Can you do Board of Ed. “math”?

The only people in the audience at the April 27, 2009 Clinton Township Board of Education (BOE) meeting were Council President (and school liaison) Steve Krommenhoek, Hunterdon Democrat reporter Curtis Leeds, and two residents.

You were not there. Do you know what the BOE is doing? If you do, then you are better at Board of Ed. math than I am. So let’s test you. We’ll try two different kinds of problems to increase your chances of a passing grade.

(This would be an open book test, but there’s nothing for you to refer to — the BOE does not record its meetings and put them online like the Township Council does, so there’s nothing for you to listen to. The most recent BOE meeting minutes available online are from January 12, 2009 — so there are no notes to check. As always, you’re on your own.)

PROBLEM #1: Which number is bigger?
Read the following information carefully. (Hey, turn off the iPod… pay attention.)

A. The BOE hired a new Business Administrator (BA). At her last job, the BA was earning $91,000. The BOE gave her a 19% raise at $108,000. As part of her employment, the BOE assigned the BA to perform certain administrative duties for Lebanon Boro schools as well. (This is called shared services.) The BOE charges Lebanon around $20,000 for those services. The BOE gives $17,000 of that revenue to the BA as extra salary. The BA’s salary is now $125,000, or a 37% raise. (You weren’t at the meeting, nor was I, but this is how the BOE explained it. If someone misunderstood, I don’t want any flak from the BOE until it publishes an audio record of its proceedings online. Sorry, guys, but if you can afford to give a $34,000 raise to someone making $91,000, you can afford to buy simple recording equipment. Nah-nah — don’t tell me you’d rather spend our tax dollars “on the kids.”)

B. Let’s pretend the BOE instead hires the same BA for a 10% raise at $100,000, and assigns her to perform work for Lebanon in exchange for a $20,000 shared-services fee. The BOE keeps all the revenue from Lebanon.

Since you may not be experienced with BOE Math, we’ll help you set up the possible solutions to this problem. First, here it is using BOE Math:

$108,000  BA Salary (with 19% raise) — Cost to Township taxpayers
$  17,000  BA Extra Salary (aka, The Lebanon Bonus) paid by Lebanon
  Into the BA’s pocket

Now we’ll approach this using Household Math, which your employer probably uses, too:

  $100,000  BA Salary (with 10% raise) — goes into the BA’s pocket
-$  20,000  Revenue from Lebanon (retained by BOE) — savings to Clinton Township taxpayers
$    80,000
  Cost to Clinton Township taxpayers for a $91,000 BA (the benefit of shared services)

(Smart test-takers will realize there’s possibly an additional $3,000 savings to taxpayers in the BOE Math option, since the BOE is keeping a few bucks of the Lebanon fee. The BOE has not divulged how much Lebanon is paying. Last year it was $20,000. But no matter how much it is, we know for sure that $17,000 is not going back to taxpayers.)

(TIP #1: The municipality of Clinton Township provides shared services to Lebanon, too: building inspections done by CT’s building code officials. CT has booked over $130,000 in shared services revenues. CT keeps all the money, which offsets salaries rather than padding them. The CT code officials are not paid an extra dime to do the Lebanon work.)

(TIP #2: South Bound Brook School District gave our new BA, Patricia Leonhardt, a 4.6% raise last year — from $87,000 to $91,000. See line 3136 on the NJ Dept. of Education spreadsheet, column G. Consult your child’s math teacher about why our BOE is giving administrators 37% raises.)

Finally, we get to the question. Which number is bigger? $108,000 or $80,000?

Bonus Project, worth extra points and tax savings: Attend the next BOE meeting and ask them to explain BOE Math. If you don’t understand why an administrator should get a 37% raise while our teachers get about 4%, join the children who scored Partially Proficient in the NJ ASK test. Then set aside a few extra tax dollars to pay the new BA’s raise. Then apply the BOE’s rationale to higher taxes: It’s only the price of one pizza dinner for the family every month!

