Meet the Candidates — Week 1

Every week, The Sun will ask candidates in the April 21 election for Board of Education to respond to questions pertinent to local issues. Here, you can find the responses, in full, from each candidate each week. To view past responses, click on the “Schools” tab, or search “Meet the Candidates.”

Questions for March 25:

1.) How do you balance educational quality with fiscal responsibility?

2.) Should the district explore alternative sources of revenue (i.e. corporate sponsorship or out-of-district tuition students)?

LINDA ALEXANDROFF

1.) I believe we are fortunate in Moorestown to have an outstanding administrative team that weighs the requirements of No Child Left Behind with Moorestown educational values while always looking at ways to save tax dollars. Achieving this objective on a daily basis requires a constant but creative use of resources and manpower to achieve fiscal responsibility. It is not always about cutting costs but rather utilizing new educational models that ensure the use of advanced technologies and teaching practices to challenge children that can save money. Not everyone will be pleased with this process, especially when eliminating outdated programs, but our children’s success in the global workplace needs to remain the №1 priority. Moorestown needs to make use of opportunities to share resources and technology with other districts to offer educational opportunities beyond the classroom. These concepts have the potential to enhance the education of our children while reducing costs. I believe the district has been extremely successful in applying for grants to enhance our curriculum without relying solely on taxes. A concerted effort to research and apply for the new grants and opportunities arising from Washington are required. Although we face challenges resulting from state and federal mandates that bear undue financial strain on taxpayers, I believe we need to find creative solutions within our district to deal with these regulations. Balancing education in Moorestown with fiscal responsibility is extremely difficult. Do we increase class size to reduce expenses, do we cut programs and opportunities, or can we find alternative ways to educate using modern technology and new thinking? I believe the latter is the answer.

2.) The district should always be on the lookout for new sources of revenue. That may come from corporate sponsorships, advertising and tuition-paying students, but in my mind, it is an old way of thinking.

A new educational model looks beyond district resources and starts tapping into neighboring districts as well as the broader community to maximize learning potential. It is not always about finding new revenue but how to use an existing revenue resource to lower your taxes. For example, Moorestown could draw on Lockheed Martin to provide insight and possible overview in science and math programs so students take their education beyond the fundamentals and begin to apply the skills in real-life situations.

The investment in partnerships allows Moorestown to utilize the assets of the partner without having to purchase the items themselves, and the partner benefits by better community relations. With respect to partnerships with other districts, a hub could be created that would provide the opportunity for students to take classes with Moorestown students via the Internet and vice versa, saving both districts the costs associated with individual classes.

Another example would be to collaborate with the township to share resources and personnel for safety, security and maintenance. In our district, we have a fund-raising arm, the Moorestown Education Foundation, which provides direct support to the schools in the form of grants. Greater community participation in this organization would help offset district costs. The MEF funds programs such as the fitness center at the MAC, landscaping at the UES and the new piano at the high school, saving the district from absorbing these costs.

Finally, as I stated before, new funding sources may become available under Washington’s direction. The district needs to keep a keen eye on those developments to ensure that our community benefits fully.

CYNDY PAPPATERRA

1.) The quality of education is not exclusively dependent on the financial resources available. I believe we can be fiscally prudent and ensure a great education to the Moorestown students. For example, Michele Rhee, a person whom I have come to admire greatly, is trying to clean up the Washington, D.C., schools, which are the worst in the nation; this and despite the fact that they are amongst the highest spending per pupil in the country.

Given this example, spending more money does not necessarily, in and of itself, equate to a quality education. In some ways, the question seems to presume that it is necessary to give up financial sense to gain a quality education. Is it really necessary for one to be sacrificed for the other?

The film Freedom Writers, for example, is based on a true story and is the result of one young, inexperienced and yet, highly inspirational teacher. I believe in rewarding teachers who succeed, and at the same time there needs to be consequences for those who do not. There are many excellent, superb teachers in the Moorestown district. There are also many good teachers, and, yes, there a number who frankly have no business being in the classroom. Though it may be rare, it is a sad state of affairs when a student gets a teacher and the only hope is that the year goes by quickly.

