Michael Hoban was an educator for 48 years, teaching at the elementary, high school and university levels. He was a university professor of mathematics for 35 years, is a Professor Emeritus at the City University of NY, and has lived in Lakewood for 14 years. Prof. Hoban is the senior educational consultant to Lakewood U.N.I.T.E., the group that advocates for minority families in Lakewood. This post originally appeared in the Asbury Park Press.
Most of us are probably familiar with the saying: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” That is, most of us have heard it with the possible exception of the State Education Department in Trenton — which apparently refuses to learn from its past mistakes.
A May 10 editorial raised important questions regarding the decision of the department to give Lakewood a $28 million loan for the school system for 2018 (in addition to other such loans in the past).
The editorial stated: “What is obvious from this year’s budget dance is that the state Department of Education doesn’t have its act together.”
Your average Lakewood taxpayer (like myself) would call that the understatement of the year.
The editorial further stated: “Sooner or later, Lakewood’s funding issues must be resolved.” And we should point out that “sweeping them under the rug” does not count as a resolution.
I have been writing op-eds on the subject of Lakewood schools for the past several years pointing out among other things:
• The children in Lakewood’s public schools are being denied “a thorough and efficient education” partly because the school funding model for New Jersey schools cannot work for Lakewood because it is unique in the state in its ratio of private schoolchildren to public schoolchildren (83 percent to 17 percent — 30,000 students to 6000 students).
• Among the main causes of the problems are state and federal laws that mandate certain costs in connection with school busing and aid for special-needs children in private schools.
• The Lakewood Board of Education, made up almost entirely of parents of private schoolchildren, apparently does not care about the public schools and diverts every dollar possible to the private schools, of which there are well over 100 in the township). The board is clearly part of the problem, not part of the solution.
• The Department of Education realized there was a problem some years ago and sent in state monitors to try to help. Unfortunately, these monitors have apparently done nothing to correct the situation.
• Lakewood spends only 48 percent of its school budget on real instruction for the public schoolchildren compared to 75 percent in the surrounding towns. So, how can the public schoolchildren possibly get a good education?
• To make matters worse, there has long been suspected within the township that the process for getting a child declared “special needs” is completely corrupt — with some parents demanding (and getting) this ruling for children for the sole purpose of avoiding paying the tuition at a private school. The taxpayers then pay it, to the tune of $100,000 per student in many cases.
These are just some of the problems that have caused a $28 million shortfall for the 2018 school year.
So, is there any chance of a solution to these problems — short of the state recognizing Lakewood’s unique status and creating a special category for the funding of its public schools?
Two actions must be taken by the Department of Education immediately to ensure that the public schoolchildren have a chance at a decent education:
• A complete takeover of the school system by the state, meaning the disbanding of the current board and the appointment of a board that better represents the taxpayers and the public school children.
• The immediate overhaul of the rules and procedures governing the busing of school children and the testing and placement of special-needs children.
Does the present administration in Trenton have the courage to take these needed steps? Will political expediency outweigh the needs of the public school children? Only time will tell.