PROBLEM #2: Does the level of teacher experience correlate with student performance?
This problem requires multiple data sets. Read carefully and put your thinking caps on. Here are the facts for you to consider:

A. Turnover among Clinton Township’s teachers is high compared to other schools. At CTMS it’s more than twice the state average. At Spruce Run it’s more then three times the state average. The only school in which turnover has dropped is Patrick McGaheran (but it’s still higher than the state average). Click here to view the data. But to do this problem, you must first figure out whether high turnover means that the teachers we retain have less experience, overall. Remember: Always do your homework! According to reports based on NJ Department of Education data, our district ranks 27th in Hunterdon County (out of 30 districts) for teacher experience: 7.82 years in CTSD versus 10.19 in the county. The high is Lambertville, where teachers average 18.50 years. There are only four Hunterdon schools with teachers whose average experience is lower than ours: Califon, Glen Gardner, and two county schools — VoTech and the Educational Services Commission. Statewide, our district ranks 537th out of 591 districts for teacher experience. (I gave you just the last two pages of that report — it’s 39 pages long. Why waste paper? Last year our teachers were begging parents for classroom supplies while half a million bucks were sitting unspent in the budget.)

B. Our school district’s test scores remain about average compared to our District Factor Group, or DFG (similar districts) and show little change. But in more than half the test categories, the percentage of our children scoring in the Advanced range is lower than comparable towns. Look up the data. (Select a school at top right on the page, then check the box for Staff Information to view faculty mobility, and Student Performance to view test score data.)

Put on your thinking cap now, and look at the numbers. Do the math. Here’s the question rephrased for clarity: Are we blowing it in the Advanced category because we have high teacher turnover and lower teacher experience?

Bonus Question: Could the BOE improve test scores and improve the hiring and retention of good teachers, by taking the $34,000 raise it gave to the $91,000 BA and instead apply it to education? (You know — “spend it on the kids.”)

PROBLEM #3: The Wimpie Challenge
I love how school math is made fun by using cartoon references. Here we go. Popeye’s chubby, always-hungry buddy Wimpie says, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today!” If you were Wimpie, and you were hungry for a $96,000 hamburger today, would you be willing to pay Popeye back on that loan… with 8.75% interest? (That’s in real dollars, not spinach.)

Let’s rephrase the problem — maybe you don’t like hamburgers. According to our BOE, Governor John Corzine reduced school aid to our district by $96,000. But he’s offered to let the district defer payments into the pension system by an equal amount — to be repaid in the future with 8.75% interest. Would you take that deal to replenish $96,000 in a $24 million budget?

Last week our BOE voted to pay 8.75% tomorrow for a hamburger today. Oops, I gave you the answer. But I’ll offer you an extra credit question:

How many buddies could you round up in an hour to book a $96,000 loan to the BOE for a guaranteed 8.75% return? (See? If only you showed up at last week’s BOE meeting. It could have paid off better than your 401(k).)

And now, a couple of science questions. No textbooks necessary.

SCIENCE PROBLEM #1: The Smell Test
The BA hired by the BOE, Patricia Leonhardt, serves on the DelVal BOE. Take a few seconds to process that because this is becoming incestuous (that’s not a math term). Leonhardt is also employed as a BA by the South Bound Brook BOE. Leonhardt voted to hire CTSD’s former BA, Daria Wasserbach, as the new DelVal BA last November.

When asked by The Democrat about the fact that Leonhardt voted to hire Wasserbach, then took Wasserbach’s position, CTSD BOE president Jim Dincuff said: “It’s a coincidence.”

Now circle one: This passes the smell test.  TRUE   FALSE

SCIENCE PROBLEM #2: Another Smell Test
Does The Lebanon Bonus — paying shared services revenue to administrators as extra salary rather than using it to offset salary costs to taxpayers — pass the smell test? (HINT: If you attended BOE meetings last year, you know that board member Mark Kaplan gave the answer.)

Now circle one: This passes the smell test.  TRUE   FALSE

(Score yourself on that one. Last year Kaplan said the Lebanon Bonus did not seem to pass the smell test and the BOE’s practice should be reviewed.)

Guessing is a good strategy: Will the BOE spend 37% more to improve education in the classroom when it negotiates teacher salaries again this year? Don’t forget: The BOE has another shared services deal with Lebanon Boro. We educate Lebanon’s children in 7th and 8th grades. Our teachers do extra work to educate extra kids — for which the BOE receives about $10,000 per child from Lebanon.

If we value teachers as much as administrators, then the BOE oughta give most of that revenue to the teachers as extra salary, right?

Okay, put your pencils down. Your head probably hurts. But look on the bright side. That pizza dinner is just more calories… and your head would hurt a lot more if you actually attended the next BOE meeting. (Alternative: Attend the Township Council meeting when the Council reviews and decides what to do about the rejected CTSD budget.)

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