2008-10-23 / Opinion
County doesn't need separate, private schools for gifted students
The largest portion of our tax dollars goes toward education in this county; according to my tax bill, 56.46 percent of my taxes go toward education. This is predominately due to the fact that we have so many schools. In addition to city and regional schools, which we must have to educate our children, we also fund five private schools paid for with public funds. These "career academies" take only the brightest and best students all focused on college prep, which is fine. The concern is these students are receiving a very private education at the taxpayers' expense. One student is chosen from each district for each year. The average graduating class is very small — 50-70 students vs. approximately 300 in our city and regional schools. These small classes virtually provide a ratio of one-to-one; private schools can't even offer this ratio.
I recently read that Monmouth County is comprised of 53 municipalities — I believe that equates to 53 sending districts. One student from each district is entitled to attend a career academy, if he or she makes the grades. The entrance exams are quite difficult and the student must have a proven record of their educational abilities — exceeding in all subjects. It isn't easy to get into any one of five career academies, which are: (1) Allied Health and Science Academy in Neptune specializing in further education toward a career in the medical sciences (2) High Technology High School in Lincroft specializes in pre-engineering career academy that emphasizes the interconnections among mathematics, science, and technology (3) Communications High School in Wall is a small, personalized academy with a career focus, providing a theme-based integrated curriculumin conjunction with community and industry partnerships (4) Biotechnology High School, Freehold, also provides college preparatory curriculum, with a thematic on life sciences. Biotechnology is the newest addition to these upper educational facilities and was opened in 2005; it includes four state-of-the-art science labs; and (5) Marine Academy of Science and Technology, on Sandy Hook, is the only academy that may accept up to five students from outside of Monmouth County. Its mission is to provide small, nurturing, studentcentered, learning environment for young people who are talented and are truly interested in the areas of marine and environmental studies.
All five are very fine institutions of further education, but why are the taxpayers of Monmouth County footing the bill for the chosen few to receive a better than private education?
To be explicit, the costs are over-the-top because a separate educational system has been set up for these career academies. In addition to a superintendent, assistant superintendent and the support staff, each school has a principal, vice principals, guidance counselors, and each school provides approximately 30 teachers. All are eligible for their pension, annuities and health benefits.
Each school has a janitorial staff, cafeteria staff, security staff, heating and air conditioning. There also is a significant investment in computers and communications technology at each location as well as textbooks, other printed materials, reference books, periodicals, audio-visual materials and equipment, and all other shop materials, i.e., computer or science labs, media centers access to the Internet, and any and all equipment that is necessary to implement each different school's goals and objectives.
There is building maintenance, i.e., painting, plumbing and pest control, which are required at each individual school. All the schools must have cafeteria kitchens, so pest control is probably part of the monthly maintenance.
This Monmouth County Vocational School District also has a separate Board of Education with five members, which is logical, since they are not part of any existing school district.
Five extra schools where public tax dollars pay for busing the students from each district to the chosen career academy. An example: a student from Oceanport goes to Freehold five days a week in a bus; with the price of gas, that is a lot of money. But because the career academies and vocational schools are part of our "public" school system, the tuition and transportation costs are absorbed by each district — aka tax dollars. Other costs are the uniforms required at some of the schools; these costs are also absorbed by the school system, i.e., tax dollars.
In addition to the five career academies, we also offer as many as eight vocational schools where not-ready-for-college students can be taught trades such as auto mechanics. These vocational schools are positive and are not restricted to one entry per district. Also not restricted is the school that provides education to disabled students. These schools (two, I think) provide alternative programs for students in need of special services or individualized programming. There are no issues or concerns with these schools as they attempt to mainline disabled students to perform and hold jobs in our society and should be encouraged.
I'm simply pointing out how much overhead there is with each of the five schools plus the vocational schools
My concern is with the downturn in our economy, real estate tanking — folks losing their homes, the price of gasoline rising, food and now natural gas going up — can we really afford to keep this huge overhead focused on the special needs of a few? I'm all for students furthering their education, and providing college preparatory classes should be part of the curriculum; perhaps it can be absorbed into the city and regional school districts. Our priorities should be on lowering taxes and reducing costs as much as possible. People should not be losing their homes or forced to decide whether to eat or to stay warm. Our focus should be for the good of all, not the priorities of a few.
In closing, I'd like to add that there are approximately 16 private schools in Monmouth County; it would be far less expensive for the taxpayers of Monmouth County to just pay for these gifted and talented few to attend a private school than to support and maintain five separate schools.
Jaye Morton is a resident of Oceanport