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LWV Guide: Teaneck School Board Candidates

The candidates for Teaneck's Board of Education respond to questions ranging from test scores to outsourcing.

The following guide was provided by the League of Women Voters of Teaneck and is published in full below:

 

Our voters' guide questionnaire and letter of invitation to the Candidates' Night, co-sponsored by LWV Teaneck and Teaneck Council of Parents & Teachers, was sent by mail to each of the candidates for Teaneck Board of Education on September 11th.  In addition to asking them about their Teaneck residency, occupation, education, family & community involvement, we asked each candidate to answer the following questions and to limit answers to a total of 500 words or less:

 

  1. 1.     1.  Identify the three most pressing issues facing our public schools in the next three years, and identify 2 or 3 specific implementable suggestions for which you would advocate within the boundaries of the existing budget.
  2. 2.     Since we have a 2% tax cap, do you think it is possible to reduce spending by the public schools without having an adverse effect on instructional programs?  What spending reductions or increases do you suggest and what impact might they have on students and taxpayers?
  3. 3.     In the past, those serving as trustees have demonstrated a familiarity with the public school system: its programs, curriculum and its history. Summarize your knowledge of the school district and what have you done to prepare to serve on the BOE.

 

The candidates’ responses follow unedited and in the order received:

David Gruber, 4 Myron Court, Teaneck

Years residing in Teaneck:  20 years

Occupation:   Director of Research at Alvarez and Marsal, a global consulting firm based in NY. Formerly, Vice President at J&J Consumer and Bristol Myers Health Care Group and a Senior Equity Research Analyst on Wall Street.

Education:  Graduate of Jamaica High School (1977), CCNY - Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education (1981), Mt. Sinai School of Medicine (1983), Columbia University School of Business (1986); Kellogg Foundation National Fellow (1990-1993)

Family:  Married to Ellen x 26 years. Four children: Ben, age 22 and graduate of McGill University; Alison, aged 19 and student at University of Maryland Honors College; Jesse, age 19 and student at Cornell University; and Max, age 15 and student at Frisch High School

Community Involvement:  Co-founder of Teaneck CAUSES http://teaneckcauses.com/, a website dedicated to increasing BOE transparency; and former Board member and head of Strategic Planning Committee of Congregation Netivot Shalom

 

 

1.   A.  TTEA contract negotiations. The Teaneck BOE budget for FY12-13 is $93.6 or $22,659 per pupil (assuming 4,130 students). Teacher salaries and benefits account for the majority of spending.  According to the NJ Comparative Effectiveness Guide, Teaneck teachers are the fourth highest paid in NJ, whereas its Special Education personnel are the highest. The prior contract provided raises of 4.5% per annum; and guaranteed automatic pay increases irrespective of performance.

 

      B. Bifurcated student performance. A need exists to raise expectations, and establish measurable longer-term performance goals. According to NJ Monthly, THS ranks 126 of 328 high schools in NJ, and had a combined average SAT score of 1390. An opportunity exists to benchmark best-in-class performance within NJ District Factor Groups as well as outside the State.

 

      C. Accountability for student performance. (1) Bad teachers are being protected by the TTEA via tenure, very expensive grievance procedures and last-in, first out seniority rules. There is NO pay-for-performance. The best "master" teachers should be paid bonuses. Teacher evaluation criteria require transparency. (2)  Declining relative math performance on NJASK tests with grade advancement; inadequate baseline measures of language proficiency implying the need for early intervention (3) Inadequate parental engagement, particularly for under-performing students

 

2.  Absolutely. According to the NJ Comparative Effectiveness Guide, Teaneck spends only $0.58 of every $1.00 on classroom instruction. Opportunities exist to re-allocate funding from non-classroom activities to the classroom.

 

Teaneck needs to eliminate the unused sick pay benefit of $15,000. It also needs to recognize that generous employee compensation policies and contract terms are not sustainable. 

 

Teaneck needs fewer school administrators. Also, opportunities for outsourcing are evident in specific areas. For example, school nurses earn 30-40%+ more than a critical care nurse in a hospital who works 250 days per year (vs. 180 in the school year).

 

Teaneck spends $1.8 million for busing 300 special education and/or disabled students -- $6,000 per student. We can also better leverage our highly regarded special education programs by having fewer tuition paying students. 

 

Teaneck should also explore the use of adjunctive technology to facilitate virtual learning.

 

Despite the budget cuts of 2010-11, the average class size is 16-21 students -- all within suggested guideline and far smaller than NYC.  

