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Letter: Is the Board of Education Bored of Education?

"There has never been a better time than now, to ask the Westfield Board of Education, are you bored of education?" says Westfield resident.

On May 1, 2012, the BOE made mention of their desire to have a Lit Turf Field installed at Westfield High School, replacing the existing natural grass field. On May 15th, they voted unanimously in favor without informing taxpayers on the issue. Please keep in mind Westfield already has turf fields - Kehler, Houlihan and Sid Fey (the latter are lit).

Even harder to swallow, than a hushed unanimous vote to spend $3.3M on a lit turf field, the BOE then voted to bundle the lit turf field bond, a luxury, with a bond for much-needed roof repairs on our schools, which is a clear necessity for the safety of our children and the school staff. Thus, taking away our freedom to choose how our tax dollars are spent, and hiding a luxury behind a necessity.

An article in the August 24, 2012 issue of New Jersey Monthly titled, “The Top New Jersey High Schools”– showed that Westfield High School ranked #49 in 2012. We were # 41 in 2010. We took an 8-point dip in two years.  Additionally, a friend moved to Westfield in 1999, and said that at the time, Westfield High School was ranked in the top 10 High Schools in the state. We are now looking at #49. What happened?  

Rather than spending taxpayer dollars to replace a perfectly fine grass field with lit turf, it would seem more prudent to spend the money on academics (technology), etc. so we can begin taking steps toward getting our school ranking back up.

There are many other things that the BOE could spend taxpayer dollars on to improve what goes on inside the school for the students and faculty, rather than an unnecessary lit turf field. No matter what school your child goes to, I’m certain that if you took a few minutes to think about it, you could come up with 3-5 ways to improve our schools using the $3.3M the BOE proposes to spend on the installation of the lit turf field.

Some things we thought about: Constructing new classrooms for the schools that are experiencing growth in student population. Hire more teachers to reduce classroom size. Improve technology used in the schools. Update the very seriously outdated (Edison excluded) and “gross” (quote from an elementary school student) bathrooms that our children have no other choice but to use. Add some sort of air-cooling system so the students and teachers are not subjected to the extreme heat in the spring/summer, while trying to concentrate and learn.  Provide schools with their own librarians, art teachers and music teachers.  Remove the activity fee that was instated last year for arts, music and sports, which we parents are burdened with above and beyond our taxes. While not all are “capital projects,” this list could go on.

The elementary schools are having bake sales and numerous fundraisers every year to raise money to buy/install things such as SmartBoards in the classrooms, just so we can get our children beyond chalk & board and keep them slightly relevant with technology. 

Something to think about, and we fully understand that the Westfield Fire Department is drawn from a different fund - the WFD’s entire budget is $3.5M, (and there’s a freeze on raises and hiring staff). The WFD budget is about the same as the “installation” cost of the lit turf field!

How can the BOE, in good conscience, justify this lit turf luxury?

The BOE has not sufficiently addressed concerns on the maintenance cost of the field over the course of its life, plus the maintenance cost of the seven 80 ft. light poles, the bleacher seating for 800 people, new brick fence to surround the field, etc. Not to mention the cost for disposal of a turf field when replacement is needed. We did a quick search on turf field disposal and found that when artificial turf (in-fill systems) needs renovating every 8-10 years, there is a hidden cost of disposal. Because the field is filled and top-dressed with a crumb rubber material (typically made from ground automobile tires), the material may require special disposal. Disposal costs are estimated at $130,000 plus transportation and landfill charges. 

These are among many concerns that the BOE should address before spending our tax dollars. After all, Westfield taxpayers will be burdened with the expense and inconvenience of this lit turf field from the moment it is installed.

The field will be installed in an already crowded and overburdened residential neighborhood, which houses a high school, parochial school, churches, armory activities, as well as commuter parking. How much more congestion can our streets handle?

