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Letter: Resident Sees Board of Ed Misusing Assets to Promote Referendum

Pro-referendum letter to parents shows bias, resident asserts.

How does the BOE justify the use of public assets and the subterfuge of sending its pro-referendum letter to all the schoolchildren parents through its principals?

The failure of the Board to publicly send out notices to every registered voter is reprehensible. BOE elections are notoriously low turnout. Special elections are also low turnout. To mobilize only the parents and remind only the parents is a biased act unto itself. To threaten dire results to be borne by the children of those parents borders on extortion. 

The Board has known for years that various roofs needed repair. They used the money in the budget for maintenance for other things or didn't include money for those repairs in the next budget. They now are faced with the fruits of their past bad choices and use public assets to convince voters to remove these costs from the 2% caps. 

The BOE would never allow anyone to use those same assets to campaign against the referendum. It is unfair for the BOE to try to influence the decision of the voters. They represent all the people of Westfield and they should not be suffered to use public assets to further their position. Their position should be that they will do the will of all the people as they are directed.

A. John Blake

ira December 06, 2012 at 04:13 PM
The roofs need to be repaired. In some cases, like WHS, immediately. I am willing to pay less than $100 a year and in a few years less than even $75 to fund this repair and keep the extra programs that Westfield schools offer. Heck, the schools were the ONLY reason I chose to live in Westfield, pay a ridiculously high price for my house and pay the high taxes too. So whether you have a kid in the schools or not, I think, helping to repair the roofs over our schools, helps keep the ceilings and roofs over our houses aloft too. Rather non-altruistic I agree, but its a thought! I
A.John Blake December 06, 2012 at 04:24 PM
Time For Change, The Town Council is Republican, save one. Would you allow the use of town money and assets to support the views of the Republican majority? Even if you were a Republican, you would have to agree that it would be improper, and probably illegal, for the Town to take an official position in a political election. There is no difference with the BOE.It is a public body and it uses public assets.The BOE may have a position on birth control. Would you allow them to create propaganda in favor of their position? I don't doubt the good intentions of the members but their job is not to 'win". Their job is to put foward their suggestion to those they represent and then step back. If the Leader or any other publication publishes something incorrect, an open letter to everyone printed in the same publication is perfectly proper. The use of public funds to send a letter to the group it feels it can influence most is wrong. Your argument that stupid comments are made is probably correct but welcome to a democracy. The mistakes of others do not justify underhanded tactics by the BOE A. John Blake
Ray December 06, 2012 at 04:24 PM
I am voting no for this project unless the BOE illustrates how they are going to avoid this problem in the future. Otherwise we are condoning the over spending behavior. Sometimes tough decisions need to be made and this is one of them. I don't blame the volunteers on the board. I believe they do a great job and I really appreciate those on the BOE that make their decisions known and the reasons behind their decisions. But the current mindset of government organizations has to change for this not to happen again.
Tom Tafelski December 06, 2012 at 04:39 PM
JUST VOTE NO! After all the BOE caused the problem by spending the monies in past years that should have been placed into a reserve to repair the roofs when needed. It is the BOE's fiscal responsibility to plan and manage the organization so that funds are available when needed. They are just as responsible for the schools' infrastrucure as they are for teacher salaries and benefits. It is time to stop crying about what they do not have and manage what they have. The time to start do this is NOW! So Just VOTE NO! Tom Tafelski
Howard Schultz December 06, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Mr. Blake- The kids of Westfield are worth the Starbucks brand (no offense to Vickys)- You, want everything to be like it was when you were a kid during the Civil War.
Time For Change December 06, 2012 at 04:57 PM
