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Bored of Education

You probably are, too, but you still need to vote.

I have been waging an internal battle with the Moorestown Education Association all year, and frankly, I’ve had enough. As we approach another school budget election with still no teacher’s contract in sight, I am wondering how many people will vote AGAINST the 2011-12 school budget because they’re tired of the quagmire we’ve been slogging through since last fall.

To be fair, it is not all the teachers’ fault. If you’ve never taught, and I would say that the majority of those reading this have not, you have no idea how difficult it is to teach in the 21st century. Our educators are not just responsible for teaching the three R’s: reading, (w)riting and (a)rithmetic. They are also teaching manners, dealing with bullies, divorce, custody issues, learning disabilities and parents who think their little darlings could never be wrong or misbehave. How exhausting to have to focus on territory that used to be the responsibility of parents? I have the greatest of respect for educators, but I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that I am thrilled to be ending my affair with the public schools of Moorestown, because the "average" teachers have far outnumbered the wonderful teachers. There! I’ve said what most of you have been grousing about for years. If anyone knows a good bodyguard, give him my phone number.

The education system in our country is flawed. Just ask David Guggenheim, whose recent film Waiting for Superman explores all of public education’s failings, including the hot topic of tenure. Here’s a horrific statistic for you, culled from the state of Illinois: one in 57 doctors was dismissed for a poor performance evaluation, one in 97 lawyers was fired for incompetency, yet only one in 2,500 teachers was dismissed for inadequacy! Why are bad teachers protected by tenure and allowed to continue pretending to teach while other incompetent professionals are let go?

Moorestonians are proud of their schools. We are constantly told that good schools keep property values high. So the lack of a teacher’s contract this year is a bit like a black eye; a very embarrassing shiner that we wish we could cover with a pair of Ray-Bans and forget about. But here comes that pesky school budget, as it does every spring, and some people in town are having trouble separating the teacher contract issue with the Board of Education’s 2011-12 budget.

This has been the year of minimal decorations in the classroom, of teachers wearing black on Back-to-School night and on other occasions, the red MEA T-shirts of solidarity. Taylor and I attended our final Back-to-School night last fall. As we were walking into the high school, we passed several expensive sedans with signs that read “Respect and Fairness.” I had left my baseball bat at home, which is a good thing because instead of feeling sympathy for the teachers, I actually wanted to club their Beemers; leave them my own special sign.

So many of us have lost jobs, are working without raises or are paying dearly for basic health insurance. Our children are not oblivious to the negativity that has hung over this school year. It has impacted everyone in this town.

So, this murky, dark cloud hangs over us as we go to the polls next month. Many voters will be tempted to send a message to the BOE and the MEA by voting down the budget because they are so weary of the yearlong fight we’ve been embroiled in. Many of us whose children are going on to college and leaving the school system will think it’s not our battle anymore. Our children may be moving on to higher education, but we stay behind and must vote yes or no.

Take a look at the proposed school budget and you’ll see that in this economy, everyone loses. Last year’s huge hit of over $3 million dollars is still being felt. Couple that with declining student enrollment and a weak ratable base, and we’re looking at huge cuts and more taxes. Ain’t it grand to live in New Jersey where the taxes are high and the livin’ is easy? Tell that to the 31 full-time employees who will lose their jobs as part of the 2011-12 budget…if it passes.

This is happening in "Moorestowns" all over the country. These are very difficult times that we’re living through but as flawed as our educational system is, it is all we’ve got and we have to support it until we can change it. That is the key.

We are fortunate to live in a country where we can voice our opinions and change things. Last year, the pre-first program was going to be cut. Many parents spoke out about its value and the program was reinstated. It is back on the block again. Want to save it? Speak up! Get involved!

I realize that I’ve been all over the educational map with this column, when what I’m really trying to say is that regardless of how we feel about the MEA, our seriously flawed educational system and the outrageous taxes that increase every year while the quality of our services decreases, it is still important to vote.

I don’t usually dabble in public service announcements. I am also not a professional meeting go-er. But every once in a while, it’s important to crawl out from under my desk and see what people are proposing, and how those proposals will affect me.

