Proposed S.B. school budget offers the best of all worlds

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s a parent and taxpayer with three children in the school system, I am writing to endorse the 2000-2001 school budget. I feel confident that the operating budget presented by the Board of Education offers the best of all worlds to the parents and taxpayers in our community — an improved and enriched educational program at 1998 tax levels. The operating budget presented includes provisions for over 300 new students, as well as expanded curricular and extracurricular opportunities for all students in foreign language studies, music and athletics, to name a few. It is a budget that maintains our full-day kindergarten programs and courtesy busing, both items that are proven to be highly valued in our community. All at the same tax rate that was paid in 1998.

At a time when so many of us are concerned with our invest

ments and their rate of return, our investment in our children’s education has never been a better one. Please join me in supporting the school budget by voting "yes" on April 18.

Christine Mariano

Monmouth Junction

section of South Brunswick

N.B. coach Don Anthony earned spot in ‘celestial hall of fame’

N

orth Brunswick Town-ship lost one of the good guys with the recent passing of Don Anthony. I came to know Don about 12 years ago during my son’s first year of Little League baseball. To the many players and parents that had contact with him, Don will be remembered as a patient and dedicated coach. The only time he yelled at his players was with a loud voice of encouragement.

Often volunteer coaches have a tenure that parallels their own children’s participation. Not Don. He stayed intimately involved long after his son, Keith, stopped playing. As a league official, Don spent countless hours during the off season working with DHS staff to craft comprehensive practice and game schedules for the North Brunswick Little League. He was well-known for his detailed, computerized schedules.

In a time when great seasonal demands often outstripped the available facilities, Don maintained focus on the bigger picture. He always understood the need to coordinate the field requirements of school teams, adult and girls softball, spring soccer and others.

There is a song that alludes to a celebrity band residing in "rock & roll heaven." If there is a similar celestial Little League hall of fame, Don Anthony will be selected unanimously on the first vote.

Thomas M. Seilheimer

North Brunswick

Support against holiday display heartening and humbling

This past Tuesday evening three members of the South Brunswick Town Council, acting with courage and dignity, voted down a proposed resolution which would have opened the door to religious holiday displays on government property. Town Council members Carol Barrett, Frank Gambatese and Edward Van Hessen recognized that the multicultural community that they represent is best served by a high wall of separation between church and state. By taking to heart the powerful words of the Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black that the first amendment rests "on the belief that a union of government and religion tends to destroy government and degrade religion," they acted to protect the religious freedom of our community. Most importantly, they remembered "we, the people," by placing the best interest of "we, the people" in our diverse community. In limiting the role of government, they insured the freedom of religion, an individual freedom which benefits all the people.

The Jewish concept of "Hakarat Hatov," of "appreciating those who act to benefit others," demands that we express our gratitude to all those whose voices were raised in the protection of a cherished ideal. In addition to the three members of the Town Council mentioned above, I must acknowledge the Rev. Francis H. Hubbard of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church and convener of the South Brunswick Area Clergy Association. The Rev. Hubbard has remained unwavering in his position that government not intrude itself into the realm of religion, that equating the sacred symbols of Christianity and other religious traditions with Frosty the Snowman and reindeer is both "insulting and demeaning."

I appreciate the eloquence with which Gwen Southgate warned the council that "any display will create another crack in the separation of church and state." She also shared her memories of how the assertion of religious beliefs can isolate individuals within a community. One could not listen to her words without conjuring up the image of wave after wave of people, from the pilgrims to the present day, coming to these shores searching for religious freedom.

Support from all corners of the community, both clergy and laity, was both heartening and humbling. I have seen our multifaceted community join together in our interfaith celebration of Thanksgiving, in the communal commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. and I saw it again in the assertion that actions that disenfranchise anyone injure us all.

Shai Goldstein, director of the New Jersey region of the Anti-Defamation League, reached out to us with moral encouragement and technical support. His visit to our congregation before Tuesday’s meeting and the presence of Phil Rosenbach, chair of the Anti-Defamation League’s regional Civil Rights Committee, at the Tuesday meeting helped us realize that the lofty ideals we have as a nation are ultimately expressed in how local communities treat their citizens.

May we always live in a community that serves as a model of respect and tolerance for the religious beliefs of its residents — a community where the heartfelt expressions of belief shine forth from homes and houses of worship and from the hearts and souls of "we, the people."

