Editor's Note: This opinion piece was updated by Dennis White on Saturday Sept. 17 to provide attribution to his opponent's quote.
My opponent for the Common Council seat in Ward 2 supports “explore moving to an elected school board” (Summit Patch, July 18, 2011), citing a supposed decline in Summit public schools. I disagree. I believe a school board appointed by the Mayor has served Summit well, and we should spend our time and resources on more pressing issues.
How have our schools performed under an appointed board? According to the facts, very well. Summit students excel academically, athletically and artistically. The percentage of graduates from the Class of 2011 attending the most selective colleges is among the highest, at 28%, in the history of the district. Summit graduates excel in Advanced Placement courses, with 87% scoring 3 or higher on AP exams. Student performance improved this year on the state’s High School Proficiency test. Ten district sports teams won conference, county, regional or state championships. Summit students won national awards in forensics, exhibited artwork in statewide events, were selected for regional and state bands, orchestras and choruses, and garnered multiple prestigious theater nominations and awards.
Summit schools achieved these results working with a diverse student body and significantly more low-income students than surrounding towns (Summit’s low-income student population is 12%, while that of Chatham and Millburn is less than 1.5%). These are results we can be proud of, a tribute to our appointed Board members working collaboratively with dedicated administrators and teachers.
The experience of NJ districts with elected boards shows that voter turnout for school board elections is usually very low, typically under 15%, which means that a small group of residents dictates who serves on the board. Candidates are often one-issue candidates (e.g., fire the superintendent, remove a book from the library, change the health curriculum). In fact, in many communities, school board candidates run unopposed. In Summit, on the other hand, both Republican and Democratic mayors have been able to appoint highly qualified professionals to the Board on a nonpartisan basis.
Is there room for improvement in our schools? Of course. But there is no evidence that an elected school board, with all the politics that come with an election, will get us better results.
Summit faces many important challenges. Let’s not get distracted by a false issue.
A. Dennis White
Candidate for Common Council, Ward 2