@Tom- lets say that you are correct that the BOE should be managing their monies differently. Are you willing, for what amounts to be less than $100 per year per household, to risk that even greater damage will be done to a building or two if they don't fix the roofs now? I hear your point and others, but the "tough love" that many are professing, just does not work. You will all be penny wise and pound foolish if a roof gets worse and it damages more inside of a school. OK, they are bad people, who made bad financial decisions but voting NO will not solve that problem. And to Ray, if you have been following along for the last 12 months, I think that you will see where the BOE President, Rich Mattessich has talked about creating a fund that would put money aside for future repairs. However, if you were also following along, in the past, these kinds of rainy day funds have not been permitted and even today, the State only allows for a certain amount of money to be held for future needs. Don't believe just what you read in the Leader from their editor or from Mr. Blake.
Concerned Resident December 06, 2012 at 05:24 PM
While I support the newest bond issue, mostly because there is no practical alternative, I do find that the district is spending unnecessarily to promote this. I don't mind a few emails, but enough already. The teachers and administrators have more important things to do. I truly resent their use of the Honeywell Alert System to remind people to vote. We know this only goes to those who registered for this. We registered to get information like emergencies and school closings, not political propaganda. Most inappropriately they used a student to create a message that was delivered over the system for the prior bond issue (which, for the record I strongly apposed.) I must be one of the few that has no issue with the Westfield Leader. I read it to find out what is going on in town and it is very informative, just as I read The Patch. Whenever I read news articles I consider the possibitity that it has a slant from the author, intentionally or otherwise. And just because I may disagree with a particular position doesn't make reading it any less useful.
Westfield Parent December 06, 2012 at 05:41 PM
The nasty attacks on The Leader show how toxic Westfield has become. Certain group of people think that they are superior than the others in this town. If anyone dares to voice a different opinion, even just a little bit, even by the well established and respected Leader, you will be attacked, in the nastiest way. No civility. No fairness. They think they own this town and everyone else should just bow and obey. To them, "Liberty and Justice for all" means nothing.
Whoreiss December 06, 2012 at 05:41 PM
Timed or Change should stop telling people that if the Bon doesn't pass that the roofs won't get fixed. They will get fixed out of the current budget. I think what Time for Change is worried about is if the bond doesn't get passed then he/she will have to deal with the other cuts in the budget like salaries, programs, etc. so what if class size goes up. I think the teachers are more worried about class size because it means more work by way if conferences test grading etc.
Helmut Krutt December 06, 2012 at 05:41 PM
Read " Boomerang" by Michael lewis The state budget crunch has reduced aid to localities and schools, thus the local government is taking the hit by raising taxes or cutting services.
Josh December 06, 2012 at 07:05 PM
The BOE are representatives from the community who have been elected by the community to oversee the school system. They are not politicians or appointed officials. In the past, the state limited the ability to set aside funds for future maintenance. In the past, the state also encouraged projects like roof replacement to be bonded by effectively subsidizing the cost. The previous boards operated with these constraints and incentives. The BOE is not a static body; a vast majority of the members are serving their first terms. So they had nothing to do with the past maintenance decisions of the board. The Westfield school system is a bargain compared to others in the state. Spending per student is well below average. The physical plant of the Westfield school seems pretty unspectatular. It would be hard to make the argument that the BOE has been spending too much money on it. The roofs need to be replaced. That is what this board is dealing with. They would rather bond it than cut back programs in a school system that is being pretty efficently managed. Hopefully, the voters will agree with their analysis.
The Suburban Alternative December 06, 2012 at 07:32 PM
Hey josh, if the members are first term-ers and not a static body, then when will it all stop. It stops now with a NO vote.
The Suburban Alternative December 06, 2012 at 07:35 PM
Josh, the state is also preaching fiscal responsibility. That includes reigning in salaries and spending
Josh December 06, 2012 at 08:35 PM
