Guest Post: Lakewood Public Schools District is “A Shell of What It Once Was”

This guest post is by Jonathan Shutman, a retired school principal and administrator who has worked in the Marlboro, North Brunswick, and Montclair public school districts. He is presently a part-time support ESL and math teacher for CNA and LPN students at the Monmouth County Vocational School District. He is the author of  “Disability Abuse in Educational Settings.”

Recently, the Asbury Park Press ran a story by Stacey Barchenger, a seven-chapter history and expose about the influence of Rabbi Aaron Kotler, “Meet the Other Mayor of Lakewood: How One Man’s Vision Reshaped a School and Community.” An added chapter or separate expose could have been about the Lakewood Public Schools and Michael Inzelbuch, current board attorney of the Lakewood Public Schools, and his outsized influence and authority over the district. That includes his well-publicized salary, $600,000 a year, not including health and other benefits, that does not limit his outside legal work. With Superintendent Laura Winters’ salary of close to $200,000, not including benefits, two schools officials take over $1,000,000 of township and state funding. These are just facts. The Asbury Park Press chapters might continue, citing and explaining the Board of Education power-block specific to VAAD membership with the superintendent under Mr. Inzelbach’s advisement. Is the bargain that the Lakewood Board of Education agreed to so that Mr. Inzelbuch would represent Lakewood rather than engage in costly litigation against it? Of course, Mr. Inzelbuch can still engage in litigation against other school districts.

With Asbury Park Press reports (4/13/18 and 6/16/17) about financial fraud, high public school financial onus, and extremely skewed student population at the School for Children with Hidden Intelligence (SCHI) an investigation into the department of special services in Lakewood could be revealing. Administration by a director and/or supervisor of student special services is critical in this crucial department. Who has that administrative responsibility this year? How many cases are Child Study Team (CST) members accountable for? Who organizes and directs the flow of cases? Who has the administrative authority to recommend placements, such as with the private schools? Who calls meetings and monitors statutory timelines? Who has supervised, given professional support, or has actually observed CST members or special education teachers as required in statute this year? Who has supervised and monitored for accountability of services for special education students placed in private or parochial schools? What kind of effective support staff is in place for CST members? And, what is the role of the superintendent who has overall accountability for these critical issues of statue, accountability, and student services?

The Lakewood Public Schools officials are asking for more state funding. By the numbers of students not in the public schools but receiving special services, on face value that is necessary and reasonable. But what about the funds already being given in salaries to the board attorney and superintendent and covering present out-of-district placements? How are those funds being used to serve the students? Besides seeking more state funding, is anyone in administration seeking grants, not just from the public sector but from private sector sponsors and parochial school donors? Is there an educational foundation, common to other townships, working on raising funds for needed school supplies, technology, or other equipment, not limited to athletics but also the arts?

The Lakewood Public Schools were known for excellence in academics, athletics, and the arts. It is now a shell of what it once was, financially milked dry by those outsize salaries and costly special services for parochial school needs acknowledging inadequate funding and accountability measures by state governance. When do local politics and parochial concerns become balanced by the needs and interests of the wider community? Not likely until a real investigation is conducted by the state Department of Education of the Lakewood Public Schools’ financial,  instructional, and support practices, as well as remedies with teeth that are placed upon the district. Not until state politicians of both parties put policy advocacy above local and parochial political interests. Not until the rights of all Lakewood students to what the state constitution references as a thorough and efficient education is honored in word and deed.

What do you think?

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