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Non-Resident Student Questions Again Bring Millburn School Board Debate

Bob Faszczewski

Wednesday, December 18, 2013 • 11:00am

MILLBURN, NJ—The question on how to detect and penalize non-residents illegally attending Millburn public schools again became a topic of debate at Monday’s Board of Education meeting.

Lise Chapman, who was attending her last public meeting as a school board member, said at Monday’s meeting that statements made by Board President Jeffrey Waters and Superintendent of Schools James Crisfield when she raised the issue at the last board meeting and afterwards were disrespectful to her as a board member.

Chapman noted that, at the last meeting, she merely was pointing to a discussion with a friend about the registration of students in Greenwich, Conn. as an idea on how Millburn should proceed on the non-resident question. She said Monday she deserved an apology from Waters and Crisfield about statements that questioned the credibility of Chapman’s account of the Greenwich registration system.

The outgoing Millburn board member noted that, although Greenwich does not register every student in every grade every year, during the current school year it registered all students in kindergarten to fifth grade and those in ninth grade. The program, which cost $25,000, produced five non-resident students who will face possible expulsion, according to an article from a daily Connecticut newspaper supplied by Chapman to The Alternative Press after Monday’s meeting.

Chapman said Monday this disputes statements made by Crisfield that Greenwich’s registration program had produced no ineligible students.

She also offered to provide township school officials with a loose-leaf  binder of research she compiled on districts in New Jersey and out-of-state which conducted various registration programs to detect ineligible students. Her research pointed to 18 New Jersey districts and one in New York which conduct some type of registration program. Among the 18 New Jersey districts, registration requirements and non-resident tracking vary from registration of students in only certain grades, to full-district registration to the Clifton district, which offers a $1,500 reward for information leading to finding a non-resident student.

Crisfield replied that Millburn had done a re-registration in a few of its grades a few years ago and would continue to do so, on a staggered basis from time to time.

He also noted the township has a registrar who can be employed to track student residency.

Chapman, however, replied that it was unfair for the township to spend $150,000 per year on such programs as sending unmarked police cars to follow suspected non-resident students and sending school officials to homes when it could institute a registration system that would be fairer to all.

She then introduced a motion to have Crisfield explore the feasibility of an all-district registration program. When that motion failed to gain a second, Chapman implied that her fellow board members were unwilling to move beyond the current methods of detecting ineligible students.

However, Michael Birnberg, who also is leaving the township board this year, said Chapman’s motion implied that the superintendent was not doing what he already was doing to detect non-resident students.

He added it was incorrect to state that the departure of one non-resident student could save the district $15,000 merely by decreasing the size of a class from 24 to 23 students, for example.

Board member Raymond Wong added that it was absolutely false to imply that the district is not doing what is necessary to make sure its students and their parents comply with the law. He said he would support studying expansion of the current program, but Chapman’s motion seemed to ignore what was currently being done.

Wong added that he had contacted the school business administrator in East Rutherford, who said their current system is that when they get a report of a non-resident student attending their schools they send school personnel to track the student’s residence.

Board member John Westfall-Kwong said he resented the implication that he was doing nothing to look into alternatives to the current system when, in fact, he was working behind the scenes with the administration to see what changes could be made.

On another matter, outgoing board vice president Rona Wenik, who chairs the programming committee, said her committee would continue to examine the proposal to include the Indian festival of DiWali as a holiday on which school is closed in an overall review of school holidays.

While board member Rupali Wadhwa, who first made the suggestion, felt committee discussions seemed to point to possible adoption of a formal board policy on DiWali as a school holiday, other committee members noted school holidays were not determined by formal policy. They said the district was obligated by state law to hold 180 days of school and delineation of holidays was up to a vote of the board and did not involve a formal policy.

A number of tributes were given to Birnberg, Wenik and Chapman upon their departure from the board. Birnberg and Wenik were not reelected, and Chapman did not see another term.

Birnberg was praised for his term two years ago as board president and for his chairmanship of the negotiations and finance committees as well as his ability to clarify many board discussions and his advocacy of putting students first and support of infrastructure improvements and greater access to technology.

Wenik was praised for her leadership of the programs and personnel committees and her long record of community service.

In addition, incoming board member Emily Jaffe complimented Wenik for keeping her informed on community issues and her friendship during the school board campaign.

Chapman was praised by her colleagues for her passion on many issues, her careful research of many items before the board and her chairmanship of a number of board committees.

Wadhwa said Chapman had been a great help in getting her up to speed on district matters when she first joined the school body.

In addition, Short Hills resident Dilys So presented Chapman with two posters outlining her accomplishments and citing her service to township residents.

In another presentation prior to the regular meeting, high school music director John Leahey recognized band director Mindy Scheierman on her receipt of the New Jersey Music Educators Association Distinguished Service Award for 2014.

The board will hold its 2014 reorganization meeting on Monday, Jan. 6 at 7:45 p.m. in the Education Center.

 

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