When asked by local residents during a meeting a couple of months ago, “if you would be happy about having an 80 ft. light pole in your back yard,” the BOE President Rich Mattessich admitted, “I would not be happy about it”. But he can put seven in essentially the back yards of 30 houses, plus surrounding residential blocks, not to mention the spillage beyond! For perspective, Houlihan & Sid Fey fields light poles stand at 60 ft. So, whether you live right next-door, the next block over or further, you’ll more than likely see the seven proposed 80 ft. light poles. 

Sandra Mamary, the Supervisor of Athletics at Westfield High School, mentioned that the students were very excited about the lit turf field.  Just a couple of questions:

  • Which students were happy, the athletes, or all of the students? Is everyone thrilled that so much emphasis (and money) is being placed on sports rather than education?
  • Were ANY dangers of turf fields clearly outlined? Just a few we’ve read about:
    • Increased concussions
    • ACL injuries
    • Staph infections
    • Dangerously high temperatures (90 degree day = 110-120 degree turf field). We understand from the BOE meeting on 8/28/12 that the heat dangers will affect kids mostly from the waist down, and that from the waist up, they should be ok. So, half of their body may over-heat while the other half is... er, ok?! Is that supposed to make us feel better? 
    • Turf toe and ankle sprains
    • Please take a moment to watch this video discussing “Artificial Fields - Bacteria Dangers” - www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQvj3F2Zg6k
    • Please Google “Turf Field Dangers” for more detail

If the dangers of a turf field weren’t clearly outlined, isn’t it important to do so before you ask students to have gym class and play afterschool sports on it?

In the end, the bundling of the two bond referendums, one for a LUXURY - the lit turf field, and the other for a NECESSITY - school roof repairs, considerably undermines the taxpayers/voters in Westfield, and removes from us our ability to choose what is important to us. 

Please let’s not lose control of our taxpayer dollars to the BOE. We strongly encourage everyone to join us in voting NO to the bundled bond referendum on Monday, September 24th.  

