Tuesday, April 21, 2009


"If we value independence, if we are disturbed by the growing conformity of knowledge, of values, of attitudes, which our present system induces, then we may wish to set up conditions of learning which make for uniqueness, for self-direction, and for self-initiated learning".....Carl Rogers

It's not easy as a school board member to say I don’t support our budget, but the choice is made clear when it’s a budget that shortchanges our students and places too much of a financial burden on the taxpayers which I feel is the case with this budget.

Approximately 85% of our budget is made up of employee salaries and benefits. We are now paying for an egregious teacher contract settlement of more than 18% over 4 years. We are also paying for an additional assistant superintendent that cost us an additional $110,000 in salary and added dollars in benefits. Approximately $600,000 that should have gone towards our educational programs will be shelled out for pension payback. If the largest piece of the budget is salaries and entitlements, what's left for our students? Scraps as far I'm concerned. And where does it leave the taxpayers? With another property tax increase they can ill afford.

How, then, can our Superintendent and Board continue to defend the hiring of an additional central office administrator? How can they defend the recent teacher contract settlement as fair to all parties? In my opinion, to defend these expenditures and claim the outcome of these actions do not compromise the education of our students and the financial well-being of our taxpayers is disingenuous to say the least.

I’ve no doubt in my mind our administrators, our board members, and everyone in the school district and community all want the same thing for our students - to provide them with the greatest opportunity for an excellent education. But I feel there's an unwillingness by the school board and central office administration to take responsibility for our budget and a resistance to change the way we do business.

I understand there are variables and issues that make our job difficult, but we can’t keep pointing the finger of blame elsewhere and complaining about the cards we’ve been dealt with. This is our budget and we have to start taking responsibility for it. The public is tired of hearing a litany of excuses and who can blame them? If we're going to gain public support, we certainly can’t keep placing our bureaucratic and governmental missteps and blunders on the backs of the taxpayers - they’re tapped out.

The school board and administration have to let go of conventional practices and start thinking out of the box. Dire situations call for bold measures. We can’t expect our vision of a 21st century education to become a reality by using 20th century financial planning.

The school board also needs to be proactive by reaching out to our local municipal governing body, state legislators, other school districts, and the community and work together to find solutions because we're in this together. Everyone working in the school system has to start asking themselves what they can do, what part they can play, to work towards the common goal of balancing our educational mission at a cost the taxpayers can afford. But it starts at the top. There can be no more excuses. We need to take responsibility and a course of action that will make the needed changes happen.

In his recent letter to the editor in the Daily Record, Mr. Bednarcik stated his reasons why the children of Roxbury need us to vote "yes" on the school budget. He asserted that education is a town's "major industry" and "a budget rejection is neither the positive example needed for youth, nor in the best interests of the community".

What we need to recognize is these are not normal times and even those running the major industry of education have the obligation to analyze their resources and rethink how to best spend their time and money. By conducting business as usual and asking voters to approve a budget with a tax levy increase of over 6% during a very difficult economic crisis is just plain irresponsible. In my opinion, it's the Roxbury school board who should be looked upon as failing in it's obligation to set a positive example for our students and keeping the best interests of the community in mind.

As a nation of people we are, by and large, highly educated and hard-working, yet here we are left in an economic mess that’s compromised our country’s solvency, it’s ideals and values, and in turn, our children’s future. Why? We read and hear the answer to that question every day - far too many have chosen a path of greed and self-interest instead of working for the greater good. This begs the questions: have we learned from our mistakes and are we doing all we should be doing to turn things around? It’s evident in the Roxbury school district the answer to both those questions is NO.

Though undoubtedly our teachers have continually done an excellent job producing literate, confident, capable students, are our children learning to do the right thing as the leaders of tomorrow? It's imperative they are taught to avoid the mistakes we’ve made and understand that, as capable citizens, they have a responsibility to their fellow man. This means making sacrifices during hard times and working together for a common purpose.

