A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Zero Increase Sought by 2009-2010 School Budget

I walked in about ten minutes late to the Matawan-Aberdeen School Board's committee of the whole meeting last night. Brian Farrell was in the middle of a Powerpoint presentation discussing the merits of Achievement 3000, a computerized reading program that the school district plans to introduce to Special Education classes next year. This supplemental material will be presented in thirty minute lab sessions twice a week, but the students can also use it at home. If it works out, the district can use the program for social studies, science, and health classes. Keansburg and Long Branch school districts have used it successfully for 4-5 years.

The proposed school budget is $62.25 million, with $58.4 million allocated for the General Fund, $1.33 million dedicated to special purposes, and $2.5 million to pay for previous bond issues. Tonight's speech by Governor Corzine will reveal the NJ state aid figures that go into the calculation, but the Dept of Education directed school districts to use last year's numbers to submit their budgets. Our district is submitting its budget today to the Monmouth County executive superintendent. You may wish to watch the governor's speech to see what he says about funding of the schools.

The proposed budget provides for curriculum and textbooks, technology upgrades, and the development of four in-house special education programs so students being taught out of district can be taught here. It maintains class size and all interscholastic athletics, clubs,and intramurals. It cuts costs by using cooperative purchasing and transportation, aggressive bidding, and control of benefits. It reduces staff size by 3% through retirements and attrition. It addresses our high administrative costs, bringing them down below state and regional average levels.

Many board members spoke to the public last night to encourage them to vote on 21 April 2009 when the budget is presented. They noted that class size and programs would be affected if the local governments slashed this budget, which already represents millions in cuts and is tightly constructed. In other words, get out and vote on 21 April.

Since there were no handouts, I encourage the board to post the Powerpoint slides online, both for the new reading program and the budget. In the future, it would be helpful to have handouts for the budget. Powerpoint software offers various formats for note pages which would allow multiple pages to appear on a single page with lines for notetaking on the side. Individual pie charts would have to be printed full size for readability.

The meeting began and ended with an unexpected flourish. A local member of the community put herself forward to fulfill the unexpired term on the board of Catherine Zavorskas, who resigned on 24 February. Reverend Gattis, who attended with an entourage of supporters, spoke just before I arrived. At the end of the meeting under New Business, President Patricia Demarest moved that the Reverend be admitted to the board. Members complained that they had not been notified in advance of the nomination and that the process didn't allow for other candidates to be put forward. The motion failed, but members encouraged Reverend Gattis to present herself if and when the board called for nominees to fill the unexpired term.

The President offended many members when she presented her motion as a way to show that the board was there for the children and not just to play the divisive political games of adults. The Reverend's supporters may have objected to her treatment, but presenting her nomination in that way was clearly the partisan act of a lame-duck administration and had no chance of passage last night.

BTW, in reference to the Reverend's brief candidacy, Mr. Barbato clearly said it would be nice to have a representative from "that part of town." I wrote it down when he said it because it struck me as a biased remark. No doubt he couldn't believe he'd said it because no one wants to say such things; they just come out of our mouths. All the more reason to have minorities on the board, to sensitize members to such things.

It was good to see African-Americans outnumber whites in the audience last night, but that was clearly an exceptional occasion and for a special purpose. I don't expect they'll be back on any sort of regular basis. Attendance at board meetings can be as low as three interested parties, so all elements of society are shirking their civic responsibility to watch over how a small group of people spend over $60 million a year of public funds. Everyone in the community should strive to attend public meetings, just like voting. All the more if they feel they're not adequately represented in some way.


  1. I sincerely hope that Mr. Barbato meant a representative of the Cliffwood area, not "the poor side" or "the black side".

  2. Mr. Gambino reacted negatively to Mr. Barbato's comments for the latter's suggestion that there are 'parts of town" to be represented on the board of education. Mr. Gambino stressed that he represents the whole school district, not some part of town or another. In the Reverend's case, I viewed her as bringing diversity to the board as an African-American who happened to live in Cliffwood. Since the board isn't representative in nature, I expected she would serve in part as a sentinel for the interests of the district's minorities wherever they live and as a reminder to board members of things that aren't white.