Board of Education meets to discuss current topics

The+board+members+meeting+table+during+the+monthly+public+meeting

Jane Holmes

The board member’s meeting table during the monthly public meeting

Sydney Kaul, Editor-in-Chief

The Somerset Hills Board of Education held their monthly board meeting on February 23, 2022 in the Bernards High School Media Center. The public session commenced at 7:30 P.M. 

Public comments drew statements complimenting the minimal number of HIB cases at the middle school as well as questions regarding finance expenditures related to Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds. Community member, Steve Tobin said,

“It should be noted that the funds that the NJ governor issued should be a one time rescue act. We are now headed for round number 3 which increased substantially from the previous rounds.The public must be made aware that everything comes with a price. Are our children paying that price in the form of restrictions?”

Dr. Dempsey responded with, “There is a budget link under our school website sharing how we spent budgets that you can look to for further information. These funds have specific earmarks, so that none is to be wasted or wrongfully used. $40,000 of it is for summer learning. $134,000 was for learning acceleration and coaching development. Another $40,000 was for extended day programming, and mental health was $40,000.”

The finance committee discussed the preparations for the 2022-23 school budget and potential capital improvements. One possible area of improvement was the renewal of the turf and track. Replacing the turf would cost around $338,000 while replacing the track would cost upwards of $900,000. The curriculum committee reported concerns about the summer gym program. It requires 90 hours of physical activity and 30 hours of life skills over the summer to replace a gym period in student schedules. Many students choose this option, in order to have an open slot for other classes of interest, often academically rigorous, to boost their GPA.  Board member Nicole Cooper, revealed that

“Dr Neigel has been dissatisfied with this program and the way the Somerset County Education Commission has handled it. He feels [current issues with the program] are unique to Somerset Hills [as many neighboring schools have already ceased to offer the program], and therefore it is not necessary. For that reason, he suggested we discontinue the program. [The committee] as a whole agreed with Dr. Niegel. It is revoked at least temporarily.”

Following course loads and programs, the board moved on to discuss the school calendar. The committee suggested that the board open a discussion regarding the decoupling of spring break and Easter holiday for the 2023-2024 year. Spring break would then occur earlier in the school year, and the easter holiday would be its own long weekend to include Good Friday. Prior to Winter break, students and staff are given opportunities for rest and recuperation every three to four weeks with the current calendar. From February through Spring Break, students attend school for almost 7 weeks straight.  Board members seemed extremely supportive of continuing the discussion regarding  the calendar. Board Vice President, Mrs. Frenda shared,

“I certainly think that is a good discussion. I think it holds a lot of value from a community standpoint. It’s good to consider how long the period between winter to spring break  with minimal time to rest and recover. That really speaks to me..”

Similar to this switch, the board also suggested an earlier start date for the school year. While the exact date was not specified, members felt like starting the school year before Labor Day would be beneficial. Mrs. Tober shared,

“The AP testing dates do not change. They are given to students across every school district on the same day. By moving the school’s start date earlier, our students will have more time to prepare for the exam.” 

Other high schools that begin before Labor Day have an additional week or two of instruction time that our school does not have. They have more time to learn the material and prepare for the test. Moving the start date would get rid of this advantage that other schools have over our students when it comes to test scores. 

It is important to note that the board announced they will no longer be accepting public comments via email as of their March meeting The next Board of Education meeting will occur on March 16th, 2022. The executive session will begin at 6:30 P.M. and the public session will commence at 7:30 P.M. It will be held in the high school’s media center. The agenda will be posted the day before the meeting.