October 24, 2016
CFR wrote on October 17, 2016
Since many of Citizens for Readington readers don’t know the two candidates, please see our Hunterdon Central Board of Education (Readington representative) Candidate Questionnaire on the attached page. We will take your responses and publish them word-for-word in a newsletter and on Facebook prior to the November 8th election. If you chose not to reply, we will indicate as such.
We are providing a maximum number of words in response to each question. We will print up to the word limit and will use our discretion to reduce or rephrase anything over the limit. We view the limit as a means for equal treatment, (i.e. you will know that your opponent is not writing volumes more than you.)
Please email your response to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will publish the responses shortly thereafter. Your response could be either in paragraphs or in bullets.
Please answer the questions from the perspective of an elected Board of Education member. Deadline for receipt of your response will be 10/21/16. We apologize for the short notice.
Citizens for Readington
Lois Blutfield’sresponses are below:
CFR: What are your qualifications for this position?
I have spent almost 3 years as a Hunterdon Central board member representing Readington Township so I already have the experience and proven track record of putting students first while being fiscally responsible to taxpayers. I currently serve as Chairperson of the Finance Committee and as a member of the Curriculum Committee. During my 3 years I have not only learned a lot about the inner workings of the school board and administration, but I have also become extremely knowledgeable about the issues currently facing the school district.
Furthermore, I have an extensive financial and analytical background. Academically, I earned a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Lafayette College, and an M.B.A. in Finance from NYU. I also previously managed billions of dollars for the AT&T and Johnson & Johnson Pension and Savings Plans. Having a strong analytical background is key to being able to apply a high degree of rigor to critical educational and financial decisions.
Finally, I have 3 sons, a 2013 Central graduate, a 2016 Central graduate, and a current sophomore at the school. This means I have seen the school first hand go through some significant changes (like with the curriculum). I know what the school looked like 7 years ago when my eldest son began there, and most importantly, I am intimately aware of what is currently going on at the school because I have a child who is still there. A current parent’s perspective is
a huge asset for a board member.
CFR: The job of the superintendent is to run the high school. The job of the Board of Education is to ensure that the school is run well. In your opinion is the school run well? (250 words)
There are things that Hunterdon Central does extremely well where I would say the school is well run, and then there are other things that I would say need improvement. Running a large school like Central is not an easy task, and I think operationally, Central is very well run. Whether it is managing the budget, the facilities, transportation, student schedules, the graduation ceremony, etc., Central does a very good job. The school is also well run when it comes to offering a broad range of courses and a vast array of extracurricular activities to its students.
On the other hand, when it comes to listening to students, staff, and the community, and really focusing on what is best for our students, Central has had long-standing issues and definitely needs improvement. Morale is low, students and staff are stressed out, and there are feelings amongst the staff of distrust and disrespect. I will say, though, that interim superintendent, Dr. Ruberto, has already made some positive changes to the school’s culture and morale, so I think we are moving in the right direction toward making Central great again. That is why it is critical for the successful future of our school to choose the right permanent superintendent. (See also the answer to Question 6 below).
CFR: The Board approves budgets and expenditures. In the most recent budget, the Board went to the 2% cap and did not do zero-based budgeting. What is your opinion on fiscal management? (200 words)
I do believe when it comes to the operating budget, the school has been fiscally responsible. Our business administrator is always looking for ways to save money and identify additional revenue sources, whether it is through shared services agreements, grants, corporate sponsorships, etc. In terms of the most recent budget, the budget development process has not changed. A bottom-up approach continued to be used, with any extraordinary requests being scrutinized and often times rejected.
This past year, it was actually quite an accomplishment to keep the tax levy increase to just under the 2% cap without sacrificing the quality of education the school provides to its students. The General Fund expenses are comprised of 56% salaries and 21% benefits. That means 77% is fixed unless class size is increased and staffing is reduced. With benefit expenses rising significantly each year, it just would have been impossible this year to maintain a 0% tax levy increase without negatively impacting students. The one area, however, where the school has made some small improvements but needs to do more is in the area of administrative expenses. Further reducing administrative expenses is one goal I would like to see for the new superintendent.
CFR: In 2015 there was a controversy on spending $2 million on a weight room. What is your position? (150 words)
Do I think our athletes need renovated weight rooms and state of the art equipment upgrades? Absolutely. Do I think spending $2+ million on a 5,000 square foot addition is a responsible use of taxpayer dollars given the data? No, I don’t, and that’s why I spoke out and voted against the new fitness center.
First, I don’t believe enough analyses were done to objectively assess needs and explore lower cost alternatives. When I looked at daily usage data, I didn’t feel it supported this project, and I felt we needed to consider other options like renovating our existing 3 facilities and managing them better to meet our needs. Most importantly, Central’s enrollment projections don’t support spending this kind of money on such a huge facility, as enrollment is projected to decline by about 1,000 students over the next 8 years. Therefore, any existing space issues will quickly disappear.
CFR: In future negotiations, the unions will likely seek to reduce the payments for healthcare for their members. In your opinion, should employees bear a smaller percentage of healthcare costs? (150 words) (Note, we are not asking for any comments on the current negotiations.)
With healthcare costs rising significantly, everyone is unfortunately feeling the pain. At Central, employees currently pay a portion of their premiums (from a choice of 5 different plan options) based on a state mandated sliding premium contribution (ranging 3%-35%) based on salary. The district bears the majority of cost for all employees, with lowest paid employees paying the least. Healthcare benefits currently represent 21% of General Fund expenses. Medical insurance, the main expense, rose 25% last year alone. I would love to see Central help employees with their share of this rising expense if we could find a way to do that without negatively impacting students or taxpayers. In the meantime, the best solution is for the Board and employees to continue shopping for the most cost effective plans. I’m happy to report that the Board just approved a new prescription plan, saving everyone 4.1%.
CFR: HCRHS is searching for a superintendent. What qualifications would you look for in a future superintendent?
I believe choosing the next superintendent at Hunterdon Central needs to be a joint effort between the Board, the staff and the community. Everyone who would like to give input should have a chance to be heard. Having spent almost 3 years working on the Board and listening to my constituents, I believe some of the qualifications we should be looking for in our future superintendent are a strong academic teaching background, and a record of positive engagement with the students, teaching staff, and community. Central also needs someone with character, integrity, and a forward thinking vision who has leadership experience running a large school district.
Choosing a superintendent is the most important decision a school board can make, as the right superintendent is absolutely critical to delivering a quality, cost effective education for our kids and to retaining good teachers. Since my opponent’s wife works for Hunterdon Central, he would legally have to recuse himself from many administration issues. This includes him not being able to be at all involved in the entire superintendent selection process. I have no such conflicts, and therefore, I would be able to fully represent my constituents in Readington in this crucial decision and all other decisions.
Ron Armellino did not return our questionnaire and suggested that readers visit his webpageat: http://rjarmellino.wixsite.com/armellinoboe OR his Facebook page at:https://www.facebook.com/ArmellinoBOE/ for his positions regarding his candidacy.
Ms. Blutfield’s Facebook page can be found at: https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=blutfield%20for%20boe