The children of Roxbury are watching and learning from us - the adults. Right now they do not need a "yes" vote on a bloated school budget that will only cause their families and community an additional financial burden. What they need is an invaluable lesson from the role models in their life about the honor and rewards that come from selflessness, sacrifice, and looking out for one another while persevering through tough times.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


The following editorial endorsement and candidate profiles were published in the April 9th edition of the Roxbury Register:

"Castriotta is the most controversial of all of the board members, and we’re pretty sure she would be the first to admit that. She’s frequently at odds with her fellow board members, but that’s ok.At the very least, dialogue and discussion is encouraged as a result. And, she was also the only one who voted against what many felt- including us- was an excessive teacher’s raise this year, given the dire financial climate. She’s a lone voice often, but she also has been a supportive voice for the taxpayers, and nowhere was that more evident than on the teacher’s contract vote. That was particuarly important this year, and we know she expressed the sentiments of many with her "no" vote."

Maureen Castriotta

Castriotta, a resident of Landing for 20 years, was elected to the Roxbury Board of Education in April 2006.

“During my tenure on the board, I have faithfully and tirelessly worked to ensure all Roxbury students are provided with the best education possible at a cost the taxpayers can afford,” she said.

She said she has been an outspoken advocate for open government, parental and student rights, and school spending reform. She has kept up-to-date with the changing social, political, and legal issues challenging public education by completing the state mandated school board training and attending numerous education information sessions and state legislative forums covering diversified topics such as: student achievement, school finance, negotiations, core curriculum standards, the state’s high school redesign initiative, strategies for special education, school law, the superintendent search process, and shared services partnerships.

“For the last three years, I’ve served as a Roxbury school member committed to representing the interests of the community on public education issues. I’ve never been afraid to speak out and fight for the interests of the public, even when it’s unpopular with the bureaucrats. I believe now, more than ever, people are sick and tired of platitudes and empty rhetoric and are looking for straight talk from their leaders,” she said.

“I don’t have to tell you we’re living through extremely tough economic times. It has created circumstances that simply do not allow for business as usual in our school district. It’s definitely not the time to add unnecessary and non-essential payroll. As it is, the board has allowed our school district to turn into a job protection system with more focus on the employment of adults rather then the education of our children,” she said.

“What we need are board members with common sense and the backbone to make the hard choices. The board not only needs to be smart and put our money where it will do the most for the students, we need to make every effort to reign in spending to lighten the taxpayer’s load. I can tell you, as a board member, I’ve worked to that end,” she said.

“Unlike my co-board members, I stood up to excessive spending and didn’t hand over a blank check to our Superintendent,” she said.

“I was the only board member to vote against the hiring of two assistant superintendents to replace one at an added cost of $110,000 to the district. I was also the only board member who tried to hold the line on spending by voting against the teacher’s settlement of nearly a 20 percent increase over the length of a four year contract,” she said.

“It was an egregious settlement that I believe resulted in compromising the school budget and in turn, the educational experience of our students and the financial welfare of Roxbury residents,” she said.

“Needless to say, I do not support the proposed budget. Quite frankly, it’s plain irresponsible and shameful to ask Roxbury residents to approve a budget with a tax levy increase of more than six percent during a time we’re all struggling to survive a perilous economic crisis,” she said.

“Roxbury’s taxpayers should be getting the most bang for their education buck. There can be no more excuses on that,” she said.

Castriotta is the board’s liaison to the Roxbury Township Council and chairman of both the Facilities and Shared Services committees.

Castriotta has also served on the board’s Education, Finance, and Negotiations Committees as well as the Special Services Director Selection Committee, the Final Strategic Plan Sub-Committee, the 2008 Superintendent Search Planning Committee, and the Board Annual Calendar Committee.

Castriotta describes herself as a “longtime community, civic, and political activist, who volunteers her time and skills to various school and township committees and organizations including the school district’s PTAs, the high school’s athletic and performing arts programs, the Board of Education Key Communicators Committee, Project Graduation, the Roxbury Municipal Alliance Committee (ROMAC), Roxbury Township’s Economic Development Committee, and the township’s “Neighbors Helping Neighbor” program.

In addition, she is a founding member of the Roxbury Township Memorial Day Parade Committee established in 2003 and is a member of VFW Post 2833 Ladies Auxiliary.

