Use creativity before taxing and spending


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To the editor:
The Hopewell Valley Board of Education has made a gamble on the special referendum vote on Tuesday, Sept. 27. The board has chosen to group many long-term maintenance items into a referendum with wish-list items as separate funding from the state-mandated cap. The latest school board communication in the Sept. 9 Hopewell Valley News did not mention that there are such wish-list items as a new-construction small-space theater amongst roof repairs and other necessary infrastructure needs. So, Hopewell Valley residents are tasked to choose in an all-or-nothing mix of much-needed repairs and nice-to have expenditures, and I have not seen the need for the wish-list items fully justified to warrant a Yes vote.
Full disclosure: while I am an engineer, and my wife and I have never had children pass through the Hopewell Valley school system, there are about 90 collective years of public school teaching in my immediate family ranging from kindergarten through AP Biology, not even counting my own tour of full-time teaching in graduate school. My wife and I are both singers, have been active volunteers in community and school theaters, and are avid patrons of the arts. So I can speak from experience when I say that a small space theater/rehearsal space is hardly a necessity at a high-school level drama department, regardless of what other uses one may assign to it, particularly when the conversation a few short years ago was the possibility of closing a grammar school.
Highly successful school programs often don’t require any more funding than some creative minds. For example, for 11 years I have led a program through my workplace where we partner with a high school in New England and have created an engineering collaboration with the mathematics department to make their studies more relevant to students. In a nutshell, the mathematics students are assigned a project each fall for their particular mathematics discipline: statistics classes analyze concrete batch breaking strength data from a construction site — they monitor concrete quality and determine whether the concrete batches are acceptable to use on a day-to-day basis; for geometry classes, it’s designing and analyzing the geometry of a steel truss and optimizing member sizes to sustain the given forces in compression and tension, while minimizing material usage; for pre-calculus classes, it is computing equations of the parabolas of main cables on suspension bridges and comparing them to survey data and rationalizing data discrepancies.
The students travel to our New York City headquarters each spring and present their results to upper management in very professional and impressive Power Point presentations. This year we’re expanding the program through the high school foreign language department to give students presentation practice in both English and Spanish. The program is hailed as a model by parents and teachers alike, is used for many of the portfolio requirements for students to graduate and, as far as I am aware, the program is unique. The point is, the collaboration costs nothing but some donated time on my part, and it simply needed a creative and imaginative mathematics teacher who saw the potential for such a program and who actively sought out a willing partner from industry.
Before we continue to tax and spend in New Jersey on school wish-list items, perhaps we should inspire some local creativity and institute a summer reading program for the school administration and school board. I might suggest Richard Koch’s “The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Achieving More with Less.”
Roger Haight 

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