Rabbi David M. Eligberg

Congregation B’nai Tikvah

North Brunswick

Congregation: Luciano owes Rabbi Eligberg an apology

We commend council members Ted Van Hessen, Carol Barrett and Frank Gambatese for voting against permitting religiously themed holiday displays on township property. Their decision honors the intent of our country’s founding fathers to separate religion from government and shows their respect for all individuals who live in our diverse community. Now, instead of our elected officials wasting time determining which of the 120 or so recognized religions’ symbols are fit for display, when they can be displayed and who is going to display them (not to mention dealing with potential lawsuits), they can work on the critical issues that concern our township. We particularly appreciate that those three council members had the courage and wisdom to change the viewpoints that they originally expressed and we applaud each of them for the time, effort and soul searching that they each put into their decisions.

In contrast to the uplifting conduct of council members Barrett, Gambatese, and Van Hessen, the outburst of council member Edmund Luciano during the first public comment portion of the meeting was inappropriate and deplorable. All individuals who choose to address the Township Council have the right to expect that their opinion will be heard with respect and without interruption. Luciano apparently does not agree with this common courtesy. Rabbi David Eligberg, the spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Tikvah came to the podium to speak against the religiously themed holiday displays as the Human Relations Commission and others of varied faiths did before him. The rabbi mentioned that a congregant was afraid to sign a petition to the council because that person had business before the township and feared the council’s response. Noting Luciano’s reaction, the rabbi asked rhetorically if he found this amusing. Luciano began a shocking, screaming tirade and accused the rabbi of trying to divide the community. After Mayor Debra Johnson stated that no one should fear expressing their views to the council, Luciano reminded the rabbi that this (council meeting) is not Nazi Germany, an outrageous metaphor in general, and quite insensitive when addressed to a Jewish spiritual leader. He even went on to say that he wanted the name of the individual that was "proffering fear" in the community. Luciano’s words and his repeated finger-pointing gestures to the rabbi cannot and will not be taken lightly. For those few moments we could easily imagine what so many others before us felt a half century ago. A member of our government has no right to invoke such feelings in its citizens.

Luciano’s claim that citizens can freely express their views without fear are belied by his outburst, confirming that citizens do indeed need to fear Luciano’s wrath and retribution. The irony of Luciano screaming at the rabbi about Nazi Germany is all too obvious. The tragedy here is that an elected official who professes to respect diversity and free speech shows, at the drop of a word, that he only respects those who are with him or those who yield to his will. He later defended his outburst as simply "passionate." He should know from history that passion often stands in the way of reason and that freedom has suffered throughout history at the hands of rulers whose passion has been used to suppress dissent and eliminate those who happened to hold opposing views.

We, the undersigned officers, who represent the members of our congregation of 460 families, and those individuals of good conscience who stand beside us in our respect and deference for all members of the clergy and the freedom to speak before the town council without fear, expect Luciano to apologize to Rabbi David M. Eligberg, publicly and in writing.

Marc D. Binder, Mitchell Frumkin, Arie Behar, and Kim Rieman are vice presidents of Congregation B’nai Tikvah, North Brunswick. Jodi Marcou is trustee.

Taxes should be based on an ability-to-pay schedule

The March 9 Sentinel letter about school funding raises questions. One would believe our taxes would double and school boards be eliminated if our schools were fully funded by the state.

A family of four living in a typical home pays about $2,600 per year in school property tax. Additionally, this family pays around $855 per year for New Jersey based on an income of $60,000 per year, $2,300 on $100,000 per year or $400 on $35,000 per year.

If the state income tax were doubled as suggested in the March 9 letter, school property taxes would be eliminated. These same families would have their total taxes reduced $1,745; $300; or $2,200.

What’s not to like? Wouldn’t all bread-and-butter citizens from young to seniors benefit when schools are funded based on ability to pay?

Aren’t the school boards substantially controlled now by the present state aid of $6 billion?

Haven’t people of all political beliefs acknowledged the present school property tax system is regressive?

Shouldn’t we, through our representatives, have a more effective system to encourage efficient school districts and improve the rest?

Matthew House

North Brunswick

Proposed state law would cancel school boards

I wish to bring to your attention a situation that has occurred in the state Legislature. Assemblyman Peter Barnes (D-18th) and Assemblywoman Barbara Buono (D-18th) have reintroduced their bill, ACR 28, to fund public education 100 percent. The state currently funds 43 percent. For the fiscal year 1999-2000, $5.61 billion in school aid and $580.6 million in teacher pensions are currently budgeted.

If the bill were to pass, the following would occur. To fund 100 percent, the state would need to raise taxes an additional $7 billion.

This would mean raising the state sales tax from 6 percent to 14.8 percent or doubling the state income tax. Further, there would be no need for school boards. State bureaucrats from Trenton would run the entire state educational system.

