SCHOOL NOTES: Budget tops the list of HP School District activity


Budget – Taxpayers should attend FY 2017 school budget public hearing on May 2

After carefully reviewing the comments at several public forums about the Fiscal year 2017 preliminary school district budget, the HP Board of Education will host the official public hearing on the preliminary budget at its board meeting on Monday, May 2, 2016, 6:30 p.m., Middle School. The total expenditure amount is $30.4 million, resulting in a tax levy with debt service increase of approximately 4.6 percent or an average homeowner annual increase of $239.

School administrators, said the superintendent, have worked most diligently to keep the budget increases as minimal as possible, but some forces of increase are beyond the control of the administration.

“We still are working to reduce the expenditures – looking under every rock for savings – and simultaneously working to increase the number of new revenue streams,” said Dr. Taylor.

The increases in spending are due to: increased special education out-of-district placements; costlier employee benefit responsibilities; additional personnel to support children and teachers in the classroom. The tax impact of the spending increases have been mitigated by increased property tax revenues of $1,174,735.

Business Administrator Linda Hoefele said residents should be aware of the sticker shock of the first quarter tax bill (in August) reflecting the uneven collection of taxes last year that occurred when the debt service was refinanced, compounded by the fact that the school budget is based on the fiscal year, where as the municipal and county budgets are calculated on the calendar year. The administrators are working on a way to avoid the uneven tax collection process, so that this year will be the last time taxpayers will get “hit” in the August tax bill.

Competition – HP hosts the Battle of the Books

Highland Park will be hosting local Middlesex County high schools to participate in the Battle of the Books competition on Tuesday April 26, 2016 at 9 a.m. Battle of the Books is a reading motivation program. The student competition is similar to the TV series Family Feud and Whiz Kids. The goals of the program are to encourage reading for pleasure, broaden reading interest, and recognize students who enjoy reading. Students read nine books for the competition. Librarians prepare questions for the books; each book has a set of questions to practice by the students.

PARCC – the angst continues

Culminating months of debate, the State Board of Education in early April voted to adopt new testing requirements for high school graduates, starting with the Class of 2021. The proposal calls for students that year to have passed at least the new PARCC language arts test for 10th- graders and the Algebra I math test. Currently, PARCC is just one option for meeting a testing requirement for graduation. Despite protests by parents and activists who argue that the new requirements could prevent thousands of students from graduating, especially in struggling urban districts, the Christie administration and state Board of Education are also moving forward on a plan to make passing the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) tests all but mandatory for the class of 2021.

The New Jersey Department of Education disagrees with the many commenters’ suggestion to eliminate the high school assessment as a graduation requirement. The anti-PARCC commenters contend that such an assessment is not required by Federal law. NJ Higher Education officials note that the New Jersey State statute governing high school graduation standards, N.J.S.A. 18A:7C-1 et seq., requires “[t]he development of a Statewide assessment test in reading, writing and computational skills,” as well as clear and explicit Statewide levels of proficiency to be demonstrated as a minimum requirement for high school graduation.” Since, according to NJDOE the use of a statewide standardized assessment for graduation is a statutory requirement, the department is unable to do away with the requirement.

However, Highland Park Superintendent Scott Taylor pointed out that he is still unhappy with such a requirement. “I am not happy with the proposal to make PARRC a graduation requirement….DOE definition of post secondary preparedness does not jive with my definition of post-secondary preparedness. We need to provide grads with all tools necessary to pursue their dreams, to prepare them as citizens contributing to their community, and to give them the tools enabling them to live independent and gratifying lives. The PARCC testing fails to recognize the interpersonal skills, social skills that are also crucial requirements for student success after high school. For Highland Park, I am confident that our graduation requirements call for proficiency in core academic skills but the district needs the flexibility to recognize best practices calling for multiple measures of student post high school achievement.

Partnership – HP School District teams up with the RU Graduate School of Education

A partnership has been formed between the Highland Park School District and Rutgers University Graduate School of Education that reportedly will advance the district’s mission, vision and strategic priorities. This partnership will strive to develop strong connections between the Graduate School of Education, Highland Park Public Schools, local community-based organizations, and families to support the education of P-12 students and advance the practice of high quality teaching and learning.

Kudos – Two middle-schoolers are celebrated for their philanthropic work

At the April 18, 2016 Board of Education meeting, sixth-graders David Newman and Milo Shiffman were recognized for their work in preparing and obtaining a grant sponsored by the Borough of Highland Park.  As part of their Be The Change Project, the boys researched the connection between poverty and literacy.  They completed an application, created a presentation, and won a $2,000 grant that will now be used for books for children living in poverty in Highland Park.

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