Official should have been allowed to speak

It was recently brought to my attention that Committee-man [Stephen] Alexander was denied the courtesy to speak at the end of the committee comment period of a regular scheduled meeting of the Upper Freehold Township Committee. I was surprised to hear this had happened, and over the years I do not think I remember it happening ever before as a regular order of doing township business.

As I understand it, Mr. Alexander was late due to a number of circumstances, work and weather, and the committee had been told in advance of such a possibility. The committee had not yet voted on a move to executive session, and the chairman (the mayor) could have and should have extended Committeeman Alexander the courtesy that he politely requested.

I hope this was only an error in judgment and not a move toward a new policy with regard to the rights of public and committee participation in future meetings.

Charles Faber

Upper Freehold Township

Little or no progress seen in SAT scores

One of the rites of passage in educational circles is the announcement of the SAT scores of entering college freshmen. The College Board rents a room in the National Press Club and then unveils the scores in the verbal and math sections.

The scores vary very little, and there continues to be an appreciable gap between the scores of white and Asian students, and blacks and Latinos. The gap between students from wealthier families and students from poorer families shows that the wealthier score 40 percent higher than students from poorer families.

After the state of New York, New Jersey has the highest percentage of students taking the SAT, some 86 percent of college-bound students. Other states have students take the rival ACT test, and many colleges do not require any national standardized tests at all.

With all the talk and expenditures directed at educational reform since the 1970s, one would have thought that the scores would shoot up. But in 2005, the average verbal scores stayed the same, 508, and the math score went up a modest three points to 520. For New Jersey, the scores were 503 and 517, respectively. Remarkably, state officials praised the results; remarkably, the College Board spokespeople also praised the results for the state and the nation. Expectations are modest indeed.

The ACT, which provides its test for many Midwest and Far West colleges and universities, reports than many who plan on going to college are just not ready. Only about one-half of this year’s high school graduates have the reading skills necessary to succeed in advanced work, and even a smaller percentage are ready to take college-level math and science courses.

Indeed, about one in four of the 1.2 million students the ACT tested possessed the skills in the four core areas: English, reading, math and science. It appears that many students in high school are not taking demanding courses in high school, as the ACT and others have recommended.

In part, this weakness is apparent in the continuing decline in the number of students who plan to major in engineering, computer science, and education. At first, it would seem that we do not know what should be taught in the first place. But the ACT, the College Board, and the major research universities of America have all separately come out with very specific curricular recommendations.

Any high school student, parent, or educator can know what should be taught at each grade level in junior and senior high school in each core subject. The state of California has consulted with its university, state college, and community college faculties and come forth with clear statements of prescriptions as well.

So the problem is not that we do not know what to teach, or how to teach it. What superintendents and school boards need to do is to follow these very clear and rather common guidelines. And we need to stop observing the summer’s last rites of passage where educators continue to celebrate mediocrity.

Michael P. Riccard


Suggestions for New Jersey’s new CEO

The new year brings a new chief to New Jersey, as Gov.-elect Jon Corzine takes office. His impressive environmental record in the Senate and his proposed environmental agenda bode well for New Jersey’s continued environmental progress.

Corzine has gone on record with an ambitious agenda to control overdevelopment and preserve open space.

Here are a few: ensuring funding for the Garden State Preservation Trust, which funds the preservation of parks, farmland and other open space and is set to run-out in 2007; repealing the Fast Track Act that would enable potentially disastrous sprawl; and adopting rules to implement the state Threatened and Endangered Species Act, which have been on hold for 30 years and would help protect New Jersey’s precious wildlife.

These are great proposals and ones that are critical to the future of our state.

Here are a few extra suggestions for the new governor to consider to aid him in making sure New Jersey protects its environmental quality and health.

• Make sure our state has funding for the stewardship of public land, so future generations will enjoy the benefits of preserved open space and farmland.

• Reinvigorate the state plan so it really will stop sprawl and revitalize our cities and towns.

• Fix the Farmland Preservation Program to make certain that it protects New Jersey’s fertile soils and natural resources like forests, wetlands and streams, and encourages public access.

• Improve forest stewardship on private land by allowing landowners to manage their forests for conservation purposes and receive property tax benefits from the Farmland Assessment Program.