It is quite evident that Barnes and Buono are not in touch with the needs of the taxpayers nor do they have any respect for their paychecks. The last time a Democrat raised taxes, he had a short tenure. Jim Florio raised taxes $2.8 billion, and the citizens of the state were up in arms.

They sent him a clear message the next election period.

Barnes and Buono want to raise taxes $7 billion. This legislation needs to be defeated for the good of the taxpayers and their families.

Norman J. Van Houten

Edison

Be sure to stay tuned

T

he South Brunswick Township Council has spoken. There will be no religious holiday displays on township property. Not surprisingly, it was not a unanimous decision. In fact, two of the three council members who voted not to change the present township policy prohibiting them originally seemed to favor the displays.

Councilwoman Carol Barrett, one of the two, found the issue to be too divisive.

"If I find an issue is divisive, especially on an issue that is supposed to bring happiness, then I must vote against holiday displays," she said Tuesday, explaining her vote.

Deputy Mayor Frank Gambatese was also torn, but went along with Barrett to "avoid a Pandora’s box of legal entanglements."

He also used the opportunity to take an unnecessary potshot at local clergy, accusing "most" of them of being more concerned about divisiveness than about teaching respect and tolerance."

It seems as if we heard that recently on the presidential primary trail.

The majority of the speakers at Tuesday’s meeting seemed to agree with the majority vote, indicating the township followed the dictates of the community.

Surprisingly, however, as you will read in another story in this week’s Sentinel, other towns in Middlesex County have not had to wrestle with the issue.

The only other county town that even has a policy is North Brunswick, and township officials there took an entirely different approach, establishing a resolution creating a Diversity Display Committee composed of clergy and interested community residents. The committee is now included in the North Brunswick Human Relations Council and approves displays for a piece of land near the municipal building that is dedicated for displays, according to a survey of towns by the Middlesex County Human Relations Council.

South Brunswick’s original decision to ban holiday displays came after a complaint about one at a township park.

While efforts to reverse that ban have failed, the issue is likely to continue to fester.

Mayor Debra Johnson, who opposes the ban, is already questioning whether the ban will affect such township events as the Haunted Halloween trail and the annual Kwanzaa celebration .

So, by all means, stay tuned.

Generous supporters deserve thanks

The Presbyterian Church of Jamesburg has been the home of a local food cupboard for a number of years, providing food to needy families regardless of religious affiliation. Food is distributed by appointment on a monthly basis, and emergency assistance is given when needed. The church board of deacons administers the food cupboard under the direction of the chairwoman of the welfare committee.

The cupboard exists primarily due to the generous contributions of food, time and money from church members, local businesses and individuals in Jamesburg and surrounding communities. This report is submitted as an expression of gratitude to all who may have contributed, even if anonymously.

Each year two major food drives are conducted. In November, the local Boy Scouts conduct their annual "Scouting for Food" drive. This year we broke the record for the number of bags brought in by our Scouts. I also suspect that we broke a record in terms of volunteers. Many people, both from Jamesburg and from surrounding communities, were on hand to carry bags, check expiration dates, sort the food, carry boxes upstairs and put away the donations. Our local Boy Scouts deserve an extra thank you for volunteering to help every month with our preparation as we bag and box up food according to family size.

The U.S. Post Office also conducts an annual food drive. Last spring the mail carriers worked tirelessly, making numerous trips from their various routes as the trucks filled with donations. This year they will be picking up food on May 13. Your generosity is appreciated.

While we try to keep our function to acting strictly as a provider of food for the needy, we have had occasional offers of other types of donations. Unfortunately, we do not currently have the space or the staff to handle these and therefore divert them to other organizations.

In 1999 our food cupboard was able to donate food to the victims of the hurricane flooding in Bound Brook. Locally we provided food to 277 families — a total of 725 people. This works out to a total of at least 20,300 meals. The words of gratitude expressed by the recipients of this food need to be passed on to all of you who have generously given so much. Thank you. This year we printed our own "coupons" for milk and eggs, redeemable at a nearby store which allows us to provide these staples as emergencies arise.

Since becoming involved a year ago, I have seen the look of joy on a person’s face when he finally landed a job, relief on the face of the young mother who would have had no Christmas for her children without help. I have seen the poor help the poor, giving one another rides, checking in on one another when illness strikes, being genuinely concerned.

I have also been on the receiving end as the needy volunteered to help out during the food drives. I am proud to be involved.

If you would like to contribute to the food cupboard, donations may be brought to the church and left in the rear of the sanctuary or dropped off at the church office at 177 Gatzmer Ave., Jamesburg. If you would like to volunteer, you may call the church office at (732) 521-1711.

Janet Curtis is the chairwoman of the welfare committee at the Presbyterian Church of Jamesburg.