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Letter to the Editor: In Franklin Lakes BOE Race, 'Where's the Beef?'

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To the Editor:

Thirty years ago, 81 year old Clara Peller captivated America with a simple question: “Where’s the Beef?”  Though just selling a bigger hamburger, the phrase became ubiquitous as a way of questioning the substance of any item or idea.  It is also strangely applicable in this year’s Franklin Lakes School elections. While I have seen lawn signs aplenty, I have not seen any reasonable (or accurate) complaints about the incumbent board members, nor have I seen a proactive agenda as to what the opposition would do going forward.  This leaves me to wonder: “Where is the Beef?”

Superficially, the challengers appear to be agents of change but actually project a steadfast resistance to change.  They don’t like the new superintendent, they don’t like the change in the election schedule, and they really don’t like the Princeton system.  Irony aside, the opposition seems to be merely seizing on discrete issues that were unpopular in small parts of the community and attempting to cultivate a vague sense of dissatisfaction: All without providing any answers or solutions.  

It is easy to criticize; particularly in a vacuum, but our schools and our children are far more important than the personal preferences of a vaguely dissatisfied minority.  Moreover, criticism should have a constructive purpose, unlike here, where it is simply a vehicle to manufacture discontent. The superintendent is here. He is a professional. He is forward-thinking. He also has 2 years left on his contract.  Like 85-90 percent of all NJ municipalities, our election cycle has changed, saving election costs, increasing voter participation and capping school budget increases at 2 percent per year (less than the final budget increase in 2008 — the last time the school budget was defeated.)  Finally, the Princeton system deserves another look. If we don’t continually explore options to improve our educational experiences, we stagnate. 16 of 20 people on the appointed efficiency committee favored further exploration of the concept, but were ultimately shouted down by a very small, albeit very loud, contingent who derailed the process, effectively substituting their judgment and personal preferences for the entire town.  

Even more outrageous, the opposition has taken to politicizing the recent change in principals at the Woodside school, as if a confidential personnel matter represented a discretionary spending decision, and as if they had even a hint of the facts relevant to that matter.  Indeed, to treat a matter of this nature as political fodder is nothing short of irresponsible.

Our schools deserve better than self serving, opportunistic criticism and misrepresented facts. Under the current Board, spending growth has been slowed and our tax dollars are being spent more productively.  Our district is ahead of the curve, and the rest of the region, in implementing new curriculum directives as mandated by the State, and in providing innovative and challenging educational experiences for our children.  Kathie Schwartz and Margaret Bennett have done an outstanding job on the Board and, together with Jackie Veliky, deserve our support this coming election day.

David Catuogno
Franklin Lakes

Have a question or news tip? Contact editor Joseph M. Gerace at Joseph.Gerace@patch.com, or find us on Facebook and Twitter. For news straight to your inbox every morning, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Joe Conti November 04, 2012 at 11:40 PM
O’Reilly Claims Fiscal Responsibility. It appears to me that she may not understand how the school budget works and what goes into preparing it. I presume what she is saying is that services to the children are the victim of salary increase and cost of benefits to our teachers, or even worse found a way to get money from taxpayers which does not show up in the budget. Our teachers deserve the increases and our children deserve the education our dedicated staff give them each and everyday. Lack of knowledge is one thing - posting publicly without questioning these things with the right people in the right forum first is wrong. As a 15-year former BOE member, and one who sat on the finance committee for most of those 15 years, I would like to correct some of the statements with the facts. This understanding of the complicated budget is why I will vote for Bennett, Schwartz and Veliky on November 6th and I urge you to do the same.
Joe Conti November 04, 2012 at 11:43 PM
My response to Mrs. O'Reilly's claims: Claim 1: Tax dollars have increased 15% over the last 5 years, and 17% since 2006-07.In comparing the last three years of budget data, comparing the K-8 school budget for 2012-2013 to the 2010-2011 budget, the K-8 School Tax Levy actually decreased by $123,763. So, what exactly is the complaint? Claim 2: The BOE will be returning state aid ($215,000), FINALLY - it was first received in 2011 (it has been deferred twice from being returned to the tax payers, it is now slated to be returned 2013/14-unless it is deferred again).Approximately $200,000 in 2011-2012 state aid was deliberately deferred until next year so that it could be used to offset taxes in a year when there will be less impact from the payoff of bonds. The district just received the final payment of this aid from the state in July 2012 and it is slated to be returned to taxpayers in the 2012-2013 budget.
Joe Conti November 04, 2012 at 11:44 PM
My further responses to Mrs. O'Reilly's claims: Claim 3: Emergency funds held by the BOE have increase 98% since 2010. Now totaling $1.7 million? Mrs. O’Reilly should check her facts. The K-8 district’s Current Expense Emergency Reserve was increased from $50,000 to $100,000 from June 2010 to June 2011. The K-8 districts total reserve fund balance of $1,728,391 is up only 4% from 2010 balance of $1,655,631 (not 98% as she states). It is also worth noting that Franklin Lakes $1.7 mil is small in comparison to RIH balance of $7.1 mil and Wyckoff K-8 balance of $2.7 mil. Claim 4: Right to vote on school budget was taken away. Potential exists for school budget to exceed 2% without voter approval. 90% of the school districts in NJ moved their budget vote from April to November, as per Governor Christie’s proposal to save taxpayer funds (on opening the polls in April) and increase voter participation. A budget increase over 2% requires the approval of the taxpayers in a November election. If Mrs. O’Reilly disagrees with what Governor Christie proposed and 90% of NJ school districts agreed to do, perhaps she should direct her concerns to the Governor’s office.

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