Kerry Jean & Michael Murphy – Westfield, NJ 

Jeff F September 04, 2012 at 09:27 PM
I live right down the street from the high school, and thus I DO have a horse in the race. I found the "Bored of Education" letter to be well thought out, clearly explained, and saw no stones being thrown. Just because the BOE has a dedication to the cause of education (which is not being questioned), it does not mean that they have a grasp of the financial implications, or the difference between "nice to have" and "need to have". I'll be voting no.
Joe September 04, 2012 at 09:52 PM
I agree with you about the two bonds being put together. That just does not seem logical. However, I do want to comment on the NJ Monthly article. I would take the ranking with a grain of salt. If you look at the Westfield Report Card (which seems to be the only reliable thing because they just give straight up facts), it seems Westfield is anywhere from #10 - #20 in pretty much every statistical category (especially achievement). I don't see what categories we lost so badly in to fall to the 40's for NJ Monthly. I agree on most of your points, but I figured I would put that one out there because that ranking just does not make sense.
Westfieldishome September 04, 2012 at 09:56 PM
Natalie- How would you have ANY idea if the authors of the article volunteer at school? How can you say a lit turf field is "best" for thousands of students? What are you talking about? Don't you think what is best for thousands of students includes a better education, not a $3.3mm turf field? When your tax dollars get spent on a ridiculous luxury, I'll then care about your opinion defending or disagreeing with the author but until then I would keep your opinion where it belongs- in Scotch Plains.
PaPaBear September 04, 2012 at 11:12 PM
NO offense.. but lets get real... The town itself is in financial shape as they cut police officers and firefighters.... and the Board of Education wants to spend how much on a Turf field... LETS GET REAL> VOTE NO!
Michael Lewis September 05, 2012 at 03:18 AM
I, like Natalie, am from Scotch Plains-Fanwood. I will keep thoughts as to the merits of the Turf Field to myself, but something else disturbs me here. One of the points brought up in the course of OUR discussion regarding the move of BOE elections to November was the potential to diminish the "non-partisan" aspect of the Board. In and of itself, it may be possible to justify the Turf Fields on merit. However, if it is perceived that a contentious issue is being framed to be resolved in a particular manner - especially when the timing of the election might be perceived as disenfranchising those who might vote against - two things might very well result: 1) the NEXT extraordinary capital expense becomes just that much harder to pass and 2) those unhappy with the Board will eventually strive to change it in an organized, funded and partisan manner. What may be a victory in the short term might well result in a serious loss of goodwill - or worse - in the longer term...especially now that voters cannot vent (in most cases) by voting on the budget (not that one is supposed to do that, of course!). As an aside, I am personally curious (as I have seen it mentioned elsewhere here) as to whether there actually IS a legal restriction on such a bond referendum taking place in November, now that the BOE elections themselves would coincide.
Walkin Westfield September 05, 2012 at 03:19 AM
Free will is being able to choose without external pressure or coercion. Vote No on September 24th and let the BOE do over their bond proposal.
Gary McCready September 05, 2012 at 04:39 AM
Kerry & Michael, you do make some very good points, but there are a few assumptions that I feel should be cleared up: -There is plenty of money being spent on technology; please examine the recent "Synopsis" of the last BoE meeting, and the updated technology plan. More money always needs to be spent on updating the curriculum and teachers' skills to match the technology purchased. - PTO's raise money because they want to purchase something for the schools, and past Boards have usually encouraged purchases that could enhance the school without a lot of inequity in key classroom components, thus resulting of purchases of lots of smartboards and landscaping with other external improvements. - I think you'll find many in town in favor of having an activity fee levied against those who participate, not constructing classrooms where there is room elsewhere and moving staff (librarians) between schools to give all students equal access. - There are many different types of turf fields - hopefully the district did not choose a type with all the negative points you list. - Finally, you should take the NJ Monthly ratings with the same large amounts of salt needed at some of the restaurants they rank highly. NJ Monthly school rankings do not match up with just about any other published ranking where the criteria is clear. Personally, I just wish there was some type of competition in the upcoming BoE election; with everyone unopposed, there will be no debate on issues.
Time For Change September 05, 2012 at 10:26 AM
Gary, very good comments, thanks for the sharing. As for your last point, you are right, all of the big mouths who just want to complain did not want to put themselves out to run. They rather just sit back and tell everyone what should be done, rather than doing it themselves. I guess that will never change.