Cross your toes and fingers and let’s hope that the MEA and the BOE can come to an agreement. Let’s also hope that Santa Claus will bring me everything that I’ve asked for in December, including world peace and a house at the beach.

mommyvalor March 29, 2011 at 06:32 PM
I too am tired of it. And frankly, I'm going to vote for the budget and give my money to the schools. Like most people, I have a limited amount of money, but if it means paying more for schools so my kids can get a better education then I will do it. Other issues like better fields, a park, the library or even town hall I'd have to pass for now. I wished I had enough money to give to every fundraiser or charity that comes my way but I can't. I have reset my priorities, realistic about what I can and cannot have or offer to my family, friends, or neighbors. Everything in this world is flawed, ourselves included. But life goes on and we do the best we can, hoping that what we've done makes this world a little bit better. Peace.
CM March 29, 2011 at 07:06 PM
First I do have to say that I think you grossly overstepped the line when mentioning the cars that were in the parking lot. You simply assumed that each teacher is single and overpaid in order to afford those cars, as opposed to, considering two income households, second jobs, teachers who tutor or coach, or work in some other capacity bring in extra income because they may be underpaid. Second, while I also have family members in the education system and am a long time resident of Moorestown, I do think a hard look needs to be taken at tenure and the role that the union plays in retaining teachers. I also believe that in this day and age, teachers should not be sheltered from the same "rules" that apply to business (such as contributing to health costs, performance based raises, etc.) . But if you are so tired of the struggle between the MEA and the board, why vote down the budget? That gives all the power to the Board to eliminate more positions and tighten the belt on the remaining teaching staff in terms of programs and offerings for all those additional "responsibilities" they now have. Why not approve the budget, keep the cuts of 31 (although tragic in itself), and have the Board work within that framework to make sure that the children receive what is perceived as a Moorestown education. One other small note: enrollment is actually increasing in Moorestown...not decreasing.
Elizabeth March 29, 2011 at 07:38 PM
Please tell us where you got that information about enrollment increasing. I've been to every BOE meeting and all three presentations and at every one of them, we've been told enrollment is going down. Of the 31 positions that are slated to be eliminated, about 14 of them are teachers, and at least three are due to declining enrollment, according to the BOEs presentation.
Open space Mtown March 29, 2011 at 08:47 PM
Enrollment will drop up to 20% in the next 10 years I heard one of the boe members say. Let's plan on moving k-4 back to elementary, 5+6 to ues, and so on. It will perhaps go back to enrollment of the 80's. There are families that stay for the schools and when they graduate MHS, they're gone! The town population will decrease barring any major COAH like developments. Let's buy more open space! Let's talk to those who own big tracts and preserve!
Tired of it! March 29, 2011 at 09:04 PM
It has gone up this year actually....
Open space Mtown March 29, 2011 at 09:10 PM
Oh by the way, if or when the school budget were to get voted down, then the town council would discuss and vote on cuts, then finalized by boe.
Tired of it! March 29, 2011 at 09:12 PM
How about the actions of the BOE? Why was it not it mentioned how they are cutting more teachers , so classes sizes will go up yet they want to buy new carpeting. Don't you thin that this whole thing is about politics? And did they disclose that if the budget fails 30 plus more positions will go. You get what you pay for people. You passed the budget last year and they still fired people. Twenty eight students in some homerooms already. I will vote for the budget!
Open space Mtown March 29, 2011 at 09:31 PM
Not to get into Marty and tired of it verbal exchange but is tired of it a member of the mea? She seems too proud to vote yes for this budget? Is she in the minority Marty? How is the outlook on the school budget overall?
Shirley March 29, 2011 at 09:53 PM
Unfortunately, until the MEA is willing to compromise, cuts are inevitable. Where is their concern over their own colleagues? They keep on talking about positions being cut and class sizes increasing, but they don't want to or are unwilling to bring something to the table. In this current economic climate. everyone has had to make cuts, increasing property taxes , ever soaring healthcare, gasoline, in a at best, stagnat economy. P.S. Enough about the carpet.
Moorestonian March 29, 2011 at 10:16 PM
