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Howell school board member will conclude service on panel

HOWELL – After serving for nine-and-a-half years on the Howell K-8 School District Board of Education, Tim O’Brien has decided his current term will mark the end of his service on the panel.

O’Brien, who currently serves as the board’s president, is not seeking re-election on Nov. 6. His term will conclude in December.

In an interview, O’Brien called his time on the board “a very rewarding experience” and said he has had “the pleasure of working with a great team. We have done a lot of really good things for education and for the kids.”

In reflecting on his time as a board member, O’Brien described some of the accomplishments of which he is most proud.

“Helping to build upon an already strong culture that focuses on student achievement. Also the fact that our board works so well together with the administration as partners, respectful, collaborative, it is a really, really strong board,” he said. “We lead now and our board and our leadership has been featured at the New Jersey School Boards Association.”

Preparation was a key for challenges the board faced during the past decade, he said.

“The bottom line is that over the last nine-and-a-half years, we suffered a tremendous financial obstacle in 2009 when (the state) cut our aid by 15 percent. We have since managed to rebuild our educational program and to restructure collective bargaining agreements with our staff to help us contain costs, but at the same time to be able to provide them the best benefits. We work collaboratively with them and that allowed us to be better prepared for the current environment where we are experiencing cuts,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien recalled casting the deciding vote when the board moved the annual school board election from April to the date of the general election in November.

Following action in the state Legislature, New Jersey school boards that switched the date of the election from April to November no longer had to place their school district’s annual budget before voters, as long as certain criteria were met.

“The vote was 4-4 and I broke the tie as president and we moved the election to November. After that we had the opportunity, in not having to place the budget up for a vote by residents each year, of being able to do five-year strategic planning,” O’Brien said.

“That helped us in terms of our ability to build our educational program, but at the same time keeping the tax levy increase at an average of only 1.5 percent, which was pretty solid considering we were trying to rebuild a program that had been cut severely in 2009” with the loss of state aid, he said.

“We rebuilt our programs to the level (they were at) and I think we have gone past (that level). We work collaboratively with our staff to create a sustainable budget that focuses on student achievement and we have a board that works well together with our superintendent and his staff. It has been a great experience, and it is bittersweet and that is the truth,” O’Brien said, adding the key has been having a great team in place to serve the school district.

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