The West Windsor-Plainsboro Board of Education is considering a program for seniors that would allow the students to spend the final months of their high school careers working in “real-life” jobs.##M:[more]##

The program, called the Senior Option, is an initiative created by the state Department of Education.

The Board of Education discussed the initiative at its meeting on November 23, and is expected to vote to implement the program in an upcoming meeting.

According to Gerri Hutner, school district spokesperson, the program is targeted to begin in the 2005-’06 school year, with a limited number of students. If successful, the program would be expanded.

“This program emphasizes creating, maintaining, and encouraging diverse and multiple paths for student success,” states a district report reviewed by the board.

College-bound, gifted and talented, general education, and special education students would be eligible to intern with area companies or pursue service learning opportunities if they have passed the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA), and have a minimum 3.0 grade point average. All positions would be unpaid and the company or agencies would not be obligated to provide a promise of employment after the internship is completed.

Other requirements include: Completion of an approved application packet and interview process; a school schedule arranged to allow the student to be available to leave campus in the afternoon session during the second semester of their senior year; and the ability to provide for their own transportation to and from the work site, unless a student has an Individual Education Plan (IEP) that requires the district to provide transportation. Under no circumstances would an employer or agency be required to provide transportation for the student.

The program offers two different routes — Senior Option Career Internships, and Senior Option Service Learning projects.

“These experiences are structured, supervised activities that may take place in a workplace or agency or a non-profit community organization,” says the district report. Career Internships and Service Learning projects “are designed to give students structured, supervised activities that will assist them to clarify career goals, explore career possibilities, develop employable skills, or make the transition between school and employment or further education and training.”

According to the district’s outline, the Senior Option specifies goals and work site activities, and clearly specifies the documentation that would be collected and used by the employer and school district to evaluate the experience for graduation credit.

“The Senior Option Program should be developed collaboratively between the student, parent or guardian, school district, and the employer or agency,” states the report.

Under the program, students would receive 10 credits for their work, and would be graded based on a pass/fail designation. The state also requires that all structured learning experiences taking place external to the school district, including internships, must be documented in the student’s graduation transcripts.

Examples of Senior Option Programs listed in the report include:

• A general education or college-bound student who has not selected a career path, to gain first-hand experience in a variety of employment areas to assist in making employment decisions or selecting a major in college.

• A gifted and talented engineering student to design and execute a “master project” under the guidance of a professional engineer at an engineering firm.

• A college-bound student who wants to become a research scientist to assist a researcher in a pharmaceutical or university research laboratory.

• A student who wishes to learn about career ladders within a particular career pathway.

• Anyone who wishes to volunteer in the school district, in a community organization, or in the community to develop leadership skills, learn the value of community service, or the benefits of corporate investment in a community.

Under the program the student would agree to meet attendance and punctuality requirements when scheduled to report to the Career Internship work site. Since the district’s attendance policy requires that a student attend classes 90 percent of the scheduled time to receive credit the Senior Option Program would be subject to the same attendance policy.

Student would also be required to keep a weekly journal outlining each week’s activities, give a culminating presentation at the end of the internship documenting the practices observed and learned, present an assessment of this career pathway for future interns, and submit an evaluation of their experience.

The program also requires attendance at a seminar every Friday at the high school school for group interaction, and a series of discussions on a variety of professional practices. These discussions could include professional ethics, resume construction and interview skills.

“The planned amount of time the student will spend at the work site should be designed around the learning objectives expressed in the training plan and the school calendar,” states the report. “It is our plan to require the students to spend four days per week, three hours per day at the work site. An additional two-hour session will be spent at the school site for group interaction and education in current professional practices.”

A company or agency participating in the program would have to come to an agreement with the school district as to the scope, nature, and responsibilities for insurance coverage of the student.

Since the interns are not employees, the employer or agency providing the internship is not required to cover the student with workers’ compensation insurance or unemployment insurance. Employers/agencies providing Career Internship sites should not be exposed to any new liability by participating in the program, says the report.