Perhaps there needs to be a student's perspective on the situation. All in all, the general quality of education in Moorestown hasn't really ostensibly deteriorated as a result of extensive budget cuts. The teachers are in their classrooms doing their jobs just as well as they were five or ten years ago, at least to me. In fact, they're doing a hell of a job despite all of the worries they must be dealing with! It surely is not a great time to be a teacher in New Jersey under a governor who HATES public schools. If people voted for Chris Christie I assume that means they are dumb enough to vote no to the budgets. But if people are fed up with tax increases and the budget problem, they should just leave town. There don't seem to be any alternatives considering the financial circumstances. Whatever must be done to preserve Moorestown's schools must be done. An agreement must be reached. What really throws me, however, is how a school system is in such "dire straits" when a girl in class says, "Mommy says we don't shop at BJ's because it's for poor people." Um, excuse me? What's the problem here? You decide.
Elizabeth March 29, 2011 at 10:19 PM
First of all, if the budget fails, it goes to Council and they will decide how much must be cut and make reccomendations to the Board about what to cut, but the BOE is not bound by those reccomendations. They ARE bound by the number, but they will determine what goes and what stays. Don Mishler has said publicly that the Board has no plan B if the budget goes down, but I find that hard to believe. He has said repeatedly, that he will not disclose what programs might be on the chopping block should the budget fail because it could undermine the negotiations underway. As for the vote....I don't know anyone (who has declared a position) who is planning on voting for this budget if the contract is not settled first. Even among people who know that it will be worse if the budget goes down, there is a sentiment that a message must be sent and that the teachers and the Union leadership is out of touch. I personally have not decided. I don't know who to believe, and have said so many times, to both parties, both publicly and privately. I do think my child will suffer in some ways if the budget is defeated, but I also think Mtown schools are like private schools in many other places, and we are so used to all the wonderful programs that we think cutting any of them will be a tragedy.
Elizabeth March 29, 2011 at 10:23 PM
One other thought...and that is, that in no way should the type of car a teacher drives, or whether or not a teacher's spouse has a good income, enter into this debate. Teachers should be paid based on their job performance, and for now at least, on their contract terms. Whether or not someone has other income is irrelevant. I wouldn't want my income in any way based on what my husband's employment status is, and in fact, it's no one's business what other income teachers have. It's not legal to use that information in any business evaluation and it shouldn't be part of this debate, either.
MoorestownMom March 29, 2011 at 10:30 PM
I might still vote yes but I hope you are not a math teacher. See page 16 http://www.mtps.com/80093101010502/lib/80093101010502/_files/2011-12_Budget_Power_Point_web.pdf
mommyvalor March 29, 2011 at 11:02 PM
Moorestonian has made very good points and I can't agree more, especially about kids reflecting their parents' warped views. Scary.
Wegans March 29, 2011 at 11:13 PM
Perhaps you and others can pay more and save all of these things that you desire instead of telling those of us to leave town if we don't want to pay more in taxes. There are easy alternatives. Teachers can pay more for their benefits. Administrators can take pay freezes including Mr. Bach. The choice of the MEA is clear. Save our colleagues by sharing in the increased costs or watch each year as more and more people are fired. I thought the role of the union was to protect ALL members. What a scam.
Anonymous March 29, 2011 at 11:22 PM
I, too, am a student in the district--the high school, specifically. I agree that the quality of my education hasn't been deteriorating since this whole conflict began. It is, in fact, possible to learn without posters on the walls. Let me make it clear that I will support my teachers as they have supported me for my entire life in public schools. That said, there needs to be some kind of compromise. The MEA is holding on to beliefs that came from the pre-Great Recession economy. While the majority of teachers are hardworking and deserve our thanks. there needs to be a reality check. And if that check doesn't come soon, things will only get uglier down the road. I don't think, however, that the author should be attacking teachers over their cars. I mean, come on. Car-bashing is about as mature as egging someone's house, and I would hope that the author, being a good citizen and mother, is above that sort of pettiness.
Open space Mtown March 29, 2011 at 11:41 PM
Is that what you are assuming for the other issues in town? Like the if the rec fields in town aren't perfect then the parents are complaining until they are perfect regardless of where they make the town come up with the money? As if the fields some say are in good shape, lime Wesley bishop today? Or would you say that if town hall and library Aren't perfect new buildings rather than rehab the buildings, meaning not perfect then some citizens will complain forever until new buildings are built? I guess we here this on all fronts, is that the situation? BTW- Bj's is fine.
