankly, schools are labor-intense organizations that develop reputations based upon the competence and caring nature of the staff. South Brunswick School District’s reputation for excellence is a direct reflection of the commitment and quality of the staff. With all things of quality, there are attendant costs. The cost to keep our existing staff for the 08-09 school year will be $3.4 million.

Continuing with some of the major impacts that shape our budget, energy costs are increasing by $578,000. Anyone who is tracking home heating costs understands the incredible growth in this category. In a related category, our transportation costs will grow by $125,000. This increase is directly related to the spiraling cost of fuel.

Pension costs for support staff are billed, in part, to school districts. There is no way to anticipate this cost locally because it is a reflection of the financial contribution by the State to its pension system and the independent actuarial assessment that is performed periodically. Based upon the State’s financial condition, we anticipate paying an additional $628,000 in this category.

Another area of cost growth involves the 134 additional students that were previously mentioned. To adequately staff this growth, we will need to add 4.67 full-time equivalent staff. The total cost for this need is being budgeted at $301,000.

Two other areas of budgetary growth include social security costs and tuition. As you know, social security costs are associated with salary and we anticipate spending an additional $105,000. Likewise, placement needs of our students that require programming that the District cannot provide will increase by $78,000.

Our ongoing costs for facilities and operating systems of the building will increase by slightly over $400,000 due to rising costs associated with manufactured parts, service, paint, and consultant fees.

While this is not meant to serve as an exhaustive list, it is meant to provide you with a “flavor” of some of the major impact areas that increase our cost of operation. This short list alone totals increases of $5.6 million.

On the instructional front, we utilize a curriculum review cycle that allows for a regular, periodic study of each curriculum. Accompanying this review is an assessment of our textbooks and instructional materials. New and replacement textbooks will cost approximately $450,000.

A review of the Budget Appropriations – Major Categories Chart (Chart #3) reveals the areas of growth and reduction in this proposed budget. Increases in Regular and Special Education, tuition for students in need of out-of-district programs, costs associated with student activities and athletics reflect the commitment of the District to fund student needs. Costs associated with Transportation and Maintenance/Facilities are support services that provide our students with access to school and a safe learning environment. These are certainly the areas of the budget where our money should be spent.

2008 Budget Chart 3

The three administrative areas of the budget, as illustrated, reveal either reductions or in the instance of “school administration,” a less than 1% growth. This chart (Chart # 3) illustrates the commitment of the District to spend budget dollars in support of students while reducing or containing administrative costs.

South Brunswick School District is a member of the New Jersey State Health Benefits Plan for medical and hospitalization coverage for employees. As a result of a reorganization of this plan by the State, South Brunswick will realize a savings in this expenditure category of $1.1 million. This entire savings has been utilized to reduce the growth of the budget.

On the Revenue side of the proposed budget, State Aid is being increased by 20 percent. Previously (2007 – 2008), South Brunswick School District received approximately $20 million from the State. This State contribution has been static for over five years and has changed very little over the past seven years. The increased State Aid will be $4.3 million. For the sake of perspective, 19% (approximately $24 million) of our $135.9 million budget will come from State sources. While this amount will not balance the budget, it is welcomed relief and long overdue.

During this past year and in consultation with professional financial advisors, the District was able to refinance the 1997 Bonds (bonds sold to build the High School) at a net savings of $3.3 million. The savings have been spread over three budget years (08-09; 09-10; 10-11) and are being utilized to reduce the Debt Service portion of the budget. This year’s savings is approximately $1 million.

Two other important actions have been taken to fund this proposed budget. The first involves advancing $3.78 million dollars of unspent revenue from the 07-08 budget to fund the 08 – 09 budget. I have written previously about this State-imposed “deficit funding” model and the inherent danger that it presents, but suffice it to say these dollars offset the need to generate about six pennies of tax. That’s the good news. The bad news is that if a future budget is unable to produce such a year-end balance, significant program and personnel cuts would need to be made.

The second important action being taken involves the use of our Capital Reserve account for major maintenance needs. Approximately $500,000 will be taken from the Capital Reserve account to complete several projects such as replacing the HVAC system (first phase) at Crossroads South Middle School. By utilizing this account, the proposed budget is unencumbered with additional spending, but the needed repairs can completed.

As is done annually, every line item of the budget has been analyzed. The requests for budget additions have been limited to inflationary increases with no new programs being funded. Reductions have been made in areas of general supplies, hourly work, overtime and an administrative position has been eliminated.

