Know Your Issues
Over the course of the campaign some questions have been consistently asked and by parents and residents. These questions have ranged from classroom size to the budget process. Our position statements follow.
Mosier, Opitz, Peng & Connors on Fiscal Responsibility and Transparency in the Budgeting Process:
The district budget is in the public domain. A summary of the $103 million dollar budget can be found in the May 2013 issue of "Know Your Schools," which was mailed to Piscataway residents and available on the district web site. You can also examine a summary of the budget online at www.piscatawaychools.org or call 732-572-2289 x 2520 to review a full copy.
The district has done more with less. Piscataway continues to be underfunded by the State. The State aid formula, recalculated by the New Jersey Commissioner of Education, entitles Piscataway to $46 million; the district only received $15.5 million, or 33% of its "Fair Share." Overall, the district remains under funded resulting in an undue tax burden for local residents. Despite this under funding, we looked for ways to help maintain our educational programs and extracurricular activities, and strengthen academic and support services. Our fiscal solvency is credited to our creative cost-savings in the areas of self-insurance( saved $4.5 million over the past 5 years), energy efficiency (saved $700,000 in the past 5 years), special education (saved $4.5 million in past 5 years), and enterprise ventures ($475,000 in Tuition in a one year period). These measures have kept us afloat and saved taxpayers millions of dollars.
WE - the Mosier, Opitz, Peng, and Connors team bring years of knowledge so that the team can make the best decision for all children of Piscataway!
Mosier, Opitz, Peng & Connors on Communications:
Open communication builds a strong foundation for Piscataway Schools. To that end, we have worked to foster open lines of communication through meetings, written and web-based communications as well as the global-connect system as we strive to provide as much information as possible to the community. The “Know Your Schools” newsletter, not printed at taxpayer expense, offers a detailed explanation of items of interest to both parents and residents.
We seek input in the form of focus groups and committees made up of community members. This was particularly positive in the recent superintendent search. We look to involve the community and hope that residents will join the various board committees and participate in our school system.
Our process is transparent and open for all. The full budget is available for all to review at the administration building and summaries and highlights are on the website. Meetings are recorded and the minutes are posted online. We hold many meetings and special outreach activities surrounding our school budget in the hopes that all taxpayers will come out to see how we are doing more with less and will become involved because when we all contribute a little, we all achieve a lot.
Mosier, Opitz, Peng & Connors on Raising the Standards embodied in our District’s Mission Statement:
Striving to be the best should be the goal of every district and we are no exception. We have the Gifted and Talented Program, which offers enhanced curriculum, options to high achieving students. We have recently launched Project Lead the Way, an integrated math and engineering program. We have expanded class offerings in the high school including 17 AP courses and 19 honours courses. More students are taking more AP courses and doing better on AP exams than in previous years. To better prepare students for the SAT exams, all students take PSATs beginning in their freshman year at no cost.
However, we should not let what is best for our students take a back seat to better numbers so we look more favorable in district comparison ratings. For example, we have returned educating special needs students’ in-district so that they can be educated closer to home, and in some cases, in their homes. It is better for the students and their families and has saved the district $4.5 million over six years. While this has had no impact on the education and achievements of other students, including special needs students in our census has lowered the performance metrics of our district.
Mosier, Opitz, Peng and Connors on Class Sizes:
We believe class size is an important issue and one that has many implications on the district. While we do not support putting a number to the class size policy (we will explain that shortly), we do feel strongly that class sizes should be kept as low as possible and we work with that goal in mind.
During the 2011-2012 school year, the Board became aware of a spike in enrollment, specifically in the 2nd grade at Knollwood Elementary school. Unfortunately, a single class spiked to 28 students. There were other classes with only 25 students, so we offered to move one or two of the children out of the class with 28. The parents of that class rejected that offer. Therefore, we added a classroom aid into the class to provide additional support to the teacher and students. We also monitored the classroom and were pleased to report that there was no increase in behavioural referrals and the achievement scores were some of the highest in the district.
For the 2012-2013 school year, the Board instructed the Superintendent to take an active role in managing class sizes to 25 or less in all of the elementary schools, and to advise the Board as soon as it appeared that we would exceed that threshold. In an effort to manage class sizes, some students who transferred into the district or to a new school late in the summer, were reassigned to another elementary school. While this is not an ideal situation either, we will again monitor the impact of this disruption and work to get these children back to their regularly assigned schools in the future.
Creating a class size policy, that places an arbitrary maximum limit on the number of students allowed in a classroom, restricts the Board's options when it comes to dealing with temporary spikes in enrollment. If, for example, we have a policy that says 25 is the maximum in a 2nd grade class, what do we do when we get the 26th student? Do we find a new classroom for one student? Who teaches that class? What other impacts are there on other facility amenities, based on additional classroom space (restrooms, cafeteria space, gymnasium space, etc.)? Placing a number on a policy does not solve the problem. Nor does placing a number on a policy provide options to effectively manage class sizes, both in the near and long term.
We have regular reports from the district demographer to monitor trends and anticipate the future classroom space needs. We may have to build more class space, or lease temporary classrooms, or find alternate ways to balance the number of students. However, we do not think it is prudent to ask the taxpayers to fund multi-million dollar expansion plans without exploring all of the possible options to manage our class sizes.
To Mosier, Opitz, Peng and Connors, managing class sizes takes more than a magical number in a policy, or a poorly timed expansion plan. It takes thoughtful, fact-based analysis of the trends and prudent planning to ensure we maximize every penny spent by the district.