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Friday, April 7, 2017

(Board of Ed) Member David Rutherford is an embarrassment, Board plugs $8M budget shortfall

Rutherford rants; Board averts budget shortfall.

Plainfield Board of Ed member David Rutherford took a page from the Donald Trump playbook in an angry rant posted to his blog Tuesday evening (see here): when something that doesn't make you look good comes up, stir up a fuss over a different issue where you might look better.

By this time, everyone knows (or should know) that the Board is struggling with moving the district ahead in educational outcomes. Before that can be done, the problem of what to do about the Superintendent must be resolved,

Anna Belin Pyles is a nice person (I have known her for many years), but she is in way over her head as Superintendent. Morale among teachers and staff is abysmal. The only strategy seems to be to constantly shuffle staff around like chess pieces.

Teachers don't know what to expect next. Students cannot thrive in an atmosphere of so much turmoil.

What does Rutherford do?

He blames all the issues in the District on Mayor Mapp, ignoring his own role as a Board member in the situation entirely.

He admits he was planning to "start a conversation" on food service at the Tuesday board meeting. Food service?

Even as David's fingers were typing those words, reporters for Gannett papers were working to absorb the news from the state's release of the 2015-16 School Performance Report (here) (story posted on the Courier's website Wednesday afternoon, see here).

While David was fussing about the state of student meals, he was able to deflect his readers from Plainfield's appalling performance in the PARCC tests, one way to make comparisons between various school districts throughout the state.

Whatever you think of the PARCC tests, at least it is a uniform standard. Every district's students are evaluated on their proficiency in English and math, among other concerns.

How does Plainfield compare?

The percentage meeting or exceeding expectations in English language proficiency was 15 percent. Compare that to Franklin Township (47%) and North Plainfield (37%), two communities with demographic similarities to Plainfield.

In math, Plainfield came in at 6%, compared to North Plainfield (16%).

What is David doing about boosting this distressing performance instead of ignoring it?

On Wednesday evening, the Board of Ed's presentation on the revised budget for 2017-18 included news that the $8M shortfall was being addressed (through attrition, among other measures) and there would be no layoffs of security and other personnel as originally proposed.

With state funding flat from year to year, plus a cap on how much school taxes can be raised (a maximum of 2% per year), the alternatives going forward are either raising cash from other sources or cutting expenses (through layoffs or outsourcing).

There was some talk (including suggestions from audience members) about getting more grants by hiring grant writers or establishing an educational foundation as a fundraising arm.

(The foundation suggestion puzzled me, as I distinctly remember a fuss over having established just such a foundation quite a number of years ago. What ever happened to it?).

There will be more opportunities for community input on the budget before the mandatory submission date of May 12.

This includes next Tuesday's meeting (April 11), at which -- it seems possible -- the Superintendent question may be finally resolved. Check the District website for location of the meeting.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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