• Stand up for and make the Highlands Regional Plan a success by making sure funding is available to purchase critical lands, create strong incentives for Planning Area municipalities to join in; and support Planning Area governments with growth control efforts while the Regional Plan is being developed.

• Authorize the state Natural Lands Trust to accept the donation of Petty’s Island and allow a first-class nature preserve to be established in the densely populated Camden area.

Yes, that is an ambitious set of recommendations. But these steps will make New Jersey an even better place to live and work. And Corzine’s environmental record demonstrates that he aims high and that he has what it takes to succeed!

Michele S. Byers

executive director

New Jersey Conservation Foundation

Far Hills

Benefit cuts starting to hit middle management

Mid-level managers are beginning to feel the same pain that working men and women have felt for more than a decade. That pain, comes from the newest trend among senior management.

The trend is to go after the benefit packages of mid-level managers and employees because those benefits can be readily cut by senior management without having to take the issue to the bargaining table as is the case with unionized labor. The favored cut these days is the much heralded and anticipated retirement benefit for nonunion employees, the 401(K) plan.

The 401(K) plan has been the staple of middle-management and mid-level employees for decades. People have relied upon their 401(K)s to cushion their retirement years and are anticipating access to those funds now and in the future.

However, major corporations, including General Motors and Verizon, are attacking the very essence of these plans.

For example, GM recently announced that it has made a decision to completely eliminate its 401(K) matching portion for all its salary employees effective Jan. 1. At the same time, Verizon Communications said that it would freeze the guaranteed pension plan that covers 50,000 of its management personnel.

It remains to be seen what, if anything, will occur if this trend continues.

We in the labor movement have been warning for years about the continuing assault on the pension plans and benefit packages of working men and women in New Jersey. Much of that has fallen on deaf ears.

Perhaps our whisper will now become louder as those who have ignored the plight of working men and women are themselves targets of the demand for more and more profits from corporations throughout the state and the country.

Chip Gerrity


New Jersey I.B.E.W.


DYFS problems require community involvement

Two years ago, dramatic events brought a growing crisis in the New Jersey child welfare system to the attention of our public and policy makers.

In response, the New Jersey chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW-NJ) asked child welfare experts to join in a series of “best practice” symposia to examine successes and propose solutions to improving our state’s child welfare system. Then, as now, we believe that building a better child welfare system requires teamwork and cooperation by consumers, service providers, public officials, advocates, and concerned citizens.

Today, as attorneys for Children’s Rights Inc. and the court-appointed Child Welfare Panel argue with the Department of Human Services about the steps needed to address DYFS’s [Division of Youth and Family Services] shortcomings, we recognize, once again, that the solution lies in the community.

This crisis at DYFS, which has developed over decades, will not be solved quickly. Throwing money at the problem or mandating change from a legislative chamber or a courtroom simply won’t work. This is a multifaceted crisis that demands a multipronged approach, with many community partners working as one. And one of the first areas that we must address as concerned citizens is how to ensure that DYFS has trained, qualified staff.

All too often we find that DYFS staff lack the appropriate education or experience needed for quality casework with at-risk children and families. In fact, when the initial distressing reports on DYFS surfaced in 2003, only one in five staff had master’s or bachelor’s degrees in social work.

Recently NASW-NJ, working with New Jersey’s schools of social work, helped to create a consortium with federal funds to address this lack of professionally trained staff in DYFS. Some social work schools, such as The Richard Stockton College, have developed a relationship to intern and then place social work students into DYFS positions. This is an essential beginning on the road to filling all DYFS positions with trained professionals.

Also, to its credit, DYFS is developing a child welfare training academy for those workers already on the job, many of whom have years of field experience but lack professional credentials. In California, a similar program developed by the schools of social work has been in place for a decade and has helped to address the problem of insufficient training and education.

Clearly, DYFS needs similar community-based efforts, and it needs them as quickly as they can be up and running. Problems in our state’s child welfare systems – the result of decades of inaction – won’t go away tomorrow, or even next year. But we need to make the good start through public, private and governmental partnerships at the community level.

Court action won’t solve the DYFS problem, but community action will. And we need to begin today to ensure that happens.

Walter X. Kalman

executive director

New Jersey Chapter, National Association of Social Workers