Bloomfield BoE’s Proposed Cuts Anger Parents

BY  |  Thursday, Apr 12, 2012 7:00am  |  COMMENTS (9)

Anger is running high among parents of students at Oak View Elementary School in Bloomfield over the township’s school board and its proposed spending and staff cuts for the 2012-13 school year budget.  The cuts are expected to adversely affect all of the elementary schools in the district and severely compromise their world language programs, as well as a program for academically talented (AT, or “gifted”) children . . . and attempt to use computers to fill the gap.  Oak View parents, especially Oak View Home and School Association (HSA) president Laura Heyman, are particularly concerned.

“It’s a mistake to think that, because of computers, better learning is taking place,” Heyman told Barista Kids, who spoke for herself and not for the entire Oak View community.  She said that there should be a higher standard for teaching than to just have children “pressing buttons in the classroom.”

The Bloomfield school board is trying to do more with only a little more money.  The 2012-13 budget includes a 1.77 percent increase in spending, with an average tax increase of $244 per household.  Many Bloomfield residents feel they are being taxed enough already, and the modestly increased spending is more about keeping up than moving ahead.  Bloomfield schools get 71 percent of its funding from local taxes, and the school board has admitted that state aid has been underfunded by $16 million over the last three years even as ratables have been decreasing.   With Bloomfield already ranked second lowest out of 105 New Jersey districts in money  spent per pupil and with the district at $3,658 below the state’s per-pupil spending average, Heyman fears that the school board is setting up a Hobson’s choice between teachers and technology.

The $90 million budget presented by the Bloomfield Board of Education on March 27, which is up for a vote in the April 17 school board elections, calls for the elimination of eleven teachers.  All four world language teachers in the elementary schools and one elementary AT teacher would be dismissed.  The world language programs for upper elementary school students would be replaced by Rosetta Stone programs, a strategy Bloomfield School Superintendent Jason Bing says is gaining favor in other districts.  Bing believes that this strategy will not only save money but will also offer a wider choice of languages.

Lisa Milbrand is one of many Oak View parents who is unconvinced.  She thinks that the variety of languages offered by Rosetta Stone is irrelevant when it comes to continuing the study of specific languages in high school.  “Say they only have world language teachers in high school that can instruct in Spanish and French, but not in Mandarin, and your child chooses Mandarin from Rosetta Stone,” Milbrand explains. “They may develop a bit of an ear for the language, but won’t be able to continue that instruction on the high school level, where it’s live teachers in lieu of computer programs.”

Meanwhile, the school board is planning to reduce its staff of elementary AT teachers from two to one, calculating a student-teacher ratio of 1:15 and saving approximately $100,000. Renzulli software – a program described as a sophisticated variant of Google – would be used to allow gifted elementary students to find subject matter that interests them.  But while this gambit may aim at efficiency, it sounds like a bad idea to Heyman, herself the mother of a gifted student.  She feels that the AT program would be compromised by one remaining elementary AT teacher with a heavier workload, which would be both unfair to the teacher and the students.  She’s even more afraid of what could happen if the budget doesn’t pass – the elimination of the AT program altogether.  Currently, the AT program allows gifted students to learn in a special environment, and they meet at Bloomfield High School every month to meet and talk with each other as well.  A program like this allows them to learn at their own pace and find acceptance among their peers.

“If the budget doesn’t pass, then the program could be gone,” she says.  “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

That said, Heyman supports Bing’s efforts to maintain quality standards and inject energy into the learning process.  But she remains skeptical of the increasing reliance on computers.

“I’m not a huge fan of technology for teaching world languages and AT students,” says Heyman.  She notes that students in world language and AT classes benefit from discussion and exchange of ideas in an interactive, interdependent fashion, an advantage computers can’t replicate.

Superintendent Bing defends the greater use of computers.  “This is a flat world due to technology,” he says, referring to Tom Friedman’s book about the leveling of the world economy through globalization.  “Our students need to learn to operate in this new global economy; the use of technology does not make void critical thinking.  These kids take in, process and store information much differently than we do, so we need to address this in our classrooms.” Bing makes the case that technology can be an added value that, when combined and balanced with other teaching methods, can level the playing field for Bloomfield students and put them on par with others.

Ultimately, though, for all of the benefits technology produces, many Oak View parents would obviously prefer to see computers supplement, rather than replace, teachers.  But it’s unlikely to get better for Oak View or any Bloomfield school until and unless the $16 million deficiency in state funding is addressed.

“The state has admitted that they have underfunded Bloomfield schools since the new funding formula was developed by an estimated $16-plus million,” Bing says.  “It makes developing and balancing a fair budget [for] taxpayers and students very difficult.”

Bing is urging the community to contact their representatives in Trenton to address the issue, and school board president Mary Shaughnessy has already gone to the state over the issue,  but Milbrand hopes that the rest of the board steps up such efforts, for the good of the children.

“This is really, I think, the biggest issue . . . that we have been apparently underfunded to the tune of $16 million,” Milbrand says. “Our teachers are the lowest paid in the state, and our school is among the lowest in expenditures per student. I can tell you without doubt that the taxes I pay to the state and local levels are not at the lowest levels in the state, and I feel that more of the money that I’m contributing should be spent on my daughters’ education.”

9 Comments

  1. POSTED BY rukiddingme  |  April 12, 2012 @ 8:48 am

    Bing needs to really check in with the other districts that have switched to Rosetta Stone for language instruction. It may be gaining favor because it is cheaper than paying a teacher, but it is not an effective tool for use in school. Montclair switched to it last year and from what I hear they have had nothing but problems with it. It is software that designed for use by a single user in a home setting, not for multiple users in a noisy classroom setting.

