To the editor:
We received a copy of the flyer written by the Brigantine Education Association urging residents to attend the 9/24/15 Board of Education meeting to discuss its expired contract with the board. We knew nothing of the circumstances regarding this contract. We went to listen and learn something about the contractual differences between these two parties, the goals each side wants to achieve in the new contract, and the financial consequences for taxpayers in such a contract. Five people, including us, other then the many teachers, responded to the flyer. When the meeting adjourned, we had learned nothing about a contract. However, what we saw and heard is cause for concern for the people of Brigantine. Please keep in mind that Brigantine is a Type 1 school district. The mayor alone appoints the seven-member board and there is no voter participation at all.
1. We recognize that respect for, and the practice of, constructive opposition and citizen scrutiny of government, including the public school, are still not embedded deeply in our local public entities. We were reminded of this as the meeting proceeded. A six-page agenda with attachments was swiftly approved under the direction of the superintendent, with not one comment from any board member except when a member defended his wife during public comment. (By the way, the board remained silent during public comment as well.) Where’s the discussion? Do all board members think the same on every item? The meetings should be shown on TV, archived and streamed.
2. Strangely, considering the important issues involved in writing a contract, one of the main topics mentioned by the teacher who spoke during public comment was the irrelevant subject of Anne Phillips, the Brigantine Taxpayers Association and their “teacher bashing” as she described it. She connects the bringing of essential facts by the BTA about the schools’ poor performance on the NJASK tests with less respect from the board for the teachers which affects the board’s position regarding the new contract. So, she denounces the messenger, the BTA, and refuses to acknowledge the facts. A public school’s purpose is to enable every child to get a sound education. Yes, some students do well after they leave Brigantine. But, based on the test results, many are not receiving the academic preparation necessary to succeed in higher education.
3. We believe that the teacher’s, Ms. Amend, comments, including making false claims about two other of the BTA’s board of directors, did not enhance the professionalism of the Brigantine Education Association. That’s a shame because it appears there is some effort to address the school district’s unsatisfactory academic standing. She also gave a letter critical of the BTA from the wife of Board member James Mackay dated 2/7/14 to another teacher to read ( the BTA had replied in detail at the time). However, at the end of the meeting Ms. Amend rushed up to apologize for this to the teacher, and, perhaps, (hard to hear) to the board also. Regarding this letter, the writer used another name, which is fine as long as she discloses the fact that her husband is a member of the Board of Education, president of the Brigantine Republican Club and was, of course, appointed by the Republican mayor.
4. The BTA has been expressing its concern with the Brigantine schools’ level of academic achievement for over 10 years. Again, here are the test results that the people of Brigantine need to consider. Tests do matter. Attempts to discredit them hurt students who are not proficient in math and English, facts that are revealed in the tests. What’s being done isn’t working for many students. When evaluating the data, it’s crucial to know that each district is compared to schools statewide and also to schools in its peer group, the DFG (district factor group- similar grade levels and characteristics such as qualifying for free/reduced lunch, etc.). Therefore, when explanations are given for Brigantine’s poor showing, they aren’t credible.
5. In 2014, the BTA asked, “Are Brigantine’s schools failing their students?” This year we asked, “Fulfilling a public school’s purpose – who’s accountable?” and printed the Brigantine Public Schools – Spring 2014 NJASK (NJ Assessment of Skills and Knowledge) test analysis. In summary, here it is:
Grades 3-8, in math and language arts – there are two comparisons, a passing percentage and an average scale score, each ”case” is a grade
In 7 of 12 cases, the DFG passing percentage exceeds that of the Brigantine schools
In 9 of 12 cases, the state passing percentage exceeds that of the Brigantine schools
In 6 of 12 cases, the DFG scale score exceeds that of the Brigantine schools.
In 12 of 12 cases, the state scale score exceeds that of the Brigantine schools.
We can do better.
This past spring, a new test was given – the PARCC (partnership for assessment of readiness for college and careers). Results will be available this fall.
Anne H. Phillips and Mare Yorke