Jim Jaques Answers Our 3 Questions for Board of Ed Candidates

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1)  Do you think that the committee which chose the new principal for the HS took into consideration the comments and suggestions the community extended the administration during the superintendent's Forums?  Were you happy with the process?

First, I would like to congratulate Bruce Peragallo on being named the new principal at Metuchen High School. I've had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Peragallo a few times this year, both socially and through CQE. I'm happy with the decision, and I think he will be a good leader for the high school. As for the process by which Mr. Peragallo was selected, Ms. Sinatra assured the community that our suggestions and concerns were accounted for in developing the job description and the selection process. In particular, the public comments from the Superintendent's Forum and the online survey indicated a strong preference for a new principal with a strong focus on academics and proven leadership capabilities. These qualities were a focus in the selection process, so I think it is fair to say that the public's interests were considered with respect to the selection criteria. Another community preference was that the search be national in scope, so that the best candidates could be identified regardless of location. Ms. Sinatra reported that she placed job advertisements in several nationally-recognized industry websites, places where potential applicants would know to look for open positions.

One area in which I would like to have seen some changes in the process is community involvement. The process would have been aided, in perception and in substance, if there had been at least one community volunteer serving on the selection committee. I also would have strongly preferred that the Board be involved earlier in the process, as opposed to interviewing only the three finalists. The Board is the community's elected voice in the educational system, and I believe it would have been appropriate for them to have represented the community's interests during the entire selection process.

That said, I think that Ms. Sinatra did a good job of keeping the public informed, at regular Board of Education meetings, of the progress made by the selection committee leading up to Mr. Peragallo's nomination. So, I do have some concerns with the hiring process, but I believe the committee made a good choice in Mr. Peragallo, and I welcome the opportunity to work with him so that the high school makes progress under his leadership.

2)  Are there any positions in the district administration where those responsibilities could be doubled up in order to save money?

If elected to the Board, I would place a priority on preserving educational staff and programs. I am not a proponent of cutting anybody's position unless all other alternatives are exhausted. I believe that the school system in Metuchen is fiscally well-managed and runs efficiently. I prefer therefore that we look for new sources of revenue as a means to save money before making cuts to any part of the budget involving staff. This will become more important next year and beyond, when the new 2.5% budget cap is likely to be passed by the state. The budget gap will be such that it will not be possible to cut enough programs and staff to balance the budget without severe harm to our children's education. In my opinion, we will have to look at increased busing fees, club and sports participation fees, and other revenue sources to make ends meet.

If it does become necessary to cut staff, however, I don't think that any position in the Administration should be considered indispensable. In theory, all Administration responsibilities can be doubled up, if need be. The cost of this, of course, is in quality and efficiency. One person cannot be expected to do two jobs as well as two people can. We may be forced to make these tradeoffs in the future, but they would have consequences.


3)  Where do you think the next batch of capital improvements needs to be done in order to accommodate the purported increased enrollments over the next few years in our district?

I'm not convinced that there is a long-term trend toward increased school enrollment in Metuchen. There was a one-year bump in enrollment at Moss Kindergarten for the 2009-2010 school year, but I have not seen sufficient evidence of a trend in this direction. That bump does not appear to have been repeated in Moss enrollment for the 2010-2011 school year. The enrollment data in the New Jersey Report Card database for the last 10 years showed a slight increase in the middle of the last decade, followed by a slight decline. Overall, there are about 100 more students enrolled now than there were 10 years ago, which translates into about 8 additional students per grade. This doesn't point to a need for additional classrooms that I can see.

If Metuchen did see increased enrollment in the next few years, it is not likely that any new construction would be possible. The high school and middle school have both had significant renovations in recent years, and the school budget is already going to be difficult enough to manage without also trying to pass any large capital improvement projects. New classrooms can be created from existing spaces with our schools to accommodate additional students. So, while I don't see that school enrollment will be significantly increasing in the next few years, I think we would have to make do with the space we have currently in the schools if it did.

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