  2. POSTED BY bebopgun  |  April 12, 2012 @ 10:26 am

    Most parents in Bloomfield are concerned about the cuts. The question is what can we do about them. It’s time to propose solutions. Bloomfield needs more concerned citizens working on solutions at all levels of its governance.

    One solution to the cuts are to raise taxes $500. I’d be all for it. Perhaps our taxes are too low for the kind of education we want to provide for our kids.

  3. POSTED BY hf12  |  April 12, 2012 @ 10:59 am

    A lot of this article is new (and disturbing) information to me. I didn’t know that Bloomfield was at the bottom in per-student-spending. does anyone know why this is? as it says in the article, it sure isn’t b/c our taxes are significantly lower than other towns, especially if you live in Oakview or Brookdale.

    also, i’m somewhat confused by the emphasis on oakview in this article. are there specific parts of the budget/issue that target Oakview in a different way than the other schools in the township?

  4. POSTED BY State Street Pete  |  April 12, 2012 @ 11:08 am

    I’m beyond concerned and seriously considering whether Bloomfield is still the place I want to raise my kids.

    It’s a nasty spiral. The schools are already underfunded, but we’re stuck paying for the Mayor’s follies. I understand folks are fed up with rising taxes, but if we continue to cut teachers and let the schools decline, new families will not come to Bloomfield. That will put everybody’s property value in the tank.

  5. POSTED BY bebopgun  |  April 12, 2012 @ 1:18 pm

    There was a budget presentation at Oak View which is where the reporter was, I assume. Mr Bing & Mr Derdarian have been making the rounds at all the Bloomfield schools ahead of the budget/BOE election next Tuesday.

    The ‘underfunding’ is from the state formula that dictates a portion of our state income taxes get put to Abbott districts of which Bloomfield is not apart. Bloomfield used to get a bigger piece of the state income tax pie but that has been cut though the state admits Bloomfield is due the money.

    The town also lost a significant amount of ratables last year, which means even though taxes are up, overal spending for the school system is not much higher.

    Bloomfield’s in a tight situation. The town spends about $2k less per student than Montclair and about $10k less than Newark. Some of it’s the mayor’s fault but hey you get the government you choose in a democracy.

    For more on the budget, please check out the school district website. It’ll have more info.

  6. POSTED BY not a jersey girl  |  April 12, 2012 @ 9:24 pm

    So the state admits that Bloomfield has been shorted $16 million, now what? Should we assume the check is in the mail?

    I think we as a community of concerned parents and Bloomfield residents need to be a bit more proactive. Perhap a letter writing campaign? And someone must have a friend/sibling/former colleague at the Star Ledger that could get this problem some real press.

    This is a problem that needs immediate and dramatic action.

    I love where I live and the people in my little community, but I also worry that my days here are numbered.

  7. POSTED BY mackelvis  |  April 13, 2012 @ 11:06 am

    A number of parents of Oak View students have already started writing the various town/county/state officials but the ‘formal’ campaign is just starting. A form letter, that is intended to be used to send to said officials, is being written up and will be sent out to anyone, here in Bloomfield or in the other towns across Essex County that have been underfunded as well, interested in joining the effort.

    The current BOE has asked us to not do anything until after Tuesday’s elections. I personally am not sure why we need to wait, but I was not involved in the discussion so I am not qualified to comment on the reasoning behind it.

  8. POSTED BY mshaughnessy  |  April 14, 2012 @ 11:24 am

    It’s encouraging to see so many parents interested in joining the fight to demand the funding we are owed by the state. At last week’s Oak View meeting, I didn’t mean to imply that parents shouldn’t contact their legislators on their own time schedule, I indicated that after we get the election and budget approval behind us, we will have the time and focused energy to launch a coordinated approach. So far I have been working solo with a wonderful group called Save our Schools New Jersey: http://www.saveourschoolsnj.org/

    Here is one of several efforts I have joined with them: The article includes contact numbers for our district legislators for those who wish to get a jump on this initiative:

    http://bloomfield.patch.com/articles/op-ed-help-fight-for-bloomfield-s-fair-share-of-educational-funding#photo-9309691

    But now is definitely time to put together a more coordinated lobbying effort that includes Bloomfield BOE, staff, parents and other community members in association with other districts. We have to push back on the state’s efforts to withhold aid to public schools so they can divert public money into voucher programs and charters schools, which have no better record of success in educating students than public schools. (just google christie and charter schools and vouchers (aka the optimistically named opportunity scholarship act) to see the direction we are being pushed in.

    I have to ask Gov. Christie, why are we in such a rush to get to this:

    http://www.mn2020.org/assets/uploads/article/False_Choices_2012.pdf

    http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2011/12/herald-investigation-into-charter-school-cozy-connections-taxpayer-paid-profits-.html

    http://www.irpumn.org/website/projects/index.php?strWebAction=project_detail&intProjectID=57

    http://www.nassp.org/Content.aspx?topic=The_Charter_School_Spin_Factor

    http://www.minnpost.com/community-sketchbook/2012/02/twin-cities-charter-schools-fail-deliver-promised-gains-study-claims

    http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2012/03/three_charter_school_treasurer.html

    NO TO PUBLIC MONEY FOR SCHOOLS RUN BY PROFIT-MAKING ENTITIES

    Like the rest of you, I am a parent volunteer and must learn on the job on how to coordinate a large-scale lobbying efforts. I’ll keep you all posted as that effort grows. Thankfully, my running mate Dan Anderson, a retired Bloomfield teacher, has an equal passion for launching this project and he has connections that will be very helpful.

  9. POSTED BY State Street Pete  |  May 03, 2012 @ 4:20 pm

    Today Christie rolled out his voucher proposal. While Christie is in the State House funding for public schools will only suffer. He has surrounded himself with people that are working to defund public education and push students towards profit based education.

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