L. Lipscomb September 05, 2012 at 12:13 PM
Gary, there are many types of turf fields and regardless of which one the district chooses, they all have one thing in common, they are a luxury and not a necessity. The negative point is that it will cost us taxpayers more money out of our pocket. These are capital improvements (roof repairs and turf) that should have been saved for and not lumped together to circumvent a tax cap imposed by Gov. Christie. Lumped in with the sewer fee (TAX), school sports/club/drama/etc. participation fees, and other, Westfielders are being taxed from all angles. Had teachers not gotten the raises in excess of 3.5 percent and accepted 0% for a year like many other school districts did over the past couple of years, then maybe the bond referendum for roof repair and turf field would be more palatable. I'm tired of the cliche' that ir's for the children. If it were for the children then the teacher's union would have been a bit more compromising during the last round of contract negotiations. I could care less where Westfield HS ranks in a monthly magazine. What I care about is getting rid of the dead-beat teachers at top pay and bringing in new teachers that have more motivation than just collecting a paycheck and are not tenured for the first four years under Gov. Christie's new plan. That would certainly free up $$$$.
Won't Get Fooled Again September 05, 2012 at 01:57 PM
The last Board of Ed election seemed to pit new candidates espousing fiscal responsibility and disclosure against what was perceived to be a free-spending and out of touch incumbency. I vividly recall how candidates scorned the old Board for the teachers' contract (which ultimately gained health care concessions that were far more valuable than the small raises given in exchange). I remember the cries for further slashing of school budgets to prevent rising property taxes. However, as the new Board members have taken power, it is evident that their rhetoric is simply hyperbole. One man's pork is another man's soccer field. I am voting no. We should not borrow for a luxury item, especially in the wake of staff reductions and other cuts. We should not have to be compelled to vote all up or all down on two items that are entirely different. While I surely want to pull a roof over the kids' heads, I am disappointed that the Board is trying to pull the wool over all of our eyes. Meet the new boss, the same as the old boss.
Linda Sternbach September 05, 2012 at 02:19 PM
Actually Won't get Fooled- I just checked the Patch and 3 Board members voted against the one bond (Ohlig, Sluter and Frieman) so its not exactly as you described it- Change seems to be coming- but only 3 votes at a time- which I guess is better than all 9?
Jeff B September 05, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Time for Change, the idea of a democracy is that those who do "want to put themselves out to run" (and are elected) should solicit and welcome the views of those they wish to (and do) represent. As the letter above pointed out, this whole bond issue process has been conducted in a rather undemocratic fashion, including combining two unrelated issues of obviously differing merit into one proposal. Calling opponents "big mouths" does not add to the discourse. Furthermore, while an opponent running for election in November might indeed have affected this issue if the bond vote had been scheduled for November and the matter subject to public discussion by the candidates, the relationship of the two is not obvious with the bond vote actually occurring six weeks earlier.
Jeff B September 05, 2012 at 02:42 PM
Won't Get Fooled Again, the health care concessions were, in fact, rather small in value relative to 3.9% annual salary increases for three years and, I believe, would have largely been obtained anyway by virtue of subsequent legislative requirements. Furthermore, to call the 3.9% increases "small" in an environment when the inflation rate was near zero, most taxpayers were getting no increases, and, in fact, lucky to keep their jobs suggests that "extraordinary" might be more apt.
Gary McCready September 05, 2012 at 05:18 PM
At the time, the 3.9% raises were "in line" with most other districts (and actually smaller than some) and the health care give-backs were gravy. If the BoE had a crystal ball (and yes, at least one member wanted to wait) waiting *might* have resulted in a net better deal. The Christie aid cuts (which were not hinted at nor expected by most) might have factored into contract arbitration (if it went that far) and the health contribution mandate only was in regard to a contribution, not necessarily the plan as most teachers were still on that old-fashion "traditional" plan (which cost up to 80% more than the managed care plan) which was eliminated as part of the give-backs . It really is impossible to determine what might have happened - it will be much more interesting to see how the next contract comes out.
Gary McCready September 05, 2012 at 05:24 PM
Not everyone has the ability to run or even show up at meetings; however, forums like this do allow sometimes intelligent input. I would really support some type of non-anonymous forum run (perhaps moderated) by the BoE to get the opinions of residents on the issues at hand, with an official response after a reasonable period. But someone, I think they have gotten a lot of messages already.
Jeff B September 05, 2012 at 05:59 PM
