In Your Opinion: Inform Yourself, Then Go Vote

By Richard Seamon, Somerset.

This coming Tuesday is Election Day and I urge all of my fellow residents of Franklin to vote. I also urge everyone to vote for all of the positions on the ballot, not just one or two. All elected officials from state to county to local will make decisions that affect our quality of life so I feel it’s very important to understand the issues that we face and to express ourselves through our vote.

As a current member of the Franklin Township Board of Education, I am uncomfortable making any recommendation for who you should or should not support. Who we choose to vote for is a personal choice; I only hope that each one of us casts our vote in an informed way. No matter whether we are casting our vote or making a significant decision like buying a house or car, or choosing where to live, I believe we should make these choices in an informed way.

Many of the candidates for various offices have provided statements to the Franklin Reporter and Tap Into websites; I have read many of these and I hope you will as well. It’s important to be informed! Having said this, I just read through a long and pointless thread on Facebook between a few residents and the spouse of one of the candidates. Ultimately, a bunch of unsupported opinions tossed back and forth without the involvement of the actual candidate did nothing to improve our understanding of the issues.

So, what are the issues we face locally? A couple that are important to me are:

Park and Recreation Space: Our Township Council adopted the Recreation Needs Assessment (dated January 2012) which was supposed to guide our commitment to provide recreation space that our community lacks. It’s almost January 2018, which will be six years after adoption of the report; unfortunately, not much of this has been completed. I hope that our Township Council will recommit themselves to fulfilling this needs assessment by addressing the “Pocket Parks”, Catalpa Park, Community Center Fitness Addition and the other “short and mid-term” goals of the report, all of which should have been completed by now.

Expansion of Charter Schools: This issue may be the most divisive for our community, as well as others throughout NJ. As a BOE member, I have spoken in public about this topic on numerous occasions and my opinions have not always reflected the opinion of the full BOE. I find it unfortunate that so many people have opinions that are not rooted in facts so I’d like to try and help. When you are reading the candidate statements related to this topic, please keep a few things in mind:

  • “The charters cost less than the public school” – this is not necessarily true. The local charters receive an amount per child that is defined by the state and this value may seem to be lower than the “per pupil” cost for the public schools. However, this value does not include all costs that the public schools must spend to support the charters. One such cost that is not included in the “per pupil” is for transportation. Further, our public schools provide significantly more services for our students than the charters do including AP classes, interscholastic sports and dozens of extracurricular academic clubs and teams. Additionally, our public schools all have gymnasiums, which one of the local charter schools currently does not have. So, before you think the charter costs less, keep in mind that they offer significantly less than the public schools do.
  • “Charter School Funding Does Not Have a Negative Effect on the Public Schools” – In 2013, Franklin Township Public Schools paid $5.14 million to local charters; for this current school year, FTPS were directed by the state DOE to budget $10.9 million for local charters, which is more than double in only four years. Losing almost $11 million from the budget has a significant impact on the public school budget. Further, this $11 million is calculated based on expecting 844 children to leave the public schools for the charter schools (approximately 70 children per grade level). Given the scope and size of our district, removing 70 children from any grade level is not enough of a reduction of students to allow the school district to save any money on costs such as teachers, administrators, utilities, buildings and grounds, benefits, etc. In short, the cost to run the Franklin Township Public Schools does not go down because 844 children leave for charter schools but $11 million disappears from the budget. This reallocation of tax money negatively affects every child in the public schools; further, as mentioned above, the children at the charter schools are receiving fewer services and programs in lesser quality facilities. (cost and student info noted above can be found on the BOE website under 2017-2018 budget presentations).
  • “We Will Stop the Growth of Charter Schools” – In NJ, no local BOE can have any direct effect on the growth of charter schools. The BOE can take protest votes, send letters to the DOE and the governor and hire attorneys to fight charter school applications however, none of those actions are guaranteed to have any effect. Any changes to the growth of charter schools in NJ is a state-level issue, not local.

Please come out and vote – it’s your right and the people we elect will make decisions that affect our quality of life for many years to come.

Richard Seamon is a member of the township Board of Education.

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