This is the case where a parent has given up on academic learning for that year and is just waiting for June and hoping for a better teacher next year.

I understand there may be factors that preclude or limit the district’s actions in such cases, but we can certainly begin by rewarding and recognizing the teachers who are leading the way. As a district and as a country, we want and need to differentiate those who are achieving success in the classroom and those who are not. In closing, I would like to add, it doesn’t cost money for students to respect another student’s opinion. It doesn’t cost money to prevent bullying and promote kindness. It doesn’t cost money to respect and appreciate our many opportunities we are afforded.

2.) While I believe all potential sources of revenue need to be considered, I also believe we should proceed with extreme caution and careful consideration when considering corporate sponsorship. The companies would need to hold values consistent with the Moorestown Board of Education’s highest ideals. Also, we should not permit the sponsor to dictate any conditions. I question whether we are really at a place where we need to consider additional outside revenues to provide a quality education to our student. After all, Moorestown remains an affluent town that has the wherewithal to financially provide a quality school system.

DIMITRI SCHNEIBERG

1.) In today’s economic climate, fiscal responsibility needs to be at the forefront of every decision made by a public official. Because our property tax dollars provide the majority of the funding for our schools (and 64.5 percent of those monies collected go to the schools), it is imperative that the Board of Education scrutinize each expenditure to ensure that our money is used as effectively as possible. As a member of the board, I pledge to:

• Hold the line on tax increases. In tough economic times, when people are losing jobs and cutting back spending on non-essentials, we need to hold our government to the same standards to which we hold our own pocket books. This means establishing a goal of 0 percent tax increases and working with creativity and fiscal discipline to accomplish that goal.

• Aggressively pursue alternative sources of revenue. The quality of education provided by our schools is one of the primary factors that attracted so many of us to Moorestown. I will work tirelessly to ensure that an education in the Moorestown public schools meets our highest expectations. In order to accomplish that goal in a time of economic crisis, we must leverage all external sources of funding to ensure that we can continue to fund the programs that challenge our children, without further burdening the taxpayers.

• Maximize the budget dollars at hand. I have the background and experience to make sure that the school budget provides our community with the best education return for our investment. I have a BS from Georgetown University, Magna Cum Laude, with dual majors in finance/accounting and an MBA from Wharton School of Business, with Honors, with concentration in finance. I am a small business owner of LearnQuest, a leader in the field of corporate education, virtual learning and technology training.

2.) The only way to ensure fiscal responsibility is to utilize as many external sources of revenue as possible. With tax ratables within Moorestown dropping at an alarming rate, compounded by the uncertainty of future state aid, there will continue to be pressure on our school budget.

The good news is that there are a number of alternative sources of revenue available to those school districts that are resourceful and aggressive in pursuing those avenues. Too often, the taxpayers are perceived as the first and only option when it comes to funding new programs, increasing funding to existing programs and driving new infrastructure and capital initiatives.

I pledge to you that I will look to taxpayers only when all available alternate channels have been explored.

Specifically, we can leverage many alternative funding sources including:

• Corporate sponsorships and gifts. A successful school district should partner with the corporations in the community. Corporations can help school boards refine curriculum to make sure it’s relevant to today’s business world, but also be an alternate source of funding.

Tasteful corporate sponsorship and advertising at events and/or corporate gifting via grants and donations can provide a significant alternate source of revenue.

• State and federal grants. The recently passed federal stimulus bill creates a large pool of dollars for school districts to use on a variety of programs, particularly those related to capital improvements.

I will work to make sure funds are secured for Moorestown and spent on projects that will lead to a long-term reduction in overall costs and increase in quality of education for our children.

WILLIAM VAN FOSSEN

1.) As an incumbent board member, I have worked with my fellow board members to see that Moorestown schools provide the highest quality education to the students of Moorestown at a cost that is fiscally responsible to the taxpayers of this community.

Over the years, Moorestown schools have consistently maintained student achievement that is well above the state average at a cost per pupil that is below the state average.

In good times and during these difficult economic times, I have worked hard to see that we maintain the proper balance.