 

Cost savings opportunities are sufficient to re-allocate additional monies to the classroom, in particular early-childhood education and remedial math. We need to support our students early in their academic careers.

 

 

3.   I am the co-founder of Teaneck CAUSES http://teaneckcauses.com/, and as a result have familiarity of public school financials, its academic performance and other aspects of the system.

 

I grew up in NYC, and am a graduate of Jamaica High School. My family has a heritage in education as my mother retired as a teacher and my brother is currently a high school math teacher in Elizabeth NJ. He has been recognized for teaching excellence.

 

My academic and professional experience, combined with a three-year Kellogg Foundation National Fellowship dedicated to generating public sector leadership reflects an ability to enhance the educational experience of Teaneck residents.

 

 

 

Sarah Rappoport, 787 Mildred Street

Years residing in Teaneck:  26 ½ years

Occupation:   Stay At Home Mom

Education:   BA in American Civilization from Brown University (1977):  MBA in Marketing and Finance from Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management (1982

Family:  Husband, Dan; Daughter, Rivka (THS ’11, currently a student at Columbia University) and Son, Isaac (THS ’13)  

Community Involvement:

  • Since 2010, Co-chair, Teaneck 2020, Inc., a non-profit organization following town events and advocating for causes:

-successfully campaigned for the schools’ budget as part of the

   Our Kids/Our Future coalition

-conducted town-wide meetings on a wide range of local topics 

  • 2011/12 school year, served on THS committee applying for Middle States’ Accreditation and as Secretary of the PTSO.

 

 

1.   The three most pressing issues facing Teaneck’s Public Schools today are; the need to improve NJASK and HSPA scores (with more of our students testing proficient or advanced proficient), economic pressure to minimize property taxes (and hence the BOE Budget) and parental involvement within our schools. 

 

Happily, the district is already pursuing activities to improve test scores, from initiatives targeting administrator/faculty mentoring and more informed classroom instruction to formalizing faculty/parent contact.  While these initiatives are well conceived, it will take several years for their full impact on student achievement to be realized.

 

The current Board of Education has an excellent record of minimizing costs, with 0 increase budgets for the past two years following a $6.1 million cut.   We must continue fiscal responsibility.  Partnerships with local businesses to fund and staff internships and career day programs and use of the Internet to increase the efficiency of family communication and augment individualized instruction opportunities are both good examples of initiatives currently underway.

 

Finally, I am convinced that increased parental involvement could help every aspect of the schools’ functioning.  It is generally accepted that parental involvement can greatly improve academic achievement.  By being the liaison to community businesses, parents can also help to secure the partnerships mentioned above.     

 

2.   The Board and the District have managed costs carefully, submitting zero-increase budgets for two years in a row following a $6.1 million budget cut.  This will become increasingly difficult as utility and fuel costs rise at a level higher than 2%.  Partnerships with local businesses to provide services to our students, increased pursuit of grant monies (similar to the one recently received to implement a new teacher evaluation protocol) and creative funding of programs like the ESIP (the program initiated last year which allows us to make much needed capital improvements to our buildings while funding bond payments out of the energy cost savings) will all go a long way to maximizing the benefits of taxpayer dollars to our students. 

 

In the end it is important to remember that, in the words of Derek Curtis Bok, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” 

 

3.  My husband and I have always taken pride in Teaneck’s history as the first school district to voluntarily integrate, and the resulting diversity of the town.  At Teaneck High School, our children not only received top-notch educations, with wonderful teachers and a vibrant, well-rounded curriculum, but also gained a devotion to their community and a true appreciation of cultural diversity, which will always inform and enrich their lives.  This inspired me to run for the Board of Education.

Over the past two years, I have deepened my understanding of the school system and the community by serving on the committee of Educators, Administrators and Parents who completed the application for accreditation from the Middle States Board, by attending the three Strategic Planning Sessions conducted by the Board of Education last winter and by serving as Secretary of the PTSO at Teaneck High School last year.

 

 

Dr. David Diuguid, 103 Johnson Avenue

Years residing in Teaneck: 22 years

Occupation: Physician, College of Physicians & Surgeons of Columbia University.

