Blog for Highland Park

Welcome to the Blog for Highland Park, a weblog chronicling events in Highland Park, NJ from an alternative perspective to the often one-sided slant of the official borough newsletter.

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Location: Highland Park, New Jersey, United States

I am a freelance writer and community activist who has worked on many progressive and Democratic political campaigns over the last 25 plus years and a lifelong resident of Highland Park, NJ. I have a BA in Journalism from Rutgers University, an MA in Middle East Studies from Harvard University, and an MEd in English Education from Rutgers Graduate School of Education. An enthusiastic amateur astronomer, I have just completed Swinburne University Astronomy Online's Graduate Certificate of Science in astronomy and am pursuing a Masters of Science in astronomy at Swinburne. I am also an actress with experience in theatre and film and have written a full length play. I am currently working full time on a book "The Little Planet That Would Not Die: Pluto's Story."

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Real Groundbreaking

Construction has begun on improvements to all the borough's public schools, approved in a December 2004 referendum. Tomorrow morning, a groundbreaking ceremony will be held at Irving School and will be attended by US Rep. Frank Pallone.

But the real groundbreaking that needs to be done is not a ceremony with a shovel. Beneath the facade of a first rate school system lurks an ugly truth, which is this: the distribution of the school budget, which is funded by taxpayer dollars, is unequal, unfair, and puts the well being of the school system's administrators before that of the children the district is supposed to serve.

In a district of 1500+ students, we have a Superintendent of Schools making $175,000 a year plus $500 a month for mileage. Who in the business world gets paid for the mileage to drive to work? In contrast, the Edison superintent, with a much larger district, is paid $150,000. Highland Park's Assistant Superintendent is paid $145,000 a year.

But when it is time to tighten belts, these salaries and benefits are off limits to any cuts because they are contracted. Instead, we have to cut freshman basketball, high school classes in journalism and TV production, and eliminate one of the winter track coaches.

Unfortunately, that is not the worst of it regarding the school budget. There are students in various classes ranging from grades three through six who are sitting on the floor every day because the administration claims it cannot afford to give them desks or tables. A teacher who asked for tables was told by the forementioned Assistant Superintendent that it is good for the students to sit on the floor and that there is no money for new tables or desks. That teacher was also placed under a gag order and warned not to go public with this information on pain of losing their job.

The result is that the teacher, like a large number of other district teachers over the last seven years, opted to quit without any new job prospects, finding this atmosphere intolerable. Ironically, the Assistant Superintendent is leaving as well.

This story is far from an isolated incident. There are classes where children are using old textbooks because the district supposedly cannot afford to purchase new ones. There are incidents in which parents who complained about such situations found their children ostracized and consistently placed at the end of the line for needed school services.

The real groundbreaking our school system needs is not a ceremony with "dignitaries" and a shovel but an immediate condemnation and reversal of the inequitable distribution of hard-earned taxpayer dollars that fattens administrators' wallets while leaving the children out in the cold--or, in this case, sitting on the floor.

Just like the world hunger problem is due not to a shortage of food but to inequitable distribution of that food, so too the problem in our schools is not that there is insufficient funding but the way that funding is distributed. Let's break some real ground and distribute that money fairly, putting the children first, which is what schools are meant to do.

Congressman Pallone, you are a decent and caring public servant who wants to do the right thing. Please talk to parents and teachers and look into this issue further, taking care to delve beneath the surface. The children are depending on you.