Ever since my early years as a young man, the idea of giving back to my community has always resonated strongly with me. I cannot definitively say for sure why, but the high esteem in which public service was held when I was growing up may have played a role in it.
Now that I’m far removed from those years, and having gained greater understanding of how societies are structured, and what make them work, the more convinced I am that the good, orderly, effective management of any society should not be deemed the responsibility of only those who are paid to provide a service, but rather the responsibility of all those who occupy that space paid or unpaid.
So this being my social orientation, would make it rather difficult to walk away from service to my community, and especially the most vulnerable among us, our children! Children first is not just a “sound good” expression to me but a statement of profound importance.
For the past nine years, I’ve been serving my community, Paterson, as a member of the Board of Education. Although my years on the Board have been indexed by severe challenges, on a personal level they have been both fulfilling and rewarding years. I take full satisfaction in what we were able to accomplish together as a board in spite of the many challenges and limitations placed upon us.
Of note, we have made significant progress in narrowing the achievement gap across the board. This is huge considering the diminishing funding levels of our district over the last six years. Fact is, while our operational cost continues to rise daily, the district over the corresponding period has been flat funded by the Department of Education. Conservative estimates suggested that the district will lose over 175 million dollars as a result of the state not funding us at levels required based on the new schools funding formula.
While many have argued that the district’s central office staff is bloated and is paid too much, and some will even venture to use this as a campaign issue, the reality is that this claim is baseless and not supported by the facts.
What needs to be made clear is that this “Board” has been relentless with its pressure on the Superintendent for many years to reduce central office staff. Our recommendation to him was made as a means of freeing up some room in the budget to accommodate our perennial flat funding. What can be said is that the Superintendent to his credit finally took the knife to the central office staff this year.
Data shows that the ratio of our administrative cost per pupil here in Paterson is $1,567, while our neighbors in North Jersey ($2,035), Central Jersey ($1,894) and South Jersey ($1,888). These are the hard cold numbers despite the over used unsubstantiated charge of a bloated Central Office.
So much so for the side show! The question should be where should our focus be at this time? As a practical matter, our concern should be in how engaged as a community we are regarding public education? In my judgment, our focus at present is terribly misplaced. We as a community should be laser focused on making sure that the district is adequately funded to meet the educational needs of our children. We should not be sitting back here allowing ourselves to get comfortable with a situation where the hard fought progress we have made in narrowing the achievement gap be taken away from us because of the indiscretion of the State Department of Education.
How can we continue to make inroads when we are forced to decimate the progress we have made in the music and arts program in our district because of lack of funds? How can we continue to develop rounded individuals when they are robed of the essential aesthetic quality of the arts in their educational development?
As a board member these are some of the things that I’ve been fighting for and will continue to fight for because of what I know to be important regarding quality education. It’s simple, what’s good for suburbia should also be good for urban America.
But I’m just one person, and to win this fight we need numbers. I’m very grateful that we have other “like minded” members of the board such as Comm. Cory Teague who have enlisted himself in the struggle in making educating our children a today’s happening and not a nostalgic reflection of years past. However, we need more vibrant, vocal, and engaged parents at all levels to see this through.
We need parents to come out to Board meetings and support positions which supports their children’s educational development. This past May, because of flat funding the district was forced to lay-off over 300 staff members including 187 instructional personnel. This was done with a promise by the Superintendent of more pain to come. And sure as the day follows the night we were told at last Wednesday’s meeting that on top of the already hefty personnel cuts made, we have an increase of over 700 students enrolled in our district for this semester.
These are some of the real issues that I would like the present group of office seekers to focus on and tell us how they propose fixing this.
To the community your charge is to thoroughly vet the candidates. This notwithstanding the community from which they come. Ask yourselves before you go out to cast your vote, what’s the (ROI) return on investment for supporting any of these individuals? And please! Be sincere about it not withstanding who these individuals might be friend, family or foe.
Regarding the Board of Education, if the individual is not engaged and absorbed by issues pertaining to education while off the board, I guarantee you such a one will not be engaged if elected to the Board. What you’ll end up with is likely another “bride in waiting” for the next step to City Hall.
Here is another important principle to reflect upon before you rush out to cast that ever so important vote this year. It is always the love for what one does that drives one to perform optimally, never the money derived from doing the job even if you believe otherwise. So, if the predicate for supporting any candidate is not galvanized and supported by love of active service to our children and their educational development, the kind that I and some of my dedicated colleagues have given over these many years, you likely won’t have a winner.
Remember the future of our children is too important to be wasted on narrow minded matters such as partisan politics, ethnic identification and race. Do your due diligence and support those with the strongest background and track record of competence, commitment and honesty.
Errol S. Kerr is an incumbent school board member who is seeking his fourth term on the Paterson Board of Education on November 3rd, 2015.