Superintendent of Schools Michael Schilder presented an abbreviated version of his Tuesday with very few changes, but a renewed discussion about the possibilities for a world languages program particularly for grades kindergarten through fourth.
In the December discussion about the budget, Schilder said the lowest cost of implementing a program with the use of DVDs and no hiring of teachers was set at $80,000—but discussions with the county office have lowered that cost.
According to Schilder, the district has learned that another possibility to ensure being in compliance for world languages as defined by the state would be to align the curriculum with that which is created for social studies and language arts.
“Then what we would do is look at the number of hours of world languages a typical student would have upon graduation of high school,” he said.
State law, Schilder said, determines that high school students should have achieved a novice high level in world languages by graduation, and that comes from an accrual of a certain number of hours.
“We realized that to approve the necessary hours, we would have to increase the number of times students have world languages in intermediate schools and align the standards with integrating that with social studies in the elementary levels,” he said. “That would put us in compliance.”
Moving forward on this plan, Schilder said, would require the hiring of one additional teacher for the intermediate schools, while also putting additional money toward summer curriculum work.
“That becomes a minimal compliance level with $65,000 as the lowest cost,” he said.
Schilder said some other districts are working in this manner, so it would be possible.
The highest cost possible, Schilder said, is still $540,000, which would be for what he considers a “state-of-the-art” program.
“I believe the best way is to dedicate a world languages teacher at each building so we can teach it in the classrooms three times a week and infuse world languages into lots of things happening during the day,” he said. “There are a lot of things a building-based person can do that a person can’t when the teacher is split between buildings.”
For Schilder, this is the best option.
“My personal belief is that this is the best and appropriate way to handle world languages in the school district,” he said.
But, Schilder said, he would hate to keep the world languages program the way it is organized now.
“I also understand budgets, and if the board decides it cannot ultimately afford that, I have trouble going back to the program as one time a week and offered in a limited way because of scheduling,” he said.
Schilder said he is concerned about the cheaper solution because of timing in the classrooms themselves.
“I’m worried that the implementation would be difficult for classroom teachers who are trying to accomplish so many other things,” he said.
But that doesn’t mean the more expensive plan would be any easier.
“It takes away from other studies,” Schilder said. “But I think it’s still a more solid option.”
Board of education member Jeffrey Brookner said he believes the $540,000 plan is really the only option.
“I think we should be embarrassed by the world languages program as it currently exists, and I think we should be bringing it back,” he said. “When we scaled it back, we did it with a lot of regret, and that was because of budgetary standards.”
“I have read that foreign languages reap the biggest benefits,” he added. “I am not at all worried about the effects on the curriculum, my only concern is finding the $540,000, but I think it’s critical we do it.”
But board member Jill Gladstone had a differing opinion.
“I feel that even though it would be nice to have a state-of-the-art program, we should come down from the high school and middle school, and beef up the fifth and sixth grade models to be more fiscally responsible,” she said.
Gladstone said she is also concerned about taking time away from other subjects in the kindergarten through fourth grades, particularly with a newly implemented math program as well as new requirements for language arts.
“I would like to get feedback from kindergarten through fourth grade teachers,” she said. “If we don’t get that feedback, I think it’s better to beef up the fifth and sixth grades, and we will see how the next couple years go.”
And board member Lynne Hurley said she is unsure if the district has the money to move forward with this kind of high-end program.
“I think that right now with this budget, I don’t think we are ready to put half a million dollars toward that,” she said. “It is more complicated than just hiring another teacher per building.”
“I don’t want to go back to what we had before, but maybe we should start with the minimum and look toward the state-of-the-art program, rather than just grabbing the money and scrambling to see how we are going to do it,” she added.
The early budget draft is for a proposed 2012-2013 budget of $133,817,689, which sticks with a 2 percent tax levy cap, as well as an additional $700,000 in state aid left over from the late appropriation in 2011.
Schilder has said tax levy information will not be available until February, and he does not anticipate any real change in the amount of state aid the district will receive.
All other recommendations for restoration of services in the district, as well as new options are unchanged since the December discussion.
Schilder said the one thing to be remembered about the proposal for $240,000 for wireless technology in grades five through 12 is that it is not just about allowing for students to have their own personal devices.
“I probably overplayed the issue of students bringing in personal devices,” he said. “I still believe it’s coming, definitely in the future.”
“But what I didn’t play up is that this wireless technology helps us use current technology,” he added.
For example, Schilder said, if there are 20 laptops on a mobile cart, that has to be wheeled to a location where they can be plugged in.
“People have to leave their rooms, and it’s not maximum use,” he said. “The wireless solution enables us to maximize the use of existing technology.”
Other additional items proposed for the budget include $796,000 for textbook adoptions; $395,000 for special education staffing to continue complying with state requirements; $240,000 for teachers to reduce some class sizes; $232,500 for deferred maintenance; and $60,000 to bring back the kindergarten through fourth grade choral program.
As for new additions, the proposal includes $80,000 for another resource officer at the ; $75,500 for kindergarten through sixth grade math program enhancements; $60,000 for a high school teaching specialist; $60,000 for another bilingual teacher; $33,000 for science and enrichment coordinator stipends; $7,000 for Rachel’s Challenge assemblies; and $7,000 for an assistant football coach.
Schilder also announced plans for community and school presentations, although they are unconfirmed at this time.
The tentative plans are for a presentation for families at the school March 1 at 9:30 a.m.; for and John F. Kennedy Primary families at Bradley Gardens March 14 at 7 p.m.; for families at the school March 15 at 7 p.m.; for and high school families at the high school at March 19 at 7:30 p.m.; for families at the school March 21 at 7:30 p.m.; for families at the school April 11 at 7:30 p.m.; for and families at Hamilton April 12 at 7 p.m.; and for families at the school April 13 at 9:15 a.m.
Presentations before the Raritan Borough Council and the Bridgewater Township Council have not yet been scheduled.