2008 Budget Chart 4

2008 Budget Chart 4Problematic for the District is the fact that the Ratable Base (Chart #4) has decreased for the second time in the past four years. As you know, growth in the Ratable Base serves to reduce the need for new taxes. The Township has informed the District that Ratables have dropped $10 million. In simple terms, this means that the current operating budget (07-08) without any changes at all could not be supported in 08-09 without a 7/10 of a penny increase. In effect, .7 cents of this proposed budget tax increase is associated with the drop in ratables.

2008 Budget Chart 5

2008 Budget Chart 5Again, nobody wants to pay additional taxes. Here in South Brunswick, we have endeavored to build a first-class education system that meets the State mandate for a “thorough and efficient” approach. A glance at Chart #5 (NJ Cost Comparison Guide for 2007) reveals the status of South Brunswick’s per pupil spending when compared to the New Jersey averages. Perhaps more notable is the fact that our students are performing at historic levels. By every indicator, including State testing, SAT scores, National Merit qualifiers and Bloustein Scholars, South Brunswick students have never done better. We have much to be proud of in our students’ performance. While this performance doesn’t offset the need for a tax increase, I hope that every reader will view this budget as an investment in our students, our future and our community. I hope this information will assist your understanding of the proposed 08 – 09 school budget. As always, your support is greatly appreciated.

Let’s Talk

February 19th, 2008

I recently saw a cartoon that sought to capture a picture of a family dinner in this age of electronics. Mom and Dad were seated at the table with their two teenagers. The kids were wearing ear-pieces for their iPods and Mom and Dad both had Blue-tooth attachments in place. The adults were scrolling through E-mail on their Blackberrys and the kids were lip-synching songs. The first caption was in all capital letters and read, “SON, DON’T YELL AT THE TABLE.” The second caption responded, “But Dad, I ‘texted’ you to pass the potatoes.”

While this snapshot of the electronic age causes most of us to shudder, it rings true, in part, for some. The issue of communication has always been at the center of effective relationships, regardless of whether we are talking of personal ones or institutional ones. Actually, I believe that effective communication in a personal relationship is much easier to achieve than it is in institutional settings. With this thought in mind, I want to share some of the communication avenues that have been put in place to assist the community in its understanding of our School District.

First and foremost, each of the South Brunswick Schools has an active outreach through the Principal’s office. Frequent communications are sent home to parents through an electronic Friday Folder E-mail, hand-carried memos, PTO/PTA/Site Council flyers and First-class postal mailings. In addition, each school maintains an active Web site that provides news about building events and contact information regarding staff. The Principal’s newsletters provide another avenue for gleaning school news.

Most recently, the District has successfully completed a pilot and begun a project called Family Connect. This initiative provides parents of middle school and high school students with direct electronic access to their youngster’s academic progress (individual class grades) and attendance. As we monitor the use of this system, we have noted “high traffic” and tremendously positive parental feedback.

Another recently deployed communication tool is the District’s new Auto Dialer system. Through the use of this technology, we are able to contact parents at up to six different telephone numbers to advise them of school delays and emergency closings. This high-speed electronic tool can make thousands of calls in a matter of minutes. The expandable nature of this system will allow for many building-based uses. This system is in addition to our use of radio, television, and emergency E-mail to notify parents of emergency situations.

From a Board of Education level, two public meetings are conducted each month (except for July) that provide for public comment. These public comment opportunities allow for either immediate Board response or a promise to research the issue and provide a future answer. To enhance access to the larger community, Board meetings are televised on the locally-provided cable station (Channel 28). The District also uses it as an electronic bulletin board of upcoming events and as a means of re-broadcasting special school events. These special events are created by the District’s Viking Television Network (VTN), giving students valuable hands-on productionexperience while linking school activities to our community.

The Board of Education has sought to express the importance of community connection through the creation of several activities. Every August, the Board of Education receives recommendations for Goals in order to chart the District’s direction and focus of resources. Likewise, each June, the Board examines the outcomes of the Goal work to determine District progress. Both of these sessions occur at public meetings and are televised throughout the community.

The Education Summit is a Board-created event that is publicly held each February for the purpose of examining the State-of-the-District. The information that is presented at the Summit is posted on the District’s Web site so that the public can peruse the information with convenience. The program is designed to note District strengths and acknowledge District challenges.

Each year, the District adopts a budget after conducting several budget meetings and a hearing for Board approval. These forums are open to public participation.

Presently, the District is operating under the regulations developed around the Quality Assurance Annual Report (QAAR). This requirement is met at a public meeting each October, wherein the District shares testing results in response to Federal and State mandates. This presentation is provided to the community on VTN.

Obviously, this column is not exhaustive of the many ways the District communicates. The very forum for conveying this article,Spotlight on Schools, is published five times per year and mailed to the homes of all of our community members. We annually provide parent-teacher conferences, Back-to-School nights and special open house events. In addition, we participate in South Brunswick Township’s Community Unity Day and the South Brunswick Township Police Department’s “National Night Out” event.

