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  • Writer's pictureDavid Gruber

Strengthening the Teaneck School System Requires Change

Gerald Kirshenbaum ED.d, David Gruber and James Wolff are running as a slate to become Trustees of the Teaneck Board of Education. Gerald is a teacher, principal and former superintendent of the New Rochelle school system and headmaster of Moriah. David is a re-elected Trustee from 2013-18 who understands the inner workings of the Teaneck BOE. James is the proud parent of two public school children and an advocate of special education. Together, as a slate, they have complementary skill sets able to add value to the Teaneck BOE.

Focus is on three areas: educational excellence, value and accountability.

Educational Excellence Represents an Opportunity

Our perspective on the Teaneck school system is data-driven and based on publicly disclosed information. The analysis is focused on the identification of improvement opportunities; current performance represents benchmarks for longer-term goal setting. A Teaneck Board of Education workshop meeting held on November 3, 2021, reviewed student performance data:

Younger children were evaluated via the NWEA MAP, a computer adaptive test that helps determine what the student knows and what they are ready to learn next. First- and second-grade students performed well in English Language Arts (ELA) with 86-96% of students meeting or above grade level standard.

Grades 3-8 performed less well with 48-65% meeting or above the grade level standard. Math performance was substandard at 48-61% for all grades with exception of Algebra I, taken only by high-achieving students at 100%.

The START Strong Science Assessment for grades 6, 9 and 12 highlighted strong performance (Level 1) in 43%, 45% and 41% of students respectively.

The NWEA data is one piece of critical information incorporated in the development of instructional plans. According to the 2021-22 NJ Performance Report, the percentage of students who met or exceeded expectations on statewide assessments (New Jersey Student Learning Assessments [NJSLA] and Dynamic Learning Maps [DLM]) was 48.9% in ELA and 30.3% for math, figures below the state average. Source:

SAT scores of 1,052 ranked 178 of 307 districts in New Jersey. The New Jersey Graduation Proficiency Assessment (NJGPA) graduation readiness scores for Teaneck are 46.0% for reading and 43.2% for math. Source: Teaneck Public Schools—2022 Statewide Assessment Reports.

The college graduation rate is 94.6%. A disconnect exists between the graduation rate and graduation readiness scores. Importantly, STEM scores suggest underperformance. Efforts to close the achievement gap have not been successful. Opportunities also exist to better support high achievement students.

Spending per Pupil Among Highest in NJ

According to the 2022-23 BOE budget, Teaneck schools had total enrollment of 3,715 students, a figure including an on-roll subtotal, students sent to contracted districts and private school placements. Student enrollment has been relatively flat for several years; a slight decline of 3.3% from 2014-15 has been reported.

The proposed 2023-24 total operating budget of $124,078,593 is unchanged from the prior year and 9.1% higher than the 2021-22 school year. Total spending per pupil is at an all-time high within Teaneck of $33,399—among the highest in New Jersey. There are numerous contributing factors to the high costs including, but not limited to, comparatively high number of administrative and support staff, special education (out-of-district) costs, a favorable salary guide structure and other factors.

21.8% of Teaneck students have disabilities compared to a state average of 12.6%. Source: Disability Compendium Annual Statistics. Special education accounts for 24.4% of the budget.

The latest available New Jersey total spending per pupil (for the 2020-2021 school year) is $24,543. A comparable figure for Teaneck that year is $32,459, or 32.3% higher.

Total spending has increased from $98.0 million in 2017-18 to $124.1 million in 2023-24, reflecting a compound annual rate of growth of 4.0%. Despite no change in spending from last year, taxes are projected to increase 3.53%. According to the 2022 Taxpayer’s Guide to Education Spending:

Budgeted cost per pupil of $26,096 ranks 91/92 of districts with student populations <3,500 and exceeds the New Jersey average of $18,208 by 43.3%. The budgetary cost per pupil calculation excludes costs that aren’t directly comparable from district to district, such as transportation, payments on school-construction debt and tuition for out-of-district programs.

Total classroom instruction budgeted cost per pupil of $13,845 ranking 91/92 districts

Total support services budgeted cost per pupil of $5,291 ranking 92/92 districts

Total administration budgeted cost per pupil of $2,173 ranking 85/92 districts

Plant operations and maintenance budgeted cost per pupil of $2,987 ranking 85/92 districts

Teaneck is heavily dependent upon its local taxpayers for spending. Local taxes account for 80.9% of the BOE budget as compared to an average statewide figure of 53%.

BOE Accountability Does Not Currently Exist

According to the New Jersey School Board Association, “the school board has a dual role: To represent the concerns of the citizens, taxpayers and parents to the school administrators, and to represent the needs of the students and school district to the citizens, taxpayers and parents of the community. The school board does not operate the district on a day-to-day basis; that is the job of the superintendent, who is the district’s chief executive. Rather, the school board sets the policies, goals and objectives for the district—and it holds the superintendent responsible for implementing the policies and achieving the goals.”

Responsibilities apply to citizens, taxpayers, parents and most importantly, the children. Not all stakeholders are being considered in BOE decisions. Opportunities exist to improve the effectiveness and efficiency through the establishment of “stretch” goals and objectives.

New Superintendent a Critical Hire

Dr. Andre Spencer has been appointed superintendent. Unlike his unqualified predecessor, Dr. Spencer has had classroom and administrative experience including superintendent. He will be challenged by academic underperformance, a large special education population and an excess of spending.

Focus on Value Creation

In closing, opportunities exist to improve the student achievement scores while being financially responsible, i.e., creating value. Spending growth at an annual compound rate of 4.0% is not sustainable. Resource reallocation may be required.

The slate of Gerald Kirshenbaum ED.d, David Gruber and James Wolff has the complementary set of skills able to advance the education of Teaneck’s children while being fiscally responsible.

Feel free to email, or with any comments about the BOE. We have already started Facebook conversations on Teaneck Today, You Know You Are From Teaneck If…. and Teaneck Newsroom. A willingness to post a lawn sign or directly participate in the campaign would be appreciated. It’s imperative that Teaneck residents vote in this election year.

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