Summary of Aug. 10, 2011 school board meeting

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lee fankhauser

Aug 12, 2011, 10:11:52 AM8/12/11
The school board met Aug. 10, 2011 and here are the highlights:

Dr. Golden discussed the changes to the state monitoring of school
districts, the acronym for which is QSAC, and how it is still a detailed
review of many indicators in the district, but a bit less onerous on the
administration than before and that, although the state has not formally
adopted the changes (due around January, 2012), districts have been
advised to start preparing for the new system, which is what our
administration is doing.  Review is every 3 years and we are due this
year so are preparing for new system.

Dr. Golden also discussed the issues raised by the elimination of 7
building level administration positions last year and the impact that
had on the provision of services to students, parents and staff as a

In a nutshell, it was a difficult year for the principals without the
assistance of a vice principal so Dr. Golden recommended a plan to
provide more support at the building level.  Essentially, each building
would have a principal and either a vice-principal/district-wide
supervisor (which was what we had before the reduction in force the year
before) or a lead teacher.  A lead teacher would be a seasoned teacher
from within the district who also possesses an administrator's
certificate, but who would not be working under his/her administrative
certificate, who would assist the principal in all matters except staff
evaluations and certain student disciplinary measures (eg, suspensions).

The board approved the creation of 5 new positions of lead teachers and
the idea is to hire from within for these positions (job description
being developed) and then hire new teachers to take the lead teachers'
positions in the classroom.  The lead teachers would earn an additional
approximately $2,000 stipend and the new teachers would be hired in on
the first step of the salary guides.  The positions would be funded
mostly through savings from recent retirements but an additional
$120,000 would need to be earmarked from the present budget to cover the
balance of the costs of this new configuration.  This would cover salary
and benefits of the new hires.  The board also approved the rehiring of
one substance awareness counselor (SAC) instead of 2.

I am attaching the organization charts that Dr. Golden referred to
during her presentation.  One shows the present configuration, the next
was the "no cost" option which Dr. Golden did not feel met the building
needs, as well as Model 2, the one discussed above and approved by the
board. This new configuration will be in place by Sept. as I understood
Dr. Golden's presentation.  Please refer any questions to Dr. Golden.

Mr. Sanasac, our school business administrator, reviewed the new
legislation regarding employee contributions toward their health
insurance  Previously, employees were required to contribute a minimum
of 1.5% of their salary toward health care (though a higher percentage
is a negotiable matter).  Now, there is a four year phase in where,
essentially, all must pay 1.5% of their salary in year 1, those with
single coverage pay 1.5 % and those with family coverage earning over
$50K pay a higher percentage based on the schedule set forth in the new
law and their salary at the time in year 2, in year 3, single coverage
employees making over $50K pay a percentage under the new law while
those making under $50K pay the 1.5% of salary and those getting family
coverage making over $30K pay a percentage under the new law.  Finally,
in year 4, pretty much everyone would be paying a percentage based on
the new law.

The bottom line is that there should be an increasing amount each year
that the employees are contributing toward their health coverage with
the greatest amount being about $1M in year 4.  That would be a savings
to the district each year equal to the amount the employees contribute.
The board's present philosophy on savings is to use them to maintain
flat property taxes or to reduce the tax burden and to use savings for
items that directly benefit the children (the "student centered" budget
philosophy that Pres. Tim O'Brien referred to throughout the meeting).

Mr. Isola, the principal of Middle School North, was appointed to the
vacancy created by Karen Jones' resignation of Asst. Super. of
Curriculum and Personnel.  No one was appointed to take his position as
principal of North but that should occur soon.

John Van Noy, Finance Chair, reported that the $1.003M that was returned
to us as State Aid is being earmarked for tax relief as part of the
2012-13 budget process.  Apparently, school boards were given several
options on how to deal with this money, one of which was to
recharacterize our tax levy for this year, reducing it by the $1.003M,
but that didn't occur because the board was unable to meet within the
timeframe given to approve that recharacterization.  Therefore, since
the purpose of the return of those monies to school districts was to
reduce property taxes, the board opted for the next best choice, and
that is to reduce the tax burden next year by applying this money to
general fund expenses and/or reducing our debt service.

Mr. Tim O'Brien reported that, after several meetings with the teachers'
union representatives for a new contract, the parties were unable to
reach an agreement.  Both sides agreed to declare an impasse and notify
the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) in Trenton of this and
ask that a mediator be appointed.

The board approved a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the Township for the
use of part of Southard for recreational services.  No details of the
MOA were shared and I believe it has to go to the township for approval
by the Council, at which time the MOA should become a public document
for any who wish to get a copy of it.

The Education Committee recommended and the board approved eliminating
two clubs that were underutilized by students in the past (International
Club and Science Club) and replacing them with newspaper and 1/2 year
cooking/1/2 year photography.  Also, student council and newspaper would
be returned to 5th grade.

Mrs. Brennan shared some comparative spending data from the Dept. of Ed.
regarding how much school districts spent on extra/co-curricular
programs.  Apparently, the state average spending in this area is about
1.5 of 1% of a district's budget, yet Howell spends about 1/2 to 3/4 of
1% for these programs.  Mrs. Brennan asked the board to approve a motion
directing the administration to look for ways to bring our spending on
these types of programs up to the state average for K-8 districts of
roughly 7,000 students (we have about 6,775 students as of June, 2011).

Surprisingly, there was considerable discussion about this motion, which
I understood to be simply expressing the board's policy that, as part of
a student-centered budget philosophy, the administration should look to
apply any savings (from retirements, on health care or through
negotiations) to programs that directly benefit the children,
specifically including increasing funding of extra/co-curricular
programs to the state average.  In the end, the board approved the
action 5 to 3, with Mr. Dowling, Mrs. Cerretani and Dr. Levine casting
the "No" votes and Mr. O'Brien, Mr. Van Noy, Mr. Miller, Mrs. Brennan
and Mrs. Smith supporting the action (Mr. Moscato was absent).

Those are the highlights.  Feel free to email me with any questions or
to contact the school board or administration directly.  I believe the
next school board meeting is Aug. 24, 2011 but please check the district
calendar to be sure.

Enjoy the rest of your summer.

Amy Fankhauser

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