FH Deals with Faculty Changes and Kindergarten

May 2, 2014
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By John Burton

FAIR HAVEN – The borough’s school district has some parents up in arms over decisions to not renew contracts of some non-tenured teachers, a move that is intertwined with a plan to expand the kindergarten program.

Plans are in the works to expand kindergarten from three hours to four hours a day. That move is impacting teachers and has added fuel to the fire as some parents have expressed outrage over what they see as the loss of some highly regarded teachers. (See updated story below for actions taken by the Board of Education after press time.)

The program’s expansion will be a benefit to the district and community, officials said, while they continue looking at whether to make kindergarten a full-day program.

In February, a group of parents seeking full-day kindergarten confronted the school officials and insisted the program was necessary for students’ overall educational progress. Officials said a full-day program has been discussed but possibly would require building additional space along with other factors that would have to be addressed.

The kindergarten expansion is the district’s most significant change and added cost for the 2014-15 school year. It’s a move that will take the program to “just shy of full day,” Superintendent Nelson Ribon said.

There are 510 districts in New Jersey with either full- or part-day kindergarten programs, of which 376 are exclusively full-day. In Monmouth County, 46 districts have kindergarten, 33 of which are full-day, according to the state Department of Education.

There are about 78 students now enrolled in next year’s kindergarten class in Fair Haven. That number could increase to upward of 100, Ribon said.

School administrators have determined that two full-time kindergarten teachers are not enough for the expanded program but that up to six part-time teachers would be appropriate to handle the additional hours and increased enrollment.

The two full-time teachers now each have a morning session and an afternoon session. The added time and additional students would have brought their workday to more than nine hours, the superintendent said. That would be excessive for the staff and cost the district extra in overtime.

Instead, the board has opted for hiring part-time teachers. Part-timers will not qualify for benefits, though officials said budgetary factors were not a consideration.

Ribon said the board is allocating additional funds for the program that now costs $150,000 annually for two full-time teachers. Six part-timers will mean an increase in kindergarten funding by $50,000 to $200,000.

One of the existing kindergarten teachers will be staying on. She will remain full time, teaching kindergarten and undertaking other responsibilities. Another teacher, who has tenure and had been on leave, will return next year and will voluntarily work part time, Ribon said.

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While officials refuse to discuss specific personnel matters for legal reasons, what has stirred the hornet’s nest among parents is the board’s decision to not renew the contracts of some of its 28 non-tenured teachers. Some parents have said that includes one kindergarten teacher, who parents hold in high regard.

Sarah Burns, a parent with two children in the district, said she was “outraged” that both of her children’s teachers appear to not be returning in September.

“I have an experience, a personal relationship with these teachers,” Burns said. “They have gone above and beyond their jobs.”

She also said she and others are upset with what they see as a lack of transparency on the part of school officials.

Parents confronted Ribon and board members on Monday, April 28, during one of the superintendent’s regular informal chats, and voiced their objections to the non-renewal of contracts.

“These are teachers who have a real passion for their jobs,” parent Donna McCormack said.

Officials have declined to say how many teachers will not have their contracts renewed until the board formalizes its decision. That decision was expected during Wednesday night’s meeting, which was to have occurred after press time.

Board of Education President Mark Mancuso has said that in some cases, teachers knew they were hired as temporary replacements for those on leaves of absence, and that others hadn’t developed professionally “to where we needed them to be.”

Parents have said they believe there are 10 teachers whose contracts will not be renewed.

Adding to the complexity of employee relationships is that teachers have been working without a contract for two years. Negotiations now are in the hands of a mediator, officials said.

Officials also said those non-tenured positions are not being eliminated for budget reasons. Instructional spending is being increased in 2014-15 budget. “Nothing is being cut that supports kids,” Ribon said.

The proposed $13.25 million district budget for the next school year has a 2.5 increase in the proposed tax levy. That would mean an additional $116 in school taxes for the owner of a home assessed at the borough average of $688,501, according to Ribon.

5/1 – Fair Haven School Board Declines to Renew Nine Teacher Contracts

By John Burton

FAIR HAVEN – Hours and hours of criticism, impassioned and clearly heartfelt pleas and pointed questions and skepticism during Wednesday night’s meeting failed to alter the board of education’s decision to not renew nine non-tenured teachers’ contracts.

Board members listened to a long queue of parents, young students and even a few teachers to be impacted by the board’s decision for about four hours Wednesday night, ending the public comment just short of midnight.

The speakers at the board meeting at Knollwood School voiced their distress over the board’s intention to decline to renew the teacher contracts and showed their support for teachers who were about to be out of work at the end of the school year.

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Despite the pleas, the board voted to renew contracts for just 17 of the 26 non-tenured teachers, sticking with their final analysis of some staffers.

“You have a lot of kids upset over this,” parent Lisa Driscoll said.

One of those students is her severely disabled child who will be losing a much-loved teacher. Driscoll told the board that that teacher “is one of the shinning stars” of the district.

“There’s something wrong here or we wouldn’t have more than 300 people coming here tonight,’ parent John Colucci said.

“I’m very upset and I’m sure many of the other students here would agree with me,” said Shannah Dolan, who attends Knollwood, the district’s middle school, noting she is a former student of one of the teachers who will not be in the district next year.

“I feel teachers need to be given more chances.” she told the board.

Board members, by and large, patiently offered their understanding and their explanation. Board attorney Anthony Sciarrillo said the board was required required to make a final determination on non-tenured staff by April 30 under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement with teachers.

Board President Mark Mancuso and Superintendent of Schools Nelson Ribon told the audience that the decisions were based on evaluations done in accordance with state requirements, including in-classroom observation.

Despite the continuing insistence of some in the audience, officials repeatedly stressed that they were legally unable to discuss the results of the evaluations or anything about individual teachers.

Officials previously noted that some of the teacher placements were always intended to be temporary because they were filling in for those on leaves of absence.

Others were teachers who had been with the district for one, two or three years. In the case of the third-year teachers, the decision became a matter of whether to grant tenure, board members said.

These decisions were not something that the board entered into lightly, many members insisted.

“This has been hugely painful,” board member Tracy Rehder said.

But, the board’s pain was of little consequence to Christine Facer, one of the teachers affected who voiced her own pain. “I feel completely used. That’s not right,” Facer said in a voice quivering with emotion. “This isn’t just my job. This is my life. I live here. I have a child in the district.”


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