A New York City native, Castriotta attended Hunter College as a Liberal Arts undergraduate student and in later years took course work in the honors program at the County College of Morris.

Castriotta and her husband Ralph, have been married for 33 years and have two daughters, Kelly, an attorney at a private law firm in New York City, and Courtney, a sales and marketing retail administrator and part-time dance teacher.

Chris Rogers

Originally from Mount Olive Township, Rogers has been a resident of Roxbury for nine years.

For the last five of those years, he has been employed by a local financial services company, holding positions in areas such as operations, sales and most recently, government compliance.

He and his wife, Loretta, have two children, one currently about to graduate from Roxbury High School, and one who is currently attending college.

He is a member of the Roxbury Municipal Alliance Committee, otherwise known as ROMAC, as the group’s volunteer webmaster.

Rogers has been an active critic of the Roxbury School Board for several years.

This is his third attempt to gain a seat on the school board.

“As a member of the public, over the last three years I have attended almost all of the scheduled school board meetings. I have been a vocal participant in most of those meetings, questioning spending items as they are about to be voted on. I have again decided to participate in this year’s school board election to continue my goal of bringing fiscal responsibility, greater administrative accountability and a much needed focus on educational excellence in our schools,” Rogers said.

“I know that it is possible for the Roxbury school district to spend less, while providing our kids with the tools they need to achieve more.”

“Year after year, many of us continue to send a message to the Roxbury school board that we will not tolerate excessive spending within our school budgets. Unfortunately, year after year, the majority of the school board members continue to put forth a larger and larger proposed budget, layering on additional administrators and giving huge pay increases to unionized employees, while continuing to take away the programs that impact our kids the most.”

When asked why he has not been successful in prior school board elections, Rogers said, “I have always felt my first priority was not winning an elected position. Instead, my first priority has been to bring attention to why our school district continues to experience a financial crisis,” he said.

“When you speak honestly about the financial problems within our school district, you cannot avoid mentioning the fact that union contracts are crippling the educational system. Some voters consider me to be negative to point this out. I do understand my comments might lose some voters who have a financial interest in how the district spends money.”

When asked to share his view on taxes, Rogers said, “I am not against taxes, as some of my opponents would have you believe. I am however, against wasteful spending. I understand that everyone in the community needs to pay their fair share of taxes to allow the community to operate. I insist that there should be much more involvement on the school board’s part to see that the district spends your money more wisely, especially on the 85 percent of the school budget that is considered fixed salaries and benefits,” he said.

“More people need to come forward and acknowledge that the teacher’s union contract is the 800 pound gorilla in the room. If the current school board cannot even recognize what their biggest problem is, our kids and their education will continue to be held hostage.”

“This year our superintendent and school board, while asking for a six percent increase over last year’s tax levy in the amount of 2.8 million dollars, continue to claim that the school district does not have enough money for core educational programs. However, this year alone the school district has layered on additional administrative staff and has provided a four year, 20 percent pay increase to Roxbury’s largest labor union,” he said.

“The claim of not having enough money does not seem to match the spending habits of this district.”

“A ‘no’ vote on this year’s budget is not anti-child. A no vote on this year’s budget is a vote for fiscal accountability. A defeated budget will then be reviewed by our town council, which will cut waste as they have done in previous years,” he said.

“Regardless of the school budget passing or failing, we will almost certainly still see greater than a four percent increase over last year’s budget. I will be voting no on this year’s school budget,” he added.

Rogers also shared his views on the recent creation of a new assistant superintendent position.

“During a time when most school districts are cutting costs in the area of administration, Roxbury is proposing to increase spending. How much more out of touch can our superintendent be? It is interesting to note that Superintendent (Michael) Rossi’s home town of Hackettstown, and former employer Lopatcong, are both currently reducing their school budget increases to provide taxpayer relief.”

“Under Dr. Rossi’s leadership, Roxbury will look for a 2.8 million dollar increase over last year’s budget.”

“I also believe that our district’s hiring practices should be based only on the qualifications of the applicants. The fact that one of our newly hired assistant superintendents was an elected school board member at the school district Dr. Rossi used to work for should outrage members of our community. All hiring should be based on what the applicant knows, not who they know.”