The best thing you can do for your wallet is get to know the Board of Education candidates before you vote in the upcoming April school elections. The majority of the 144.4 million dollar budget for Middletown schools is funded by local property taxes. Sixty-three cents of every property tax dollar in Middletown funds our seventeen schools. According to NJ Future, NJ households pay the highest property taxes in the nation with the median real estate tax bill in NJ being $6,320 (as estimated by the 2008 American Community Survey). Local school funding is the largest expense item on the typical property tax bill in NJ.  Many schools across our nation are now facing even tougher challenges than normal as our country adjusts to an economic downturn and state subsidies are lessened. We are not alone. Kansas City just announced that they will close 50% of its schools because they are facing bankruptcy. San Francisco schools are also facing a budget shortfall of 113 million over the next two years and have announced layoffs.

We need to be confident that we elect proactive candidates who are prepared to apply innovative solutions and are capable of making tough decisions. Only then will we begin to mend the current financial issues that face our schools. These elections are important to all of us, even those who do not have children enrolled in our local schools. We are all financing the budget. The Board of Ed members are responsible for negotiating teachers and staff contracts.  Currently $22,452,353 is budgeted for benefits according to a March 10 article in the Independent. We need to ask ourselves if candidates are or will be an advocate for our children. They are our liaison to the district. Are our children and community their first priority when making decisions that affect us? Is their priority fulfilling someone else's agenda? The children of Middletown are our future teachers, doctors, lawyers, trades people and businesspeople. It is in our best interest to make sure that those that we elect have our children's education at heart. Will they make the right decisions or seek to use our children's education as pawns for their own gain? Have board of ed members been responsive to our community needs? Will they answer our questions directly and give us access to information that we seek? Check the Department of Education School Report Card to see what your money is financing. Check the papers and the district web site to see where candidates will be available to answer questions. Plan on voting on April 20th from 4 PM to 9 PM. and please do your homework. An educated voter is a win for everyone.

Kathy Russo
Middletown NJ