Gary, I followed that salary raise situation very closely. There was zero need to have made the compensation decision when the Board did, with whatever Christie would do known to be coming a week later and the contract not up for more than 2 months. Prudent management never makes a decision prematurely, if there is no cost to wait for more, possibly important, information. That situation "smelled" big time and the Board did not even credibly defend it.. Your point about being in line with other districts is only one of many factors that should be considered in proper management of a school system. At a starting salary of $57,000 for an education degree fresh out of college, with fabulous benefits and vacation, the line to replace any teachers with qualified replacements who could not accept a zero increase would have stretched from here to Cranford (and would today). Also, in the decades I have lived here, I have never seen any consideration by the Board of hardships being faced by the taxpayers footing the bill, up to and including today with this bond issue. It has always been, "We are doing it for the children." Well maybe doing it for the children ought to include consideration of what family stress trying to pay high property taxes or trying to avoid possibly losing a home does to children.
Walkin Westfield September 05, 2012 at 06:52 PM
there is an artificial turf field on Rahway Ave that is only three blocks from the WHS. How can the BOE say this is about the WHS phys ed classes?
Gary McCready September 05, 2012 at 08:47 PM
Jeff, the need to be "in line" occurs if an agrement can't be reached and the contract goes into arbitration. Historically, at the time the 3.9% contract was signed, a union in arbitration would get awarded raises in line with other districts, usually without regard to givebacks contained in the other contracts. For another bit of history, one reason for the success of the Westfield district over the years was by having one of the highest starting salaries in the state, being able to get the pick of the litter in competition with the 10 or 20 or 48 (pick your source) other good/better districts in the state. Many, if not most, of those other districts top out at higher salaries than Westfield after 10 or 15 years of experience. But, paradoxically, up until this budget season, the board had to keep in mind the hardships of some of the voters as the overall budget could be voted down (as happened after the last turf bond vote), and given to the Town Council to cut. After the recent tax "reforms", including moving the BoE vote to November (needed to file as a candidate by June!) that budget vote no longer has to happen. But the bottom line is that it is the BoE's duty to draw the line between what is absolutely necessary vs nice to have vs excess vs what is actually affordable and to package it in an understandable way. I can tell you from experience that no two people totally agree on the package, but in the end, the BoE has to come up with the best compromise.
Rationally Speaking September 06, 2012 at 10:47 AM
The PROCESS of how something as contentious as spending large sums of money on such a NON-ESSENTIAL LUXURY even in the best of times is the issue for me. Don't forget to take a close look at the bidding process for the job to see where the money goes, the inevitable cost overruns and of course the lawsuits from the impacted (high) tax paying residents living in and around the field that will have to be settled once it is constructed.
Walkin Westfield September 06, 2012 at 12:58 PM
the bored with education wants to replace roofs on the school, only to turn around and use the WHS as toilet facilities for their plastic turf stadium. Vote NO on Sept 24th and force the BOE to focus on academics.
Robert September 06, 2012 at 02:12 PM
I've talked to many of kids who don't like playing on the turf fields. They prefer playing on grass. That information alone should stop the building of new turf fields. I do understand however that due to the large number of kids in Westfield and the constant use of the fields it becomes hard to keep decent grass on the fields for the entire season. Does anyone know the cost difference between a new turf field and better maintenance of grass fields? It seems less expensive to maintain grass fields as opposed to the installation and disposal of turf, but I really don't know. I also have a concern for the people who live near the new turf field. With lights the fields will be used until 10:00pm. This is not a problem at Houlihan/Sid Fay because there are not many houses nearby. Anybody with small children who live near the new turf field could be negatively impacted by the late hour usage of the fields. There is also the issue of smell...there is a very strong rubber smell that comes off the turf fields. I foresee many issues arising from the people who live near there.
Amy Rodale September 06, 2012 at 02:27 PM
What Smells Robert- is the BS you are spewing about kids not wanting turf fields and that they smell? Where do you get your information from? The people will decide on the 24th what is best for Westfield- It would have been better if there were two bonds not one though- that does stink and I am personally disappointed in the 6 board of ed members that did not see it that way. It would be a shame for this not to pass because of that ignorance.
Walkin Westfield September 06, 2012 at 06:45 PM
even the name callers on the other side are disappointed in the BOE. Vote NO and let the BOE return with a new proposal or learn to prioritize within their $95 million budget.