Education: BA, 1975 – Harvard College; MD, 1979 – Cornell University Medical College

Family: Married to Caryn; 2 children – Jillian, 24 (THS '06, University of Pennsylvania, '10) and Danielle, 23 (THS'07, Williams College, '11). Both were K-12 students of the Teaneck Public Schools

Community Involvement:    

  • Trustee, Board of Education – 9 years; 1 year as Vice President, 2006-2007,

Current chair of Policy and Negotiations Committees

  • Coached both TJSL league and travel team indoor and outdoor soccer for 10 years.
  • Member of Temple Emeth

 

  1.

  1. Finances – The 2% cap is ultimately unworkable – Rising benefit costs will eat up most of this, before any increases in overhead or salaries.  We have cut our costs in multiple areas, including the cost of energy, the cost of supplies, and where possible, the cost of personnel; however, at some point in the near future we will either have sell the  public on the importance of increasing spending to a greater extent than 2%, or we will have to make some difficult decisions RE: personnel, with definite negative impact on school climate and potentially on class size.

 

  1. Parental involvement (or lack or same) – It continues to be difficult to recruit parents to invest time and energy into their children’s education, whether in conjunction with their teachers or for extracurricular activities.  This greatly hampers the school’s ability to convey the depth and breadth of knowledge necessary for our children to succeed in our changing economy.

 

  1. Student test scores - Ultimately, we need to improve the state test scores of our students at all levels.  While I am not a great believer in standardized tests as a measure of a district's educational success, the fact remains that this is how our district is judged versus other districts.  We need to work with all of our demographic groups to raise the level of everyone to proficient on these exams. 

In addition, we need to increase the number reaching advanced proficient levels

in all of our demographic groups.  We have put programs in place to measure the

level of student achievement in real time, and also to assess the deficiencies in

student's knowledge base, so these deficits can be addressed promptly.

 

2.  We need to explore any and all ways to decrease spending, especially in areas not directly related to student achievement.  We have put into place an energy savings improvement plan, paid for by estimated reductions in energy costs in a variety of areas.  We have also put into place a power purchase agreement that will reduce the cost of electricity by at least 40% for the electricity generated by the system.  We offer shared classes with Bergen Community College and Fairleigh Dickinson to provide certain classes for our students that we can't provide.  We need to look into sharing certain undersubscribed classes with surrounding districts, to ensure that we can offer access to enough students to make it viable, and we also need to investigate distance learning opportunities for classes such as AP and world languages that are traditionally undersubscribed

 

3.  As a Board trustee for the last 9 years, as a member of the Community Relations Committee and the Finance Committee, and as head of the Policy Committee, the Curriculum Committee, and the Negotiations Committee at various times, I have been intimately involved with all of the decisions, and the responses to all of the crises that have involved the District for the past 9 years.

 

 

 

Gervonn Romney-Rice, 89 Bogert Street

Years residing in Teaneck:  Lifelong resident of Teaneck

Occupation: Self Sufficiency Counselor for Shelter Our Sisters, Inc.

Education:  Teaneck High School graduate; BA in Commerce from Rider University

Family:  Married to Willie; 3 sons, one in middle school, one freshman at THS, and one THS ‘11 graduate who is a sophomore at Bergen Community College

Community Involvement:  Board of Education member for 6 years, Vice President 2010- present; Member of Special Parents of Teaneck (SPOT); Board member for Teaneck Comes Together (TCT)/ Co-Founding member of the Teaneck Black Alumni Association; Member of Jack and Jill of America, Inc.; Member of NAACP;  THS Freshman Football Team Booster; Member of THS PTO; Past Executive Board member of Special Education Parents Advocacy Group (SEPAG);  Past co-President Bryant School; Past Co-President PTO Council; Past member of the Township Historic Preservation Committee

 

1.

a) The home/school/community partnership.

Strengthening this creates a solid base of support placing all stakeholders vested in the student’s success the same page.  This base can engage students in their own academic achievement.   Increasing the level of expectation for all has set the bar high.

The district has become more focused on student learning rather than just teaching.  New teacher evaluation tools will be able to insure that learning is indeed taking place.  We are still challenged with demographic subgroups that are underperforming and must continue to focus on this.

 

b) Preparing students with a strong foundation insuring preparedness for the 21st century.

Shifts in our economy make it challenging for educators to prepare students today for career opportunities available in the future. But we must.  Building STEM opportunities will be important as well as staying closely aware of the skill set students will need to be ready for the new opportunities technology creates.

 

c)Finances- the challenge “to do more with less” is ever present. 

Seeking additional streams of revenue will be increasingly important.

