|FY '19 Budget Testimony--Meloche 4-9-18|
Testimony Before the Senate Education Committee & the Assembly Education Committee Public Hearing Camden County College – William G. Rohrer Center Monday, April 9, 2018 By Joseph Meloche, EdD, Superintendent, Cherry Hill Public School District Members of the committee, colleagues, and community members, my name is Joseph Meloche; I am the proud superintendent of the Cherry Hill Public School District in Camden County. Thank you to the members of the committee for allowing me time to address you, especially to Assemblywoman Lampitt for her continued voice and leadership in addressing the needs of children and schools – I am grateful for your advocacy and your representation. On behalf of the more than 11,000 children and the 1,600 employees of the Cherry Hill School District and the members of the Board of Education, I offer the following testimony. The safety of our children is our primary responsibility as educators – nothing is more important than providing a school environment where children feel safe. Our children are the most precious part of our community, of any community. Instruction and academic achievement are secondary in our list of responsibilities. Moving into the finalization of our 2018-2019 fiscal budget, we are at a crisis. In our 19 schools, which on average are 50 years old, we are approaching catastrophic failure in some of our most basic infrastructure systems. We have explained to our parents that we are focusing on instruction and relationships and outcomes – which are critical and in which we are so successful – and we ask them to look beyond the facilities, and the pot holes, the equipment that is not replaced and the innovative programs that are not pursued because of lack of adequate funding from the state. On October 2, 2018 we will ask our community to support a referendum to do substantive work on our 19 schools with the primary focus on health, safety and security items. The reality is that our schools, which were designed in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, were planned and built to exist in a world that looked and felt dramatically different than the one that exists in 2018. Because of the size of our district, more than 1.7 million square feet of school space and more than 350 acres of land, nothing can be accomplished on a small scale. Enhancing the physical security of our schools has been hampered by decades of severe underfunding of our district. Money matters. Being able to count on funding, matters. With the initial state aid numbers that were released by the Department of Education, 91% of Cherry Hill’s proposed budget will come from Cherry Hill – 91% - we are scheduled to receive less than 50% of what the School Funding Formula says we should receive. Please, I implore you, if you truly want to make school safety a priority then make school funding a priority and consistently hold it as a non-negotiable item. The relationships that children develop with the adults in our schools directly impact their level of success and comfort in their learning environment. We have guidance counselors in all twelve of our elementary schools as well as in our middle schools and high schools. We have student assistance counselors at all six of our secondary schools. We offer a therapeutic support program, through a contracted service provider, at all three of our high schools, one of our middle schools and one of our elementary schools. We contract with a psychiatrist to be in our district one day a week throughout the school year. We provide training to staff every year in recognizing and supporting children who are experiencing trauma, or who are in crisis. And yet, we need to be able to do more. We have a tremendous relationship with Chief Monaghan and the men and women of the Cherry Hill Police Department – our officers are a regular presence in all of our schools. The Police Department and the Township have committed to having 9 officers in our schools through the end of the academic year, supporting our staff of 4 campus police officers. The Board of Education recently revised policy to arm our campus police officers and our proposed 2018-2019 budget includes 5 additional campus police officers – taking our district force from 4 unarmed officers to 9 armed officers and an armed district director of security. As a school district, we have dealt with the sudden loss of students and staff members, through illness, through accidents, and through suicide. The passing of a member of our educational community is one of the hardest things to deal with as an educator, the death of a child is devastating. I have sat with parents and with students following the death of child, and we have cried together and talked about what could have been different and how we will move forward – how we hope that no other family, no other class will ever have to deal with such a tragedy. And yet, tragedy continued to afflict our community. As our legislators, you have the ability to make a positive and impactful difference in children’s lives, you have the power to provide the tools that will allow our schools to more adequately support our children who are struggling, who are disconnected, who have suffered from trauma and challenge in their lives, who have mental health needs that must be addressed. Please, provide us with the ability and the authority to screen children, universally, to provide early intervention and support services – to the children and to their families. It is not enough to simply triage a crisis – we must look to preventative and developmentally appropriate supports for our children and their families at all levels. We need you to act on behalf of our must vulnerable population. Our children need you. No longer can we wait, no longer can our children and families wait: You must act now. Thank you for your time and your willingness to support our children and to truly make an impactful difference. Now is the time to make a difference.