Meanwhile in West Orange September 06, 2012 at 08:02 PM
Westfield not sot bad wanting turf- check out the teacher in West Orange sleeping with her students! http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/05/teacher-of-the-year-sexual-assault_n_1857467.html?utm_hp_ref=mostpopular
Jeff B September 06, 2012 at 09:14 PM
Great new info in the Westfield Leader today reporting on this week's Town Council meeting. Sid Faye and Houlihan turf fields were completed at the end of 2005 for $1 million. According to Town Administrator Jim Gildea, it is "nearing the time [the turf field] has to be replaced." Meanwhile, the town needs to spend a stated $775,000 on the repair of the two fields. The Board of Ed is now telling us that we should spend $3.3 million on a high school turf field. The implications of the points mentioned above are appalling. Where are the many millions going to come from to repair, dispose of and replace this proposed high school field in 7-10 years. This board couldn't even budget for roof replacement. Plus, we have the Kehler Stadium field coming a lot sooner than that. It is now hard to believe that maintenance of such fields is not much more expensive than grass. If anyone ever attended any Board of Ed meetings on this field proposal, I would be interested in hearing about what was said regarding future repairs, disposal and replacement, and funding of same.
Time For Change September 07, 2012 at 11:48 AM
Jeff B. -For someone with so much to say about all of this, one would have thought that you had attended every Board meeting and in fact, had all of the answers. As someone who has been to a good number of the meetings and who ha spoken to a number of the Board members on both sides of the proposal, here is what I have heard. The useful life of these new turf fields is longer than what was used on Houlihan and Sid Fey because it is newer technology. Nobody knows for sure how long it will last; it depends on the amount of play it gets and the ongoing maintenance program that is followed. 10-12 years has bee thrown out. Keep in mind that the $3.3 million is for the entire "complex", not just the turf. The actual replacement cost of the turf itself I don't believe has been identified, but THIS Board has said that they will budget a portion each year over the estimated useful life to replace the turf when the time comes. In addition, they have also said that they will start doing the same thing in the next budget for the Kehler turf. So, in answer to your question-- funding to come from annual budgets. And by the way, what's NEW information to some, is not really all that new. You just have to be interested in understanding the COMPLETE story and discussing the facts and not only the half truths-- funny, watching this board, its almost like watching the Republican and Democratic conventions.
Rationally Speaking September 07, 2012 at 07:44 PM
Time for Change needs to get off his high horse. Just because you choose to spend your time/energy and have the inclination to give your full attention to this issue doesn't mean that everyone can or wants to. The issue is simple: Should the district's priority - especially during lean times - be in something as non-essential, for a very limited population, negatively impacting lots of residents? Can such a largess be used in a more worthwhile way using an open, honest and transparent process. For me it's
Walkin Westfield September 08, 2012 at 12:52 AM
What you call new technology is the industry responding to law suits forcing them to remove the hazardous metals from their product and has nothing to do with the longevity of the product. If the BOE is budgeting for the million dollar disposal and replacement cost of each field it is doing so at the detriment of its mission to further the education of Westfield students.
kathy gilmartin September 11, 2012 at 05:13 PM
Westfield residents do not need anymore taxes. Luxury items should be curtailed at this time. The issues should have been separated. Roofs are necessary a turf field is not. VOTE NO.
Doogie Howser September 11, 2012 at 05:50 PM
Why do you not consider useable fields part of "getting a better education?" Money is spent today maintaining the crappy fields the schools currently have. The BOE's role is to improve things - and the fields in our town are an embarassment. These fields are NOT a luxury - they are a necessity. Look at CHatham's field complex, for a great example. Physical education is an integral part of the education process - and our children are constantly playing on fields that are inferior to our neighboring towns. The impact of the field portion of the bond issue is miniscule ona per house/per annum basis. I wish people would stop equating the teacher's pay raise with this. You would ask the teachers to give up hundreds or thousands of dollars per year "for the good of the kids" yet you are whining about paying a much smaller amount per year for roofs and fields. Maybe you're all just a bunch of cheap bastards? PS - for all of the whining about the teacher's pay raise - I'd love to get an honest survey of how many Westfielder's have seen their pay stay flat or decrease over the past several years - judging from the construction, lawn service, etc all over town, the number can't be as big as suggested. VOTE YES - Our fields suck.

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