When the Howell Township Board of Education held its reorganization meeting last week, two new members and one familiar face took their seats at the dais ready to take on the challenges that await them in their new positions.
The reconstituted board had the benefit of getting to business with a passed budget, as the 2011-12 spending plan won the support of the public at the polls.
As part of the reorganization, Tim O'Brien was sworn in as the new president while Suzanne Brennan was chosen as the board's vice president. With gavel in hand, O'Brien got to work with a process that he hoped will help streamline the workings of the board this year.
That included a change in the committee structure and several of the board members getting new appointments to the new committees. What had once been the finance committee has now been split into two areas with an education/educational technology committee being formed and an operations/operational technology committee taking shape, as well. Other standing committees include a community interactions committee, the finance committee as well as labor, nutrition, policy and safety committees.
Anyone interested in joining any of these committees is encouraged to apply with the attached form.
With so many new members on the board there were several new appointments to be made, and that included John Van Noy taking the helm of the finance committee. With his experience on the zoning board and other similar positions, Van Noy said he was ready to tackle the challenges that await him. That includes starting the process for next year's budget.
Van Noy said in the weeks leading up to his first meeting he was surprised by just how much was involved in serving in his new role.
"I've been to a couple of the previous board meetings so I remember the process," he said. "The content was much greater than I had thought. Since being elected I've tried to go to as many activities and functions and training exercises and there's a lot not only to learn, there is a lot to participate in."
Board members expressed a desire to continue flat budgeting, as the 2011-12 plan does not feature a tax increase. There was also a hope that maybe there could be a reduction in the tax levy in the future. And while there are many factors that would go into making either of those goals a reality, Van Noy said he is ready to get to work.
"My role is going to be to solicit and balance different inputs so that we can come up with something that makes sense and is feasible and sets targets that we can meet in the next year."
The board this year also includes newly elected member Al Miller, while Stephen M. Levine returns to the dais for another term after serving a few years back.
As he starts his third year on the board, Patrick Dowling already is one of the most senior members on the board and said he hopes both the veterans and the newcomers can work together to help the district. "I'm hoping that we'll all work together to continue the success of the schools and to keep the children as our main focus," he said.
Having served on the buildings and grounds committees over the past two years, Dowling said he is interested to see how things will work now that they have been folded under the umbrella of the new operations committee. "I guess we're all going to have to feel it out as we go in terms of what operations is going to entail," he said. "It's obvious buildings and grounds is now just a portion of it."
The second most senior member of the board is now Joseph Moscato Jr., who said that he also hopes to see the board working together toward their common goals and felt confident that they would after the first meeting. "Sometimes it's a learning process," he said. "It seems like the new people are quick learners. But I think you're going to see, and I think you saw tonight that it is a learning process. That's what we're going to have to work with this year."
Moscato said knowing that the board did not have to go over a failed budget and see how to make it work is also a huge help for them. "When the budget goes down it takes us hours and hours and hours to decide what we're going to cut. I've been on the board when it's passed and it's great. And I've been on it when it's not passed and we've anguished on where we're going to make cuts."
With his first meeting as president in the books, O'Brien said he was pleased with the way things went. "I think we accomplished all our objectives," he said. "We got a lot done on behalf of the district." With the committee chairs and liaisons set, he said he believed the board could now "hit the ground running."
One thing O'Brien said he would like to do is hold a retreat with the board members to help get everyone on the same page. With the challenges that face them, helping to bring everyone together is important going forward. "If you look at what's happening the last couple of years in the state of New jersey there has been changes at the top and we've also seen changes in the economic environment which will put different pressures on the board," he said.
He said he believed the board was more than prepared to respond to those pressures, "What we have to do is be very responsive to our constituents. We serve our students, we serve our community. We need to be able to take this moment to reassess where we are, where we're going and how best to get there."
The next meeting of the board is scheduled for 8 p.m. on May 25 at Middle School North.