Ed March 30, 2011 at 11:43 AM
Tired of it. I respect that you have your opinions but many of us disagree with you. You don't offer up any alternatives. You complain about this and that. Your comments are not factual such as the one about enrollment. Please, be part of the solution. If the MEA would simply pay more for healthcare, not only could the grounds crew stay employed but so could more teachers and maybe the contract could be settled and the budget would pass. What you and others keep forgetting is everyone did pay more last year and we'll pay more this year. Stop ignoring that each year more of our money goes to the schools. The problem isn't the amount coming in, it's how it is spent going out. The only people who can fix that is the MEA.
Marsia Mason March 30, 2011 at 12:19 PM
The teachers have alienated the parents this year. Period. THAT was my point. The signs in the car windows did nothing to garner our support. Nothing. Also, I did not say how I was going to vote, nor would I ever presume to tell others how to vote. Just vote. As far as the enrollment increasing, my source said otherwise.
theresa soffronoff March 30, 2011 at 04:38 PM
While I don’t like the harsh tone of the conversation (and it comes from both sides of the issue) frustration is very high right now among parents in Moorestown. We continue to see staff cuts, fewer programs and yet higher taxes. I agree 100% that it is time for the NJEA and the MEA to re-evaluate their benefits and pension packages. Until there is some give on their part, we will be in the same boat year after year. While many are tempted to vote the budget down to send a message, the problem with that is that you are assuming the BOE or even Council has the power to make the teachers absorb those cuts…and this is NOT TRUE. Cutting the budget further is not the answer. We need to urge the MEA to come to the table with long-term solutions, and that can only be done via the contract. DON’T link the budget vote to the contract situation…huge mistake.
soon2bxnj March 30, 2011 at 04:58 PM
How many readers would like to be able to collect a pesnion in their 50s? Never have to worry about the pension running out or loosing value due to market conditions. How about cadillac health care for life, for free? How about working only 182 days a year, with some of those less than 8 hours. These and others are just some of the benefits separating the Educational workers from the private sector. The only way to continue these benefits and not go further in debt is to have those collecting them pay all of their real cost, or continue taking more and more from the taxpayers who will never get similar compensation. Since these benefits are way above those of the private sector they need to be scaled down to those of the private sector. Continuing on this path is not sustainable and should apply to all tax paid workers or we are all doomed.
Carla McIlmail March 30, 2011 at 05:57 PM
Well done Marsia! You have accomplished exactly what your column should do...opened up dialogue about what is going on here in Moorestown. As a teacher myself, I come to this discussion with mixed views. Why the BOE finds it acceptable to go to fact finding, a process that costs the Board approximately $10,000 for each fact finding session, money that should be going to the schools rather than settling a contract I can not understand. I did not vote to pass the school budget last year for the BOE to spend that much needed money going to fact finding because they are too set in their ideas to negotiate. Word throughout town is that a settlement was extremely close around December, but one BOE member shot it down....interesting that they are so free with our tax dollars to spend it because they can not spend the time to continue to negotiate.
Carla McIlmail March 30, 2011 at 05:59 PM
I really do not care if the teachers wear black or have signs in their cars. I am jealous that so many have nice cars and my husband and I work really hard to drive our older models. I choose teach in a district where teachers make no where near what teachers make in Moorestown. However, I can not support teachers who refuse to post grades on Genesis so that parents can keep track of how their children are doing. Fine for honors students or advanced placement students I guess...they can pretty much tell you what their grade is at any given time and what assignments they struggle with. Imagine being the parent of a student who struggles academically. Then, as a concerned parent who tries to stay on top of their struggling student, you go to Genesis and find only grades without posted assignments so we can figure out where things are going wrong. Then the teachers want our support while we watch the student struggle. Boy that sends the wrong message.
Elizabeth March 30, 2011 at 08:32 PM
