goleader.com - Union County, NJ Newspapers

Susan Tillis Leaving Special Services
for the School District

By Jeanne Whitney
Specially Written for The Times

Director of Special Services for the Scotch Plains-Fanwood School District, Susan Tillis, will be leaving her $88,769-a-year job by Friday, August 1, to go to Bergen County, where she will focus on special education as the Director of Special Services for the Westwood Board of Education.

Retired Director of Special Services Eleanor McClymont will return to the Scotch Plains-Fanwood district on an interim basis at $350-a-day when Mrs. Tillis departs, according to a personnel appointments report.

During her two-and-a-half years with the local district, Mrs. Tillis said her duties included supervising attendance, guidance and nursing staffs in addition to the special education department. Mrs. Tillis said her "real interest" is special education.

The Scotch Plains-Fanwood district currently spends over $1.8 million for special education alone out of a total budget of nearly $42 million. Mrs. Tillis, a Morris County resident, said Westwood is a smaller district than Scotch Plains-Fanwood.

At Mrs. Tillis’ recommendation, the Board of Education recently okayed an additional $180,000 program for district 3-to-6-year-old children who show signs of being autistic.

Mrs. Tillis added that Mrs. McClymont’s interim role would provide "continuity" for the district.

In a related matter, Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Carol B. Choye asked the board to approve over $18,000 for summer school for special education students. Mrs. Tillis said these are students who "might lose all they’ve learned over the year," if they took a two-month break. Officials said 8 percent of the district’s special education students requires the extended school year.

In other business last Thursday, the board voted 9-0 to approve six different textbooks for purchase after district Social Studies Supervisor Pat Boland told members the need for new books did not signal a new curriculum but a change in emphasis in the subject.

"I don’t see any major content change," she said. However, "there is a very new emphasis on geography, the humanities, fine arts and writing and thinking skills."

Mrs. Boland added, "We have done an extensive curriculum review with every teacher in the department on this. I’d like public input next year."

She came to the district from the Livingston Public Schools last year.

The cost of 350 new sixth-grade science textbooks will be $15,000, according to Assistant Supervisor for Instruction Dr. John R. Crews. Budget constraints will determine the number of high school Advanced Placement government and history textbooks to be bought, officials indicated. The approved books range in price from $21.57 to $46.99 each.

Every five years, parents as well as faculty review proposed textbooks as part of a general review of district departments. Board members said they rely on the opinions of district educators and residents when they approve textbooks. Textbooks are usually available to residents in the board offices, members added.

Newly-elected board member Thomas Russo said he reviewed portions of the approved textbooks.

"I found the quality of the history text, especially the course readings, to be exceptional. I found them to be comparable to college level textbooks that I’m familiar with," he said.

In other business, the board approved eight district bus route bids for the coming year that total $118,000. The cost for four of the bus routes rose 33 percent from last year, according to officials, since the district had not changed contractors for six or seven years in a row. One route dropped 2 percent in cost, and three others decreased 5 percent, officials said.

"We haven’t exceeded the budget that was presented in March," district spokesman Matthew Clarke said.

In other business, the board voted to approve, with changes, a lengthy list of employee salaries and status for the summer and coming school year. For example, a district clerk may earn $5.05 an hour while a teacher earns $25 an hour and a therapist or psychologist earns $50 an hour, according to the report.

Officials said updated personnel data would probably be ready by the next meeting, Thursday, July 10.

On a separate issue, the board debated whether a $23,000-a-year membership in the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) should continue to be required of local school boards by the state. A board resolution in support of the NJSBA passed, 6-3.

The majority of board members praised the NJSBA for collecting information about contract negotiations, legislation and trends that affect education and sharing it with member school boards across the state.

"I have never worked with an organization so professional," board member Jessica D. Simpson said.

On the other hand, board members Edward J. Saridaki, Jr., Albert J. Syvertsen and Mr. Russo rejected the notion that state law should require districts to spend money for the NJSBA membership.

"I think our membership in this is invaluable. But we can’t force 600 other districts to join," Mr. Russo said. Mr. Syvertsen simply called the resolution to support membership in the association, "odious. I urge everybody here to vote no on it. What have they done for us?"

Other members saw the NJSBA as a powerful lobbying antidote to the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) whose members are teachers around the state.

On a related matter, board member Richard Meade alerted the board to proposed state legislation that would do away with a school board’s option to enforce a "last best offer" in contract negotiations.

"It’s a tool that’s infrequently used," Mr. Meade noted, "but I think it encourages parties to come to a resolution. It has a deterrent effect."

Board member August L. Ruggiero pointed out that if a contract agreement can not be reached between parties, the previous year’s contract with a 2.3 percent increase is used. There is a three-year limit on the use of this option, other board members added.

Mr. Meade said the bill abolishing the "last best offer" bargaining tool already passed the state assembly, 60-to 13, with three abstentions.

Board member Morris H. Gillet claimed that the loss of the "last best offer" option for district boards "would significantly alter the balance of power in negotiations."

The board said it would look at a request from the Terrill Middle School Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) for more prominent exit and entrance signs at the school’s driveways. The PTA said drivers frequently enter the exit, creating a dangerous situation. The PTA also requested directional arrows painted on the pavement at the site.

The board unanimously adopted policy bylaws and Union County Education Services Commission agreements. The county agreements cover environmental safety, cooperative pricing of natural gas, transportation and nursing services.

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TheWestfield Leader.
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