The school district and work site would also have to ensure that the student is placed in conditions that are deemed to be non-hazardous. The school district would also have to agree to provide appropriate supervision of the student and the work site would have to agree to permit school district staff to visit and monitor the student at the site.

Plans call for the program to be started in the 2005-’06 school year with about 15 students. A “senior option coordinator” would be appointed in January or February to interview prospective participants and begin matching students and opportunities.

After the program starts in 2005, the coordinator would be responsible for making site visits, convening weekly seminars, reading and monitoring journals, developing further internship opportunities, and leading the culminating exercise.

The proposed timeline for implementation calls for the guidance staff to meet with members of the junior class in January and February to inform them of the initiative.

Interviews with prospective participant students in the program would occur in March and April, and the interns would be matched with opportunities between May and June. The program would officially begin in February, 2006.

Service Workers Agreement Okayed

The School Board and the West Windsor-Plainsboro Service Association (WWPSA) both recently voted to approve a new contract that runs through June 2006.

The contract is a successor to a pact that expired on June 30, 2003. The WWPSA, representing 306 secretaries, teaching assistants, bus drivers, mechanics, custodians, and maintenance workers, had been working without a contract since the last contract ended.

Under the terms of the agreement, for the 2003-2004 school year, the workers will be reimbursed based on a 4 percent salary increase. For the current school year, which commenced last July 1, the contract provides for a 4.25 percent salary increase in the first year.

The contract also calls for a re-opener clause for salary and health insurance in years two and three of the contract.

The contract also includes a dental plan deductible of $15 individual, and $30 family, effective January 1, 2005.

In January, the co-pay for mail order prescriptions will be increased from the current network co-pay of $5 for generic and $10 brand name drugs to two times the network co-pay. Effective June 1, the network co-pay will increase to $6 for generic drugs and $12 for brand name.

A tentative agreement on the contract was reached in September, but the final terms were not released until the deal was approved by the board and Service Association this month.

Cap Law Opposed

The West Windsor-Plainsboro Board of Education has unanimously voted to oppose a tough new state cap on budget increases that officials believe would hamstring district operations and could even raise taxes.

The cap law, approved by the legislature and signed by then-Governor Jim McGreevey last July, limited increases in the annual school budget to 2.5 percent, or the current cost of living increase, whichever is higher.

The law — known by its state senate identification number, S-1701 — also reduced the amount of surplus a district is allowed to retain from 6 percent to 2 percent, gave county superintendents of education the power to veto the school budget, and the state commissioner of education the power to veto line item transfers.

Legislators and the governor said the purpose of the controversial law was to provide property-tax relief by controlling school spending.

Critics across the state railed against the measure saying that it puts too many restrictions on school districts and will adversely impact the quality of education. In September New Jersey Assemblyman Bill Baroni introduced a bill that, if passed, would reverse the law.

A resolution passed by the WW-P School Board on November 23 presents numerous arguments against S-1701, and urges that the law be repealed. The resolution was to be sent to Acting Governor and Senate President Richard Codey, Senator Peter A. Inverso, Assemblyman Bill Baroni, and Assemblywoman Linda R. Greenstein.

In the resolution, the school district argues that the bulk of school costs are the result of state and federal mandates that are out of the district’s control. “The state has failed to fully fund its school aid statutes for three consecutive years, increasing the burden on local property taxpayers.”

“S-1701 may force local school districts to adopt imprudent practices and will diminish communities’ discretion over the financial operations of their schools,” states the resolution.

It also points out that the reduction in the surplus from 6 percent to 2 percent will result in temporary property tax decreases in 2005 that will not be sustainable, and will result in property tax increases the following year.

“This reduction of surplus to perilously low levels could force districts to cut education programs and could increase costs by possibly contributing to the lowering of bond ratings,” the resolution states.

Bond rating companies, such as Moody’s Investor Service, take into account the amount of reserve surplus a municipality or school district has available. A decrease in bond rating would increase the interest rates on bonds issued by the district.

The law would also require the school district to decrease its capital reserve accounts, forcing it to defer necessary maintenance and repairs, cut education programs, or to borrow funds. This has already affected the WW-P school district by delaying repairs and renovations at High School South, though many have since been completed.