Election Day 2019: Interview with HVRSD Board of Education Candidate Bill Herbert

Without a local debate this year, MercerMe asked questions of candidates running for HVRSD Board of Education based on ongoing community issues in the vicinity. The answers in this article have been provided by Bill Herbert, who is running for HVRSD Board of Education.

What professional and personal skills do you bring that would make you a successful board member?

I’ve earned an MBA in Finance and have been a CFO for the past 5 years, so I believe my financial acumen will help me to quickly understand and contribute to the financial and budgeting process. Through years in the military, the corporate world, and volunteering in the community I’ve demonstrated time and again the ability to work closely in groups of people representing various backgrounds and viewpoints, along with the ability to compromise and come to the best solution. I’m now among the majority in the District who do not have children in the schools, but with the perspective of having had children in the District for the past 15 years. Finally, I have a thirst for learning, and a strong desire to contribute to the community. 

How would you balance the need for students’ safety with the need for a welcoming school climate? Do you support any staff members having a gun in school?

The safety of our students is clearly a top priority, and we should be open to continually evaluating and discussing ways to improve it. I don’t come into the role with a lot of preconceived notions on what changes might or might not work, although I am not in favor of arming teaching staff members in the schools. I am ready to listen to ideas and make choices that are best for all of the stakeholders, and I strongly believe that any changes we make need to be made with community input, and must be made in concert with our municipal governments and local law enforcement.

How well does the District address issues related to racism, bullying, the lgbtq community, and income disparity? What, if anything, should it do differently?

In many ways, our students attend school in a sanitized “bubble” and may lack exposure or awareness of people who are not in the majority. We’ve seen issues, as have other schools, with bullying, racism, and mistreatment of others. We need to give students additional opportunities for broader engagement with more diverse communities during their time in Hopewell. Ideally, graduates will be able to work with others, self-advocate, have 21st century skills and healthy ways of dealing with stress to ultimately live thoughtfully in the multi-cultural world beyond our borders.

An earlier school board decision that offered exposure to and inclusion of others was our Elementary Interdistrict Choice program — the STEM academy. By welcoming children from other districts at an early age, this program provided an opportunity to add diversity to our district and encourage all students to gain exposure and interaction with kids from other areas & backgrounds. The District also benefited financially by receiving tuition students, which helped resolve some issues related to declining enrollment. This year the school board canceled the STEM Academy and its associated opportunities.

In addition to academics, our schools now educate our students in such topics as social-emotional wellness and suicide prevention. Do you think this is appropriate?  How well do you think the schools do in communicating with parents and the larger community about sensitive subjects?

Our most important challenge is ensuring graduates are adequately prepared for life after high school. Safeguarding social-emotional wellness is a very important consideration for success. We do a great job of getting kids admitted to college, but how well do they succeed there, and what about those that do not go to college? We need to work on developing students to succeed in life, and function well after they graduate, whether that be college, military or the workforce. Students need to be emotionally ready and develop resiliency and the ability to function collaboratively with others. Suicide and drug abuse are serious problems in this country, and Hopewell has not eluded its effects. We need to strive to provide a more welcoming, inclusive, and transparent environment where we not only discuss these topics, but also review the associated data and take action as appropriate.

Please comment on this year’s budget process. 

The preliminary budget was passed with little meaningful debate, and the information that was eventually shared was incomplete and inconsistent. I believe the process revealed issues with transparency and communication, as well as the need for improvements in responsible stewardship of the taxpayers’ resources. I propose we begin by holding the Board of Education accountable to a more open and transparent budgeting process. 

After the BOE quietly approved a preliminary budget with a 5.27% general fund increase, there was significant outcry by both the general public and municipal leaders. In response to further scrutiny, the Board added cuts to staffing and programs in excess of $300K. Unfortunately, as later confirmed by the Superintendent, the board implemented those program cuts but chose not to reduce their associated budgeted expenses, and passed the final budget with the identical 5.27% increase! Thus, adding insult to injury. 

Taxpayers still incurred the highest increase in over a decade while students lost valuable staff and programs. The situation is especially frustrating when taken in context with the fact that HVRSD received the largest state aid increase in Mercer County while experiencing the most significant declining enrollment.

I believe that there is a place for standardized testing as a measure of student achievement, but not as the ONLY measure of student achievement. I don’t believe that any one measure is “the best way” because all of our students are different. They have different goals and interests, and their paths to achieve their dreams are different. There are numerous measures of achievement we can look at: standardized tests, SAT scores, ACT scores, AP testing, achievements in team and individual athletics and arts, debate, student government…the list goes on. Some of these are quite objective, and many are subjective. I believe we get too focused on these singular measures and miss out on the big picture of what we are trying to achieve in educating our youth.

Are you running as part of a slate, and if so, why?

Bill Herbert & John Mason are running as a slate because we feel that the most effective school board is one that is open to and incorporates a variety of thoughts and experiences. We believe that our complimentary skillsets add more value taken together, than what any candidate can bring separately. In addition to a welcoming, inclusive school atmosphere that promotes resilient college and career ready students, we have identified Transparency, fiscal responsibility, and good Board collaboration/operations as needed focus areas. In its self-evaluation (see chart), the school board identified Board Performance, Finance, and Board/Community Relations at historic lows. We believe Bill’s financial acumen and John’s community experience can fill those known voids and result in a higher functioning board that can help improve outcomes for all students and the community.    Include chart.

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