Suburban, when will what stop? The school district is efficently run; it educates our children for less money than the majority of the school districts in New Jersey. Roofs get old and need replacing. We have a choice on how we want to pay for it. The school budget is pretty tight so the board would rather finance it than cut programs. We get a vote. Nothing nefarious going on here.
Doogie Howser December 06, 2012 at 09:03 PM
A. John - How much money do you think was spent on the letter to the parents - $20 in paper? I will gladly reimburse the BOE for the cost of the distribution if it so offends you. In addition, if you send me your mailing address, I will reimburse you for the year 1 additional cost to you that this bond referendum will cost you. I'm sure that extra couple of bucks is going to kill your budget for the year, and I would hate for that to happen. Thus, I'm willing to take up a collection to cover your cost that year so that our kids can working roofs without sacrificing arts, athletic, and other programs in our district. Since the district presentation ( http://www.westfieldnjk12.org/education/page/download.php?fileinfo=Uk9PRl9QUkVTRU5UQVRJT05fXy1fMTFfMTNfMTJfQk9FX210Z19QREYucGRmOjo6L3d3dy9zY2hvb2xzL3NjL3JlbW90ZS9pbWFnZXMvZG9jbWdyLzUxMjJmaWxlNDAyMzEucGRm&sectiondetailid=33370 ) suggests that the cost to the average homeowner is $31 in the first year (and next to nothing with expiring debt in most years). Since this poses such a hardship to you, I presume your house is not as lavish as the "average" house in WF, so the impact to you must me lower. Let me know your name/address and if the bond passes, I'll cover your $25 or so for next year in quarterly installments to match how your property taxes are paid. I hope the extra $6-7 dollars every 3 months helps keep you out of the poorhouse. Please try to spend your new wealth at a local establish to help local businesses.
Doogie Howser December 06, 2012 at 09:12 PM
Spoken like a person with no school-aged children. I, for one, certainly care about class size, arts programs, and athletic programs for my children. I would rather pay an extra $31 in 2013 taxes than loses those programs.
The Suburban Alternative December 06, 2012 at 09:15 PM
Josh, you place the blame on past members of the board of education and admit its not a static body. If we are to open our checkbooks to every board of educations demands every year then there will ever be an end to the overspending that has become commonplace or "static" when it comes to budgets. Time to make the necessary cuts and spend what we have and not what we don't have. It's a tough pull to swallow but I has to start somewhere.
Doogie Howser December 06, 2012 at 09:33 PM
I'd suggest you actually take the time to look at last year's budget presentation from the district. Here it is: http://www.westfieldnjk12.org/education/page/download.php?fileinfo=QnVkZ2V0X1ByZXNlbnRhdGlvbl9QdWJsaWNfSGVhcmluZ18zLTI3LTEyX1BERi5wZGY6Ojovd3d3L3NjaG9vbHMvc2MvcmVtb3RlL2ltYWdlcy9kb2NtZ3IvQUxMZmlsZTM3MDY4LnBkZg==&sectiondetailid=31830 I'd particularly suggest that you look at p. 21 before you accuse our BOE of wasting so much money. Also look at the various cost-saving things that have been implmented in the earlier slides. In addition, you should note that from 2000 to 2010, the population of WF increased by about 3.2%. Over that same period, enrollment in our schools increased by 17.4%. Explain to me how you expect the district to keep taxes @ 2% growth with enrollment growth of those levels? It's not as if there has been a great deal of new taxable construction in town. Maybe if the Garwood Shop Rite was the Westfield Shop Rite, this could be alleviated. Maybe if we had a big parking deck at the South Lot with stores on the ground level, this could be alleviated. This bond should be passed because it is the right thing to do for the kids in our community. If you don't care about the quality of their education, perhaps you shouldn't live in WF.
Josh December 06, 2012 at 09:33 PM
The state limited the ability of school districts to put cash is reserve in years past and subsidized capital expenditures that were bonded. Thus in the past, it was cheaper and more efficient to fund these things through bonds. The rules have changed so the way the board budgets should change as well. The question is do you want to take all the pain at once or spread it out over the life of the asset.
A.John Blake December 06, 2012 at 09:37 PM
Josh, If the Board came to all the voters and asked to remove $13 million from the spending cap, we could at least say they were honest and candid. They have resorted to everything but the truth that they wish to evade the spending caps. Do you know where this ends? Can the BOE just float a bond for everything they say they need which costs more than the 2% increase allowed?Do you put a cap on any spending by the board? If so , where? Do you believe the various representations made by the BOE and on its behalf? If not, where do you draw the line on the truthfulness of the various representations? Why do we have spending caps if the Board can evade them by floating a bond? Why should the taxpayers down the pike have to pay for the bad decisions of past Boards? Could you answer a few of those questions? A.John Blake
