Editorial: Save Our Schools From Partisan Politics
By Rebecca K. Abma
"Have you seen any major, meaningful changes in our school system in the last seven years?" That is the question posed by “Meeks for Midland Park Education” in a flier distributed through Every Door Direct mailer this weekend.
Before I get into Board of Education candidate John Meeks’ background and campaign material, let me first answer the question: YES! I have seen a great deal of change in the district since I moved here in 2006 and since my child entered Godwin School in 2011. I have seen major improvements, especially in doing more with less money and in communication with parents.
Meeks’ flier claims he is the candidate who will “Save Our Schools” but his platform purports to do the opposite. It’s almost as if he has never stepped foot in the buildings.
“I will make sure the needs of our buildings and grounds are addressed and maintained yearly,” the flier reads.
The buildings need more than just routine maintenance that can be covered in the annual budget, which is why the district put forth a $15 million referendum in 2012 that failed in the polls. In a comment on an article in The Record, Meeks praised the Midland Park Taxpayers Alliance for defeating the referendum, calling it a victory for taxpayers.
"Students must come first in all budget deliberations," he writes in his campaign material. "Academics first, then healthy and safety needs, then non-academic items, then non-safety requests."
Um, this is how the Board of Education currently prioritizes the 8% of its discretionary spending, which includes textbooks, programs, co-curricular activities, athletics and buildings and grounds. The other 92% of the budget comprises fixed costs, like contractual salaries and benefits, mandated programs, utilities and transportation.
He also neglects to note how the state decreased aid to Midland Park schools by close to $1 million in 2011, from $1,333,397 in 2010-11 to $456,018 in 2011-12. (For 2014-15 aid has increased to $610,186, which is still significantly less than the district received in the 1990s.) The Board of Education was forced to significantly scale back on all extras, including extra curricular activities and programs, but it placed academics first, and always has.
Meeks also wants to send Midland Park students out of the district for high school, but “maintain K-8 in house.”
There are many hurdles to sending Midland Park students out of district for high school. First, you need a school that has room for and interest in receiving Midland Park students. The Board of Education examined this last year and were told that either there was no room or there was no interest.
Presuming that this has changed in the past six months, the next problem is what do you do with the seventh and eighth grade students who are in the high school? The building would still need repairs and upgrades to house the junior high, so where is the cost savings?
His platform also proposes that Midland Park schools “Opt Out” of Common Core, but does not explain how that can be done, because it can’t. Common Core is state mandated. Even conservative news website breitbart.com concedes that a district can’t just opt out of Common Core.
Something conspicuously absent from the flier is Meeks' background. While he notes that he graduated from Seton Hall University with a Political Science Degree, he fails to mention his political career, other than serving as president of the Midland Park Republican Club for five years and his political appointments on the Zoning Board and the Board of Rec.
According to his biography on the Bergen County Conservative Examiner, Meeks worked as Congressman Scott Garrett’s Academy Director in 2002. He was hired as the Borough Administrator in Bogota, but left the job to work for Steve Lonegan’s gubernatorial primary campaign in 2005. He also worked for the Republican State Committee as Field Director in Hudson and Union Counties for Doug Forrester’s gubernatorial campaign.
Meeks also fails to mention his personal website the Conservative Consortium, which hasn't been updated in a few years. The site states, "There is no such thing as 'bi-partisanship' at the CC. Everything is partisan. Anyone who says differently is a fool/Democrat."
The Board of Education is no place for partisan politics, which is why Midland Park is one of just 26 school districts in the state (out of 585 districts) to keep its elections in April. A 2012 law allows districts to forgo putting their budget to a public vote if they moved the election for board members to November.
Midland Park chose not to do this in order to not politicize the school board. To have the immediate past-president of the borough's Republican Club sit on the school board would do just that.
Lastly, Meeks had the opportunity to speak to the voters at the candidates night, but he chose not to attend. That's like applying for a job but not showing up for the interview and expecting to get the job anyway. As a parent and a voter, I find that both disrespectful and concerning. On paper, his ideas may sound good, but scratch beneath the surface and there is nothing to support it.
I encourage all Midland Park voters to head to the polls on Wednesday, April 23, from 2 to 9 pm to support the school budget and to re-elect Maryalice Thomas, James Canellas and Peter Triolo to the board of education.