While the district does take advantage of grants, the area of education foundations must be maximized.  For example, Continuing Education could be transformed into a revenue enterprise. There are untapped resources in human capital here in Teaneck and alumni members that could be sought after to give back.

 

2.   In recent years, the district has reduced spending in many areas and should continue to do so.  After having a $6.1 million budget cut we managed to have flat spending the two years hence.  We have a Solar Energy Project taking place to save on energy cost and are constantly seeking revenue opportunities.  Fixed expenses with their increasing cost make it very challenging to reduce spending further without having an adverse effect on the student.   Being a taxpayer myself, I am very conscious of the impact on the taxpayer especially during this current economic climate. But in the days ahead it will be very hard to remain within the 2% cap.

 

3.    As a THS graduate, BOE trustee for 6 years and parent of children in our district, I am well acquainted and knowledgeable of it.  It is very important to demonstrate this familiarity not only to hold accountability and make informed decisions but to also share this knowledge with our community. There are few things more exciting then entering Bryant school to read to kindergartens during Read Across America and sensing the exciting energy of eager learners. Or when our students present their work and demonstrate what they have learned during our curriculum fairs.  At THS Back to School Night recently, I was very impressed to see the evolution of the Freshman Orientation program.  It demonstrated Board, Administration, Teacher and Student input that I was very proud of.   While metrics and stats are vital, I am encouraged and motivated to continue to serve on the board by the climate of learning demonstrated in the schools.

 

 

Shelley Worrell, 85 Bogert Street

Years residing in Teaneck: 45 years

Occupation:   Financial Aid Administrator

Education:   BS Business Administration, Northeastern University 1985

                    MBA, Northeastern University 1987

Family:   Daughter: Taylor; Significant Other: Glenn

Community Involvement:

* Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.-Iota Epsilon Omega Chapter,

* Teaneck Terpsichoreans (Volunteer Executive Manager)

* Terpsy Alumni Association

* Teaneck High School Black Alumni Association

* 2011-2012 PTO Council Co-Chair

* 2008-2011 PTO Co-President BF Middle School

* 2007-2008 PTO Treasurer BF Middle School

* Participated in Strategic Planning Sessions

* BOE Community Relations Committee

 

1.    The three most pressing issues facing our public schools in the next three years are; the lack of community involvement, the achievement gap and budgetary constraints.

 

The lack of community (parents, alumni, retirees and businesses) involvement is an extremely serious issue.  Parent engagement has been regarded as critical to students’ success in school.  The four entities listed above possess a wealth of resources from which our students could benefit.  Reaching out to these entities and establish relationships would cost pennies in comparison to the value of the resources the district would receive in return.

 

The achievement gap, a third issue, has been continuously addressed by the Board.  I would advocate for the continuation of grant-funded enrichment programs as well as a continued emphasis on the importance of honors and AP courses. Together, these measures will allow for more students from all demographics to learn to the best of their ability and to become proficient or advanced proficient in all subject areas.

 

Budget constraints and the impact of the $6.1 million will continue to plague the Teaneck Public Schools for years to come. Multiple streams of revenue including untapped community (parents, alumni, retirees and businesses) resources must be researched and secured along with other cost saving programs similar to the Solar Energy Project.

 

2.    I feel that it would be impossible to reduce spending without it having a negative effect on the instructional programs. Personnel salaries alone will eventually surpass the 2% cap forcing cuts in other areas. The Board must continue come up with other cost savings programs.  In-kind programs and resources that can be donated by community members, local businesses and local organizations are imperative.

 

3.  As a life-long resident of Teaneck and a product of the Teaneck Public School System, I’ve always felt compelled to give back to Teaneck, but more importantly to give back to the Teaneck Public School System.  

For the past 11 years I’ve been an active PTO parent and have held several offices.  During this time, I’ve had the opportunity to assist with the coordination of several programs including College Night for Middle School Students, multiple honor roll programs.  Each of these programs allowed me to see first- hand how eager and capable our students are when it comes to learning.

I also had the opportunity to meet and learn from Board Members, several Superintendents of Schools, and school administrators.  These relationships allowed me to grasp a better understanding about the inner-workings of the school system and the Board of Education. 

zizi October 22, 2012 at 05:51 PM
The budget crises is a direct result of 4 percent raises for teachers..... across the board. Let us stop the pay raises for at least next 10 years for all except the ones who can demonstrate exceptional measurable results since Teaneck teachers make a lot more than their peers. I am sure most of the residents are not getting any raises. It is really absurd if we continue to give these raises out.

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