Manchester Board of Education President Donald Webster sent the following letter to Gov. Chris Christie in response to a correspondence sent by the governor prior to school elections in April. Webster addresses tenure reform, teacher evaluation and Manchester's limited state aid.
Webster said that he has not yet received a response to the letter. Attempts to schedule a meeting with Christie, in conjunction with Township Council President Craig Wallis, to discuss the district's state aid have not yet been successful, Webster said.
Dear Governor Christie:
My name is Donald Webster, Jr. and I am the newly elected President of the Manchester Township, Ocean County, and NJ Board of Education. I am writing in response to your letter dated April 20, 2011 to our former Board President Mary Walter concerning your proposed education reforms. While I agree with a number of your proposed education reforms, I do not support all of your proposals nor do I believe that some of them are workable as written.
I do agree that the current tenure system needs to be reformed and I favor the approach outlined by the New Jersey Schools Boards Association. I also agree with your idea of implementing a multiple measured statewide evaluation system. I support your position related to tenure charge compensation issues.
However, I do not agree that reforming teacher compensation to a merit based system is an effective means of raising student performance. Multiple national studies have shown that offering additional merit based compensation to teachers does not improve teacher performance or student outcomes. It just enriches certain staff that learns how to game the merit pay system.
I am also concerned about the use of the current state testing system as a basis for evaluating teacher performance. The current state tests are poorly designed in my opinion, and they neither provide districts with a true picture of where our students stand academically nor do they give us information as to where they are deficient. Attempting to use the current/similar tests to evaluate teacher performance seems to me to be unreliable and unworkable.
While I agree that moving bad teachers around a district is not an appropriate solution, I do not agree with your mutual consent proposal. Aren’t we really talking here about dismissing tenured staff for poor performance? Shouldn’t we reform the tenure process and streamline the dismissal process and then do the right thing by requiring districts to pursue dismissal charges against poor performing teachers? Otherwise, aren’t we really just pushing poor performing staff off to other unsuspecting districts and not really addressing the root of the problem? We should also acknowledge that there are some valid reasons for transferring staff and these options should be available to the district, even if the staff member disagrees, if it improves instruction for our students.
With respect to opting out of the Civil Service System, I can understand the frustration of dealing with the current system. However, allowing schools and municipalities to opt out does not automatically assure that we will save money and solve all our problems.
In my opinion, good, honest leadership is the key to reducing costs and helping to insure that our schools and municipalities are well run. I can attest to this having lived here in Manchester during the largest municipal theft scandal in state history during the 1990s.
You may be also aware that our community continues to bear the brunt of an unfair state-aid funding formula that penalizes our children and citizens. While our State Senator, Chris Connors, has been supportive, we have never been able to correct the obvious flaw in the school funding formula that penalizes our community.
Although we are classified as a District Factor Group B district with three Title 1 schools and over 25 percent of our students participating in the free or reduced school lunch program, we receive less than 10 percent of our budget funding from state sources. This leaves local residents responsible for 82 percent of the cost of educating our students.
Most “B” districts receive at least 50 percent or more of their budgets in state funding. However, due to our large senior citizen population here in Manchester we are penalized severely. Given that most of our residents are living on fixed incomes and are done raising their children, getting the approval necessary for the resources our disadvantaged and disabled student needs has become a constant battle. This has been made even more difficult by the current funding formula and the constant barrage of unfounded state mandates coming out of Trenton.
What we need most to reduce costs and provide the resources needed for our diverse student population here in Manchester is to re-impose last best offer for collective bargaining agreements, provide real tenure/dismissal reform, create a more equitable state aid funding formula that recognizes the unique challenges presented to districts with high numbers of senior citizens, and stop the constant barrage of unfunded administrative mandates from Trenton that do nothing to enhance student performance and achievement.
We also need to look seriously at the antiquated legal requirement that districts that live within all the state spending guidelines for public education have to hold costly annual elections to approve local school budgets. No other public entity (municipal, county, state, federal) is required to do this. Only a handful of states require school budget votes. I can’t imagine how our government would ever operate if all government budgets were subject to public votes. The time has finally arrived to reform the school budget approval process!
Thank you providing us with the opportunity to address your education reform proposals. My board and I would be happy to discuss these matters further with you at your convenience. We would also welcome the opportunity for you to visit our schools to see why we have become one of the least costly, most efficient and high performing public school districts in the State of New Jersey.