Doogie Howser December 06, 2012 at 09:46 PM
John - One might ask why the State is imposing spending caps on a locality anyway. DOn't the same arguments the right uses for States Rights over Federal Rights apply to Local vs. State? If our community chooses to vote a 10% tax increase because it wants to fund roofs out of current dollars rather than finance them, why should the State stop us? Maybe if the State didn't take so much of our tax money and redistribute it to other school districts so that their per pupil spending can be 30% higher than ours, we would be able to fund this stuff our of current revenues. The State of NJ changed the game just 2 years ago - it takes time for towns to adjust for this. You choose to ignore the facts to further your agenda.
Tom Tafelski December 06, 2012 at 10:03 PM
Just VOTE NO! It is unbelievable to me that ALL of the school buildings have ALL gone bad at the same time (within 2 or 3 years) when the average age of the buildings is 73 years per Ms Dolan. Re-roofing of the buildings should be an ongoing part of the budget each year and should not be left go so long that they all have to be done at one time. This is mis-management. If a roof lasts 20 years then on average 5% of them should be re-roofed each year spending on average $700,000 a year, not $13.6 million doing ALL of them in a very short period of time. JUST VOTE NO and we will see that the BOE will will find ways to re-roof or repair the buildings for a lot less than $13.6 million. JUST VOTE NO!
Helmut Krutt December 06, 2012 at 10:54 PM
If state aid to the school system wasn't cut by 90% we wouldn't be having this discussion.
Ricky Lake December 06, 2012 at 11:04 PM
So Doogie Its for the kids you say. I say then the teachers and administrators should take one for the team and take a 0% raise like their union comrades in other towns did last contract during our town's and state's fiscal crisis.
Ricky Lake December 06, 2012 at 11:09 PM
You are right Helmut, the discussion would be on where the district could waste the surplus instead of saving it for roofs or other rainy day projects.
Tom Tafelski December 07, 2012 at 01:24 AM
JUST VOTE NO!
Lucagee December 07, 2012 at 12:44 PM
What does the BOE do if the bond fails, again,I have not heard any contingencies, has anyone? This all or nothing approach seems to be hard to swallow, maybe we think of other paths, like smaller bond amounts now, phase in projects over a few years, raising private money from parents with kids in schools (I am one and would happily pay some money to make my kids time in school better if I knew it wasn't being squandered), or have private concerns pay for some programs (Microsoft or apple could provide some technology) or make necessary cuts on some programs or teacher pay/benefits...if anyone has some creative solutions, probably makes sense to offer them rather then spending energy on responding to others.
Walkin Westfield December 09, 2012 at 08:50 PM
If a state agency or department has authority to disseminate information relating to its activities, any funds spent should provide the public with a fair presentation of relevant information. A presentation must consider all important points and provide equal treatment to both sides of the issue. Any materials presented should be a balanced description of the favorable and unfavorable impacts of the measure. a government agency may draft legislation or a ballot measure related to its expertise, but it should not promote the passage of the measure in an election campaign.
Walkin Westfield December 09, 2012 at 08:57 PM
VOTE NO on the proposed bond. Let’s help the BOE spend our money wisely. Last fiscal year Union County's budget increased 4% and the BOE's budget increased 2.2%. The 2.2% budget increase is $1.95 million dollars. That and another 2% increase the following fiscal year come June 2013 ($1.95 + $2.0 million) is almost $6 million dollars, enough to cover replacing half of the school roofs out of the BOE budget with no spending cuts in just two years. In addition by paying for the roof repairs out of the BOE budget the residents avoid interest and issuance costs on the bonds.
Tom Tafelski December 10, 2012 at 12:23 AM
Enough words about this scam. JUST VOTE NO on Tuesday. Tell the BOE that they have to learn how to manage the financial affairs of the TOTAL education system in Westfield, not just teacher salaries and benefits. If you do not have the money you cannot spend it so lets do with what we have. The BOE will find a way. JUST VOTE NO!

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