Somerset Hills School Board Advances Community and Student-Centric Initiatives

The Somerset Hills School Board convened to address a variety of district-wide programs, initiatives, and fiscal matters, including the commendable clean financial audit, the transition to a new student information system, and the community’s involvement in enhancing local educational facilities. The meeting also highlighted the achievements of student groups and recognized the efforts of educators and students alike.

One of the focal points of the meeting was the discussion led by Joseph Stout from Supple Clooney and Company regarding the district’s financial audit. The comprehensive review of the district’s financial activities revealed an increase in asset values and a commendable reduction in the budget gap from approximately $2 million to $468,000. The board’s strategic efforts, including adjustments to special education placeholders, postponement of maintenance projects, and negotiations for lower medical insurance rates, have been successful in cutting costs. The clean audit was attributed to the diligent work of the district staff, and the finance committee expressed confidence in achieving a balanced budget by the board retreat.

In a technological advancement, the board discussed the transition from the current student information system, Power School, to Genesis. This local New Jersey company’s platform promises to enhance communication between the school, parents, and teachers while streamlining student management functions. The multi-year implementation process for Genesis includes data conversion, staff training, and feedback solicitation from parents to address any technological challenges.

A new initiative was announced: the Somerset Hills Community Partnership, which aims to serve residents through collaboration with community organizations, including the school district. The partnership’s focus on developing technological connections, bilingual liaisons, and ride-sharing services is expected to meet the diverse needs of the Somerset Hills area. The board expressed the importance of crafting a long-range plan to broaden community agency partnerships and encouraged individuals to refer potential contributors to the ongoing work.

The board’s discussion on community services covered a range of available supports such as translation, historical, preschool communication, prevention, English as a second language instruction, immigration, and employment support. The aim is to develop an inventory of services and enhance the community’s ability to access these vital services.

The meeting also recognized the accomplishments of various student groups and individuals. Dr. Brotschul acknowledged the eighth-grade science team, the student council’s successful fundraiser, and the high school student representatives’ report on the achievements of sports teams, the school musical, and the Bernardi yearbook. The Pinnacle literary group and the Middle School French program were also commended for their accomplishments. Additionally, Dr. James Ferrara’s physics students were celebrated for their success in the Physics Olympics, and Marcella Craver, a school counselor, was recognized for her service ahead of her retirement.

Regarding the district’s educational programs, updates on the Unified sports program, the preparation for pops night, and the successes of music students were shared. The board reviewed the district’s comprehensive approach to integrating anti-bias mandates into the curriculum, promoting tolerance and respect for differences, and discussed the planning for Bedwell’s new bilingual program.

The meeting also addressed budgetary concerns related to staffing decisions, with the decision not to hire a school security specialist in the current year due to budget constraints. However, this may be revisited in the following year. Additionally, the shift from individual printers to multifunction devices across schools was approved as a cost-saving measure.

The board upheld the current approach to evaluating incidents that involve harassment, intimidation, or bullying (HIB) without introducing a principal determination report, emphasizing the importance of consistency in the investigation process.

The comprehensive equity plan, which is required by the state every three years, was a topic of discussion, with the addition of a bilingual self-contained classroom being considered as a potential move to enhance equity. The motion to approve action items 1 through n on the agenda was passed after a roll call vote.

In terms of personnel matters, the board discussed a service agreement related to the school’s ba recertification and the ongoing budget process. The policy discussion centered around substance abuse regulation 5530, with the possibility of revising the policy to include high school student input and a balance between discipline and support for students.

Residents praised the Board’s efforts and leadership, particularly recognizing the completion of the turf and advocating for the addition of lights to enhance the athletic facilities.

During supplementary matters, a heated exchange took place with allegations of slander and the lack of transparency within the Board, leading to a motion to adjourn the meeting, which was passed.

Note: This meeting summary was generated by AI, which can occasionally misspell names, misattribute actions, and state inaccuracies. This summary is intended to be a starting point and you should review the meeting record linked above before acting on anything you read. If we got something wrong, let us know. We’re working every day to improve our process in pursuit of universal local government transparency.
Brian Brotschul
School Board Officials:
Sam Frenda, Heather Santoro, Robert Baker, Felicia Ballard, Nicole Cooper, Kristen deGrandpré, Silvia Gils, Ian Joyce, Sarah Nathans, Pat Wry, Brian Botschul (Superintendent)

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