We continue to see flat or reduced state aid, and the combination of rising fixed costs, contractual obligations and a reduced tax base has made it ever more challenging.

As I write this, we are just putting the finishing touches on a budget that is well below the state-mandated cap and one where we have had to make tough choices.

I believe it is a good budget that will preserve the quality education that we all desire and one that is fair to the taxpayers. One of the main reasons that most of us initially chose to live in this town and raise our families here is because of the outstanding school system.

If re-elected, I will continue to be mindful of my responsibility to provide a thorough and efficient education for all the students of this town while being a good steward of our tax dollars.

2.) Our district has been on the forefront of districts in New Jersey when it comes to exploring alternative revenue sources. The district has been active in pursuing grants and since 2004 has seen monetary benefits to the district in the form of entitlement and competitive grants that total in excess of $2.7 million.

We also have been proactive in providing programs for the hearing impaired and for students with autism that have benefited our own students while taking in tuition paying students from other districts. The tuition students allow us to spread the costs over more students reducing our costs per student. As a district, we have also benefited from a strong Home and School Association and from the Moorestown Education Foundation that have raised many dollars for projects and items that would not otherwise be funded in the school budget.

The board recently created new policy that allows the district to accept corporate donations upon the recommendation of the superintendent and the approval of the board.

I will push to see that we continue to actively pursue alternative revenue sources that are of benefit to the district while at the same time being mindful that we do not compromise our core values and principles.

DAVID WEINSTEIN

1.) Fiscal responsibility and educational quality are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they are concepts that each bears a heavy relationship to the other. I am a public finance attorney, and every day, I work with public entities assisting them in making difficult decisions on how to best utilize available resources to provide public services.

From this background, I know that to be fiscally responsible does not mean that educational quality will be adversely impacted. Being fiscally responsible means making wise decisions on how available funds are spent. At the same time, as a parent of children attending Baker, I want to make sure that our children receive the same excellent education my wife and I received from the Moorestown Public Schools.

I was asked by our Township Council in 2005 to chair the Budget Efficiency Task Force. Our charge was to review the operations of the township and look for ways to make operations more efficient and to propose possible alternative revenue streams. Through the report, we proposed changes that would not reduce or adversely impact the quality of services, while creating efficiencies in the township.

Items such as the school calendar, that has students returning from a long break on a Friday, causing classrooms to be heated to normal operating temperatures for one day, when significant savings could be accomplished by returning to school the following Monday, should not be accepted. Items purchased and then left unutilized should be reviewed. The use of alternative energy in our schools should be explored and, if long-term cost savings can be obtained, utilized. This is especially true considering the federal government is currently providing economic assistance to public entities that install green energy sources such as solar panels and geothermal heating systems.

I would propose an efficiency review should be conducted by our school district, with a charge to review the operations of the school for cost savings and revenue generating opportunities, while ensuring we maintain high educational standards in our schools. I believe we should reward and encourage actions in our schools to control expenses and costs. It is imperative that the residents of Moorestown be assured that the financial resources of our school district are managed responsibly and that our schools are operated efficiently.

2.) I am open to ideas on how to generate additional revenue in the school district and as such support the creation of an Ad Hoc Committee for the purposes of determining alternative sources of revenue.

Alternative revenue sources can be generated from a more aggressive use of local education foundations, such as the Moorestown Education Foundation, which are established for the sole purpose of raising funds for the school district. Additional revenue can also be obtained through more aggressive grant writing. Revenue can also be found through cost reductions and savings by the use of shared services agreements with other districts with other governmental entities, such as our township.

The use of corporate sponsorship may seem appealing: however, the use of corporate sponsorships must be approached with caution. In today’s corporate world, you may ink a deal with a corporation that does all the right things, however they may not be the same company you are dealing with down the line. Moreover, while taking out-of-district students to obtain additional tuition fees seems like revenue generation, there is an offsetting cost associated with each student that does not always make sense.

In short, there are many avenues that can be taken to obtain additional revenue, each with its own benefits. I support reviewing any and all revenue generating mechanisms that the school district can legally utilize.