Carla, I asked about the cost of fact finding at a BOE meeting two months ago, and was told by the BOE that it costs around $4,000 total. Lisa Trapani was there and confirmed that. I don't know where you got the $10,000 per session figure, but unless both sides lied on the record that night, you are mistaken. Unless you are talking about the professional negotiator they have hired, which is more costly, but it's not $10 grand a pop, that's for sure. I know, because Don Mishler and I almost came to blows over that piece of information, when it was left out of his answer to my question about the true cost of this whole thing. I also asked a BOE member about that rumor that they were close to a deal being done and then one of the Board members shot down and was told unequivically that it's not true. I was told that the offer the MEA put on the table was "laughable" and there was no way they were going to consider it. Regarding the Genesis thing....you are right on. We spend a lot of money in this district on things we don't take full advantage of, Genesis being one. (Another is the college planning software at the highschool, which is ridiculously under utilized and the enews system). I hope the new contract makes it mandatory that all teachers post all assignments and grades in a timely manner.
Carla McIlmail March 31, 2011 at 02:52 AM
I can tell you that our union did not have a contract and we were told by our negotiators that the fact finding would cost BOTH sides up to $10,000. Teacher's Union dues pay for their side. Taxpayers pay for the BOE. Good for you to ask the questions on record and I will again clarify the cost through our negotiations team. Once again, more misinformation between what teachers are saying and what the BOE is saying....teachers were told that they were very close to a settlement, and things were derailed by one BOE member. These things are so messy and the students seem to suffer the most. Beware of saying teachers only work 182 days a year...those words are uttered by those unaware of what teachers do every day. My work day never ends after 8 hours, Try 12 or more. I work weekends. I work summers preparing out of contracted hours. Try it before you judge it.
soon2bxnj March 31, 2011 at 12:44 PM
Give me a break! I have heard the same old story of teachers working 12 hours a day for years. Sure there are probably some teahcers that put in extra hours, but that is not the norm. And no, I have never been a teacher, but I am friends and a family member of many teachers and do not know any that work the hours you describe. I have also worked with 6 teachers who left their teaching job to work in the private sector. Each of these teachers returned to their teaching job when they realized that life in the private sector was a lot more demanding, took more of their time, did not offer any of the security or come close to the benefits provided by the Education system. I also get tired of the teachers constantly using the kids as a scapegoat for all of their demands.
Marsia Mason March 31, 2011 at 01:26 PM
Carla mcIlmail is the kind of teacher every child should have...totally committed, kind and an advocate for All of her students. Teaching is not a cake-walk. Most teachers work another job over the summer. My intent was NOT to trash educators, but to talk about the divisiveness of the school year, and to urge people to keep the contract issue separate from the need to vote. The system has to change.
3883 March 31, 2011 at 03:02 PM
I don't know if I'd call teaching a cake-walk but there must be something that keeps all of these unhappy, under appreciated protesting teachers from leaving and going to the private sector (where their education level can be truly appreciated & rewarded).....But wait, where can they work in the private sector for only 182 days a year, get 15+ days vacation, sick days, paid benefits, a pension and never have their raises/bonuses directly linked to job performance??? Must be awful to be a teacher.
Elizabeth March 31, 2011 at 03:25 PM
This teacher bashing MUST stop. The conversation is not being advanced by deciding that teachers are horrible and lazy. MOST teachers do it because it's important, they love it, and they get personal satisfaction from it. Yes, times have changed and the system has to change, too. And yes, many teachers are fighting the changes that are inevitable, but that doesn't make them bad teachers or lazy or greedy or anything else. If someone came along and tried to take my benefits away, I'd fight, too. This conversation should be about fiscal responsibility, not about bashing the hard working people who spend their days with our kids. I ask you all to stop. I value the hard work of our teachers, but I agree with our BOE that costs must be contained and teachers must contribute more to their benefit packages because the tax base isn't there.. I just wish we could all discuss this without calling people names and hiding behind screen names. It's awful.
3883 March 31, 2011 at 03:56 PM
No name calling here. Just the facts, if it's so awful go to the private sector and get a dose of reality.

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