Thursday, April 4, 2013

Pequannock Seniors Concerned About $230k "Kindergarten Tax"

Tax
Tax (Photo credit: 401(K) 2013)
By Christopher Lotito

On Wednesday April 3rd 2013, Pequannock's 2nd and final Board of Education Candidates Debate occurred at Cedar Crest Village.  During that debate, one hot topic among Cedar Crest's seniors, most on fixed incomes, was the Board of Education's decision to increase taxes by some $228,767.00 to inflate classroom usage and stave off the closure of one of the district's under-utilized elementary schools.

Pequannock News received an email this morning from a scholarly-minded reader citing the recent study by Duke University which found that,

"...children may not have as positive an attitude toward school in full-day versus half-day kindergarten and may experience more behavior problems," ~Duke University

That same study also found that there was likely no increase in academic achievement from the additional classroom time and that even the slightest statistical bump in the same disappeared by 3rd grade.  Between this and a number of readers expressing their concerns that full-day kindergarten may simply turn out to be charging the taxpayers for district run daycare, it seems appropriate to revisit the full-day kindergarten topic in detail.

Please consider this a follow-up to our April 30th 2012 article: "Pequannock Debates Closing Elementary Schools, a Recap of Facts"

In that article it was noted that:  "In January of 2012, Board of Education member Ken Hardaker summed up Pequannock's school-demographic turmoil for the Suburban Trends stating, "You'd be playing Russian roulette with it because someone's building is going to close," he also noted that in order to continue to support the 3 elementary schools, taxes would continue to rise unless the demographics issue was addressed and that final say would lie with the voters via a ballot question."

Less than one year ago, Pequannock was discussing the prospect of closing an elementary school, because it simply wasn't needed.  Now, less than a year later, the Pequannock Board of Education hopes to artificially inflate the student population by approximately 57* students and increase taxes by $228,767.00 (or $3,978.56 per student**) by doubling kindergarten instruction time.

As it stands, the district is slated to lose 181 students from its enrollment between Fall of 2013 and Fall of 2016, the Kindergarten inflation would reduce that enrollment loss to just 9 students in that time (projected) at an additional tax of $915,068.00*** over the next 4 school years (not accounting for inflation).

All of this, it is hoped, should justify keeping open the existing 3 elementary schools, as well as the Board of Education's proposed plan to tax residents an additional $3,400,000.00 (actually a bit more after interest) for additions to Stephen J. Gerace School.

That $3.4mil tax is likely to pass when put to a vote on April 16th, considering that in 2011, voters passed an additional $2,000,000.00 in school board taxes to pay for AstroTurf at Pequannock Township High School, even though this meant future difficulties with the township's fireworks displays.

Other issues raised by residents included:
Concerns that throughout all of this increase in taxes, the Pequannock Board of Education has continued to cut programs such as Latin, Orchestra, Home Economics and other life skills classes, wood shop, and others.
Candidates responded to these concerns asserting that there would be little need for those skills in the future and that our children needed to learn robotics design and computer skills rather than life skills.

Pequannock News also asked the candidates to reflect on how cutting 30% of the schools' music programs and adding kindergarten classes would help to remove Pequannock Valley Middle School from the state's list of under-performing schools.  Tom Salerno was the only candidate to respond to the question, stating that these measures would not help and that the matter needed to be addressed.

*Actually, 57.5 students, presuming that by doubling the number of teaching hours offered to Kindergartners, the that instruction time increases from 57.5 x 7 (or 115 x 4) to 115 x 7.  Numbers taken from Whitehall Report Fall 2013 projections.
**If it costs $3,978.56 to double a Kindergartner's instruction hours, does that mean we're paying $7,957.11 per Kindergartner per year all told?  Or is the first half of the day more or less expensive?
*** = Current Tax Increase x 4 (Pequannock News is not betting on the school taxes going down).

Christopher Lotito is a member of the Pequannock Historic District and Open Space Commissions as well as the author of  "Torrent," a book about flooding in the region.  Lotito's personal mission is to reduce new taxes, drastically reduce flooding, and preserve more green spaces for our children.  Christopher Lotito Profile  -- Christopher Lotito's latest book, "Craigslist for Heroes, Rogues, and Middle Management" is the most comprehensive goto guide to marketing your business with Craigslist ever written.

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