Brigantine school consolidation is not needed. That’s what Brigantine Mayor Phil Guenther and School Superintendent; Brian Pruitt reported last week via a highly questionable document called: Brigantine Public Schools Consolidation Study. (click to read) This so-called study was released to the general public, just minutes before it was voted upon and approved by the Brigantine School Board.
Brigantine school student enrollment has been declining for more than 15 years. Some say it’s fallen off a cliff. So why is Brigantine ramping up expenses at it’s two overly-staffed schools? Those on a fixed-income are especially burdened by this fiscal malfeasance.
To be sure, enrollment declines are common all along the Jersey shore.
Seaside families in Brigantine (even the diehards) that thrived for generations are increasingly cashing out. Some are voluntary: pulling up roots for the big payday a home sale will provide and making way for another million dollar mega-mansion. Others will sell their modest bungalows out of necessity: escaping dramatically higher taxes, flood risk and the lonely off-season.
One could easily argue that fewer year-round families means less need for top heavy school administration. In 99% of regional schools, administrators are working overtime to cut costs, leverage shared services and increase efficiency. But oddly, not in Brigantine.
A very high % of Brigantine voters consider themselves conservative and/or Republican, yet they prefer a liberal/progressive local government. That’s why those in the Brigantine Republican Party are often referred to as RINO’s. Republican in Name Only. They heartily support public unions, bigger government, and placing most of the tax burden on those on a fixed income, and those considered part-time residents / 2nd home-owners.
After hefty pay raises for Brigantine’s public safety unions, Brigantine teachers are now (believe it or not) on the picket lines.
Teachers took note of how the Brigantine Firefighter union head; Tiger Platt (of Absecon NJ) was able to extract a much sweeter deal from City Mgr; Ed Stinson.
Residents complained to no avail. ‘Stinson didn’t put up much of a fight’, they say.
Brigantine Teachers want their bigger piece of the pie too, mainly funded by part-time residents. (75% of all taxpayers)
Bigger paychecks for a declining student enrollment? This fired up the Brigantine Taxpayers Association (BTA) lead by the spunky watchdog known as Anne H. Phillips. The BTA proceeded to light a fire under Superintendent Pruitt, forcing him to act. Well, at least make it look like he was trying to do something fiscally responsible.
Since April 2014, Pruitt claims he spent much time researching data, pouring over salaries, questioning job positions and looking for redundant operations. Under scrutiny of the BTA, Pruitt kept his findings close to the vest.
Finally, at the recent December 2015 School Board mtg, Pruitt rolled out his consolidation findings report, aka: dog-n-pony show for those who questioned his financial acumen. It featured pages and pages….. of nothing. We give Pruitt’s submitted report a failing grade of F….. it seems he threw this PowerPoint together at the last minute, using a bunch of copy/paste content that was nothing but page filler. Cause for detention? Maybe he should be expelled?
Did the consolidation report show how Pruitt could reduce schools costs while preserving academic standards? Would Pruitt use a mix of right-sizing, attrition, shared services and removal of duplicate positions to make Brigantine a better place to live? Nope. What did Pruitt’s research uncover? ‘Nada’ said a group that calls themselves ‘Concerned Citizens of Brigantine’.
Those who attended the recent December School Board meeting watched in disappointment. Not one item to be cut or scaled back inside the Brigantine School District. It’s really no surprise that Pruitt couldn’t find anything to right-size. He has no experience with this stuff. You see, Pruitt also takes his marching orders from the Mayor, Mr. Phil Guenther.
With Brigantine’s form of government, it’s the Mayor that hires & pays people like Pruitt. The Mayor also appoints and controls the Brigantine School Board. This body controls approx. 1/3 of city tax revenues. Naturally, the Brigantine School Board is filled with Mayor Guenther insiders like Jim Mackey, who heads Mr. Guenther’s political marketing arm. The School Board also features the infamous Matt Doran; a crafty individual well known for his detail-less engineering invoices that pillaged Brigantine taxpayers for years. We’re talking millions here, folks.
What was most surprising about Pruitt’s so-called school consolidation research? Brigantine Real Estate agents are still willing to keep mum on this economy killing activity.
Note: Councilwoman Lisa McClay had no comment. Lately, Ms. McClay (ironically, a school teacher) has reduced her opposition to accelerated spending and borrowing by Mayor Guenther, Councilman Simpson & City Manager Stinson. This is what killed McClay’s chance to become Mayor of Brigantine last year.
Here’s what the BTA sent to Mr. Pruitt and Members of the Board:
We believe any public school board of education has a primary responsibility to the taxpayers to provide the best education for the district’s students at the least possible cost. Excessive administrative costs don’t improve the quality of education.
We are here to state on the public record that we support such a consolidation and believe it to be in the best interests of students and taxpayers.
We also want to protest publicly the refusal by the superintendent to make copies of his completed report available to the taxpaying public before this meeting.
By refusing to do so, we believe he has demonstrated a preference for keeping the public in the dark about an issue important to all taxpayers.
It’s obvious the public is at a disadvantage when trying to evaluate a completed report sight unseen at the same meeting at which a vote on it by the board is to be taken.
Sincerely, Anne H. Phillips, President of BTA