Freehold Regional HS District: Teachers pay increase rescinded due to “the diploma mill”

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Teachers lose diploma-mill pay bump

Had used same school as superintendent

By Joshua Riley • EDUCATION WRITER • December 10, 2008

The Freehold Regional High School District has cut back the salaries of two more staffers because they had received doctoral degrees from an unaccredited diploma mill.

Board Attorney Lawrence Schwartz announced that action during another tense public-comment session at a board meeting Monday in the Englishtown administration building.

English teacher Cheryl A. Lanza of Freehold and teacher consultant Lorraine Taddei-Graef of Lacey work at Freehold Township High School and had both received pay raises upon obtaining doctoral degrees from Breyer State University, the same school that issued degrees to Superintendent H. James Wasser, former Assistant Superintendent Frank J. Tanzini and current Assistant Superintendent Donna Evangelista.

Their salaries have since been reduced to a master’s degree level. Lanza was paid $58,385 with a master’s salary in 2007, nearly $5,000 less than she had earned with a doctorate this year, public records show.

Taddei-Graef was paid $66,530 with a doctorate degree in 2007 and was to be paid $73,620 during the 2008-09 school year.

Wasser had received a pay bump as well, but stopped receiving the extra stipend after the state ordered that he, Tanzini and Evangelista drop their doctoral titles in early September.

Lanza and Taddei-Graef were ordered to drop their titles in October.

Public outrage was sparked in July when the Asbury Park Press began reporting on Wasser’s degree.

Since then, the board has struggled to maintain decorum at its public meetings while a diminishing group of residents has strived to glean information. The discord continued during Monday night’s board meeting.

Jim Sage of Marlboro, a critic of the board and district administration, asked board President Patricia Horvath if Lanza and Taddei-Graef had ceased receiving the salary bump associated with the degree.

Horvath answered firmly but ambiguously: “The issue has been addressed and it has been taken care of.”

Sage said that was no answer, and Board Attorney Lawrence Schwartz returned Horvath’s answer, verbatim.

Agitated, Sage spoke louder, stating that the public has a right to know. Anger escalated as another attendee shouted that the teachers should be given formal notice before Sage gets a public answer. A security guard began to approach Sage.

Schwartz answered, quelling the fervor: the teachers’ salaries have been returned to a master’s degree scale, he said, adding that the teachers did nothing improper.

Some attendees posed questions about employee repayment for the tuition paid to Breyer State and received no answer. About 15 members of the public attended, though not all were critical of the board.

The board will meet Monday at Marlboro High School, 95 N. Main St. An executive session starts at 7 p.m., and the board expects to start the public meeting at 8 p.m.

Joshua Riley: (732) 308-7751 or jriley@app.com

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Manalapan – Englishtown: School district worried about next year

Budget restraints may eliminate 9 jobs

n anticipated budget shortfall in the 2009-10 school year could force the Manalapan-Englishtown Regional Schools district to restructure its schools and eliminate nine teaching positions, according to the schools superintendent.

Superintendent of Schools John Marciante said three teaching positions could be cut in 2009-10 from Manalapan-Englishtown Middle School due to a decrease in enrollment there. He said those positions, in addition to another six district teaching positions, could be eliminated as teachers retire.

Marciante said the district would require fewer teachers if it uses a flexible block schedule for some of its students. The scheduling allows faculty to teach subjects to several shifts of students, as opposed to one teacher instructing the same group throughout the day.

In a letter to parents issued Wednesday, Marciante said the largest single component of the district’s budget — roughly $43.4 million in a $69 million spending plan — is salaries and benefits.

“It is only through cuts in this area that significant budget reductions can be addressed,” Marciante said in the letter.

“People retiring . . . at the top of the guide make somewhere between $80,000 and $85,000 plus benefits of up to $15,000,” Marciante said in an interview Thursday. “That rounds out to $90,000-plus per person. Multiply that by 9 and that’s more than $800,000 (in savings) right there.”

Marciante said the proposal also would restructure the Clark Mills, Lafayette Mills, Milford Brook, Taylor Mills and Wemrock Brook schools as first- through fifth-grade schools. Pine Brook School would house sixth-graders.

Clark Mills, Milford Brook and Taylor Mills are currently first- through third-grade schools. Lafayette Mills, Pine Brook and Wemrock Brook house grades four to six.

Manalapan-Englishtown Middle School would continue to house grades seven and eight.

He said the district would save funds with shorter bus routes, as students would no longer have to travel across town to get to what will be their respective neighborhood schools.

Business Administrator Joseph Passiment said the proposal was driven by the new state funding formula and the recently passed legislation that restricts the amount of taxes to be raised. He said the district is anticipating a budget reduction of more than $1 million for 2009-10, and another substantial reduction in 2010-11.

Passiment said district state aid will remain flat for three years, and state law restricts tax-levy increases to 4 percent. The district projects enrollment will stay flat at roughly 5,500 students, he said.

“(A $2.7 million increase in state aid in 2007) was a one-shot deal,” Passiment said. “Health benefits, gas, heat, electricity, telephones, supplies and materials, everything is going up.

“If I can only raise my revenue stream from taxes 4 percent and my state aid remains the same, the current costs I have escalating for next year will result in a shortfall. That’s a given,” Passiment said.

Parents had mixed feelings about the proposal.

“I think it would be great to have everything more localized so that you aren’t driving all the way across town,” said Meryl D’Amato, whose 9-year-old son Nicholas attends Clark Mills School. “Nicholas is on the bus for an hour, and that would cut the bus drive by probably a half-hour.”

Kim Waters said she wasn’t pleased with what she’s heard of the proposal so far. She has 10-year-old twins at Clark Mills School whom she expects to move to Wemrock Brook in fourth grade.

“In fifth grade I have no idea where they would go,” Waters said. “Then in sixth grade they would have to go to another school. That would be quite a lot of switching around for my kids. I don’t want to seem negative about it until I hear more of the facts, but that was my first reaction.”

Marciante said the plan has not been finalized, and public meetings will be held at 7:30 p.m. May 8, May 21 and June 5 at the middle school to get community input.

“The change in the state law allows us to really predict going forward,” Marciante said. “All we’re estimating here is the costs going up for utilities and insurance, and we’re making modest expectations for raises . . . What I think people need to understand with the budget change by the legislation is this is a real number.”

APP – By Alesha Williams Boyd

Manalapan/Englishtown: Teachers picket school board

More than 150 teachers — carrying signs with slogans such as “No contract, still working, always caring” — protested outside Manalapan-Englishtown Regional Schools’ Main Street administration offices Monday, urging district officials to settle contract negotiations as soon as possible.

Among sticking points in the negotiations are salary and benefits, said teachers of the Manalapan-Englishtown Education Association, who have been working without a contract since June.

But district officials, who did not wish to discuss specifics Monday, said they’ve offered a fair settlement that teachers won’t accept.

Association President Ken Weber, a teacher at Pine Brook School, said in his recollection the kindergarten-through-eighth-grade district has settled a contract only once before it expired in his 30-plus years working there.

“I’d like someone to explain why it’s fair to offer teachers in Manalapan the second lowest increase in the county,” Weber said before the demonstration, which preceded a fact-finding session at administration offices Monday night. “If someone can explain to us how that’s fair, we’ll take a look at it.”

The district is offering teachers below the 4.64 percent average 2007-08 salary increase in Monmouth County, Weber said, although he would not divulge what the number was. He was flanked during the protest by New Jersey Education Association President Joyce Powell, who attended the rally to lend her support to the association’s cause.

(Just for the record, I got a raise of 3% and was very happy)