Lakewood Update: HOW much Per Student?

Tonight the Lakewood Board of Education has a public meeting. Board agendas are typically unrevealing — you get to see the action items to be voted on but not the public comments, discussions, or presentations — but Lakewood, as always, is the exception to the rule.

So, let’s have a look-see.

First, the boilerplate language stipulating that the district is solvent is stated this way:

Pursuant to N.J.A.C. 6A:23A-16.10, I, Kevin Campbell Interim Business Administrator/ Board Secretary, do not certify that as of June 27, 2018 no budgetary line item account has obligations and payments which in total exceed the amount appropriated by the District Board of Education pursuant to N.J.S.A.18A:22-8 and 18A:22-8.1, and that the District financial accounts have been reconciled and are in balance.
Tuition and Transportation line items exceed appropriations and will not be reconciled through
June 30, 2018.
In addition Health Benefits appropriation has been over-expended.
In addition, the District is awaiting State Aid Refunds for the below State Aid advance
repayments.

In other words, the district is not fiscally solvent, particularly in areas of transportation (of non-public students) and tuition to special education schools for ultra-Orthodox students.

Then the agenda lists 35 special education students whose parents will drive them to school instead of availing themselves of busing. The annual payment to parents ranges from $14,000 to $18,800. With the exception of one student attending the Harbor School, every other student on the list attends a school that only serves ultra-Orthodox children: the School for Children with Hidden Intelligence (SCHI), the Special Children’s Center, and two yeshivas, Bais Faiga and Tehlilas Chaya.

Pages 17-20 of the agenda list codes for individual students who will be attending SCHI. The cost per student is $509.51/day for 210 days. There’s too many for me to count right now but the latest reported figures are that Lakewood sends 193 students to SCHI. About half of them have an aide for $152.38/day. That’s about $107,000 per student per year for those without an aide and $139,020 for those with an aide. If you add in the transportation, the average cost to the district per SCHI student is between $123,000 and $157,000. If we use the lower number, the total cost to taxpayers for 193 students to attend SCHI is $23,739,000.

For comparison’s sake, included in this month’s list of out-of-district placements are several placements at the Coastal Learning Center in Monmouth County. The cost per day is $291.64. These students don’t appear to have an aide or annual payments to parents for transportation.

The agenda lists about a dozen consultants to conduct neurological, psychiatric, and behavioral evaluations. Here’s one: “Approve Dr. Valentina Ward to complete psychological evaluations for the 2018-2019 school year, at a rate of $800 per evaluation, at a cost not to exceed $4,000.00; to be paid through budget account #11-000-219-320-00-0000/11-000-219-390-13-0000.”

Fifteen teachers are resigning.

For those playing along at home, at May’s public meeting Interim Business Administrator Robert Finger turned down a renewal of his position. On tonight’s agenda:

FINGER, Robert
Interim Assistant Business Administrator
Effective: July 1, 2018
Terminating: June 30, 2019
Salary: $650.00 per day (1 day per week) (replacement for K Campbell – reassigned (budget account 11-000-251-100-00-0000)
In addition: Attendance at Board and/or Committee meetings and additional hours worked in excess of seven (7) hours per day shall be compensated at the rate of $85.00 per hour. Attendance at Negotiations Committee meetings and work performed for the purpose of collective bargaining shall be compensated at the rate of $125.00 per hour.

As far as other Lakewood news, Stacey Barchenger of the Asbury Park Press isn’t letting grass grown under her feet. Today she reports that the SCHI, whose founder Rabbi Osher Eisemann “stole nearly $1 million in public school money meant to fund special education,” was issued more subpoenas seeking financial records going back further than previously reported.

And here she has a deep dive into Lakewood Public Schools’ transportation system, which involves “$29 million a year, 1,600 routes and 15,415 miles — the equivalent to driving from Anchorage to Miami three times a day — all to get the township’s kids to class. Of that total, transporting 32,000 private school students accounts for 1,300 routes and 13,600 miles.” She reports that the system, run by an unaccountable group called the Lakewood Student Transportation Authority, has 10,153 stops that pick up only one student. And this:

The LSTA ended its first year with a $1.9 million — or 10 percent — deficit, which is documented in an independent audit released by the state Department of Education. The LSTA this year is providing courtesy busing to about 10,000 students that state law says should only be offered transportation if there are excess funds.

Later in the article,

In April, a group of public school parents took over a school board meeting, accusing the mostly Jewish board members of not acting in the best interests of the public school students, about 85 percent of whom are Hispanic.

“The Board of Education, the board members, are not the Spanish community,” said Alejandra Morales, president of the nonprofit La Voz Latina and an advocate for immigrant and Latino families.

“The problem is not how much the state gives to the district, the problem is who receives the money in the district.”

Indeed.

 

What do you think?

One Comment

  1. Jonathan Shutman

    Starting with the excesses in payments reported, questions arise. Why the disparity in per pupil costs at different schools that provide for special needs students, parochial v. non-parochial? What are the qualifications of the special education teachers and aides at the SCHI and other Yeshiva special education schools? How are they hired, and by whom? Are they certified teachers and experienced aides with standards for being hired? As required by statute for public school personnel, given public school monies that go to these private special education schools, who observes and evaluates teachers and aides and certifies that goals for student IEPs are in place, implemented, and evaluated? Why one student transported? Why courtesy busing given excessive costs? Might one surmise cash in lieu of busing payments to parents is excessive if mileage is calculated? Who receives the per diem payment for instructional aides at SCHI? At other private special education schools, that is part of the cost. Bottom line – the township and state are a cash cow (barely on life support) for the private schools, special education and not, while the public school students are severely neglected. No matter, the superintendent and lawyer will be paid well to either turn a blind eye, blame others acting as the victim of state neglect while in reality being the bully of “me first”. Or at the bequest of others, they will obfuscate the issues and accountability as simply a lack of state funding whereas there is an insatiable and unaccountable appetite for these funds by special interests. It is so beyond time for the state to take over this district, replace the board, let go of all administrators including the lawyer, put in by statute systems of accountability, and in process be held accountable and be made to redress all failures of due process for professional staff observation and evaluation, and the abysmal state score re. fiscal management, curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Where is the shame? Obviously not in Lakewood by the powers that be. But what about at the state governance level? After all, it is state money that is keeping this reckless school administration afloat.

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