I hope you find new avenues for communicating with the District that allow you to be more informed and to participate more fully in District initiatives. You can contact me by phone, mail, or E-mail.

Leaving no child behind in South Brunswick

December 6th, 2007

Each year, during the month of October, public schools in New Jersey share important information about performance with community members. This accountability practice is part of a New Jersey requirement known as the Quality Assurance Annual Report (QAAR). The Report is comprised of multiple areas, but for the focus of this column, I will limit my commentary to achievement measures.

Statewide testing of students in grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 11 in both literacy and mathematics occurs annually. Tied tightly to New Jersey’s Federally-approved No Child Left Behind (NCLB) State Plan, student results are analyzed by State-hired testing companies for adherence to the State regulations that support Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). It is at this point that the first draft of the performance reports is released to school districts.

As you can imagine, especially if you have a very creative imagination, the reports are fairly complex and require a great deal of insight about some unusual facets of statistical analysis. Just so that you don’t think I am overstating the case, a comprehensive understanding of the report requires insight regarding “bundling” of scores, reportable “N” or group sizes, the mixing of multiple elements for individual students and the qualification provisions of “safe harbor” to name but a few.

Armed with these understandings, we are able to report that seven (7) of our ten (10) schools met each of the forty-one (41) required elements. By doing so, each of these schools are regarded as having met AYP. Our three (3) remaining schools each met forty (40) of the forty-one (41) Stateestablished elements. Greenbrook Elementary School fell short of meeting the literacy element for “students with disabilities.” Crossroads North Middle School fell short of meeting the mathematics element for “students with disabilities.” South Brunswick High School fell short of meeting the mathematics element for “students with disabilities.” In each of these instances, the schools in question met 97.5% of the State-required elements. Unfortunately, under the guidelines of NCLB, these three schools have failed to meet AYP.

No Child Left Behind, Chart 1

Moving from the “look” at each school, the data on the correlating charts illustrates the District’s spring 2007 results by grade level. Chart #1 reveals the percent of all our third, fourth and fifth grade students that were recognized as “proficient” or “advanced proficient” in literacy and mathematics. The State minimum expected level of performance for 2007 for literacy was 75% (and will be 82% for 2008). The State minimum expected level of performance for 2007 for mathematics was 62% (and will be 73% for 2008). In the aggregate, the number of South Brunswick third, fourth and fifth grade students scoring in the proficient and advanced proficient category far exceeded the minimum State performance level.

No Child Left Behind, Chart 2

As illustrated on Chart #2, the performance data of our sixth, seventh and eighth grade students in the content areas of literacy and mathematics for 2007 also exceeds State minimum expected levels of performance (literacy expected level 66%; math expected level 49%). In similar fashion, our grade 11 results (see Chart #3), when compared to State minimum expected levels of performance (literacy expected level 79%; math expected level 64%) reveal results well beyond State expectations.

No Child Left Behind, Chart 3

By way of comparison to State expectations, South Brunswick students, in the aggregate, perform very effectively on State-created exams. It needs to be noted here that the expectation/requirement of NCLB’s dictate that by 2014 all public schools must have all students (100%) performing at the proficient or advanced proficient level is completely unrealistic Presently, Congress is entertaining proposals for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that drives the No Child Left Behind initiative. Much attention is being focused on the issues that have been created by the law. As is so typical of the political process, those who created the law are offering a staunch defense for maintaining the status quo.

To be more specific, members of Congress need to balance several concerns. First of all, accountability is central to assisting organizations and individuals in the attainment of high levels of achievement. But it is important to understand that the “end all and be all” of accountability is far more than a standardized test score. If we are to truly prepare our students for success in a global society, we need to develop their sense of creativity and instill a curious nature that seeks to understand the unknown.

Our least able students, those who struggle with disabilities, are expected to perform to the same levels of achievement on the same paper and pencil tests in the same time frame as their non-disabled peers. To even the casual onlooker, this is an obvious flaw in the law. Making it all the more obvious to educators is the reality that federal legislators have created laws (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act [IDEA]) that serve to protect the individual educational interests of disabled students but then, seemingly forget these “special needs” in the construction of NCLB.

While there is a laundry list of issues that have been raised with legislators about the reauthorization of NCLB and its continuing punitive treatment of public schools, it is important for the South Brunswick community to know that we welcome accountability but hope that it is fairly designed and implemented in a positive manner that truly assists students and schools in achieving at the highest levels possible.

As always, your support is greatly appreciated. Should you wish to discuss this issue or any other, please contact me.