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10-11-12 Education in the News

  • NJ Spotlight - DOE Follows $1.6 Billion in Stimulus Money . . . but Only So Far…Safeguards recommended several years ago by state monitors still not in place
  • Northjersey.com - Officials think new school lunch program is beneficial

NJ Spotlight - DOE Follows $1.6 Billion in Stimulus Money . . . but Only So Far…Safeguards recommended several years ago by state monitors still not in place


By John Mooney, October 11, 2012 in Education|Post a Comment

When the first round of federal stimulus money was handed out several years ago, New Jersey public schools were scolded by state monitors for not having adequate safeguards in place to ensure that the $1.6 billion was properly spent.

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With the money gone and the state’s monitoring completed, the Department of Education this month released the summary findings for the nearly 100 districts getting the bulk of the aid.

Guess what: According to the state at least, safeguards are still not in place in too many places.

In his department’s annual summary of the results of the monitoring sent to all districts last week, state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf wrote that there continues to be a number common failings.

For example, while the federal EduJobs funding was intended to help create or retain teachers and other staff jobs, more than a quarter of the districts sampled did not keep adequate accounting of what jobs were created or retained.

Elsewhere, four out of five districts did not follow proper bidding requirements for purchasing services with the federal money. State law permits certain exemptions, but the federal rules did not.

“Items such as professional development and software purchases have been a major source of noncompliance,” read the report.

And in the Title I grants for low-income students that are the bulk of federal spending in public schools, more than 70 percent failed to follow protocols for involving or communicating with parents in the offered programs.

Neither the monitoring report nor state officials afterward said that districts had committed any improprieties, but the letter provides a stark reminder on the extensive rules that were put in place -- and in this case not always followed.

The state’s monitoring teams completed reviews of 90 districts in all, including the Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, and other cities. But it also included its share of suburban districts, such as Cherry Hill, Montclair, Piscataway, and Wayne. A half-dozen charter schools were also monitored. Virtually all of the reviews were conducted in 2010 and 2011.

The monitoring included for the first time a review of how these districts also spent federal stimulus aid under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Those findings were not much better, especially for districts tracking their students in private programs and failing to have proper accounting guidelines in place for them.

A quarter of the districts also failed to have proper accounting of their IDEA-funded staff, and one in seven were using IDEA money to buy supplies that were not identified in the students' individualized education plans (IEP).

“Almost all of the districts that had full special education monitoring had issues relating to IEPs.,” Cerf wrote.

State officials said that the latest monitoring report was not meant to be punitive, but only to alert districts to common shortcomings. Each of the districts’ individual reports came with specific recommendations and findings districts were required to correct, officials said.

"The monitoring clearly shows that districts continue to need guidance of the allowable use of funds,” said Barbara Morgan, a department spokeswoman. “Where there is support and guidance needed, our staff is available to provide it."


Northjersey.com - Officials think new school lunch program is beneficial


School districts across the nation recently received a new federally-mandated lunch program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture implemented new regulations on lunches which are designed to fight childhood obesity.

The revised lunch program is part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, signed by President Obama in 2010. The new guidelines take effect for the current school year. The lunch includes smaller portions, a shift in food group balance and a price increase of five cents per meal. They include an increase in fruits and vegetables and a reduction in carbohydrates and protein. In addition, one- percent flavored milk will be replaced with fat-free flavored milk.

The guidelines are based on findings by the National Academies' Institute of Medicine. Released in 2009, they recommend a reduction of saturated fats, sodium and trans-fats in meals. Also recommended for the first time is a calorie count allowance in school meals.

In the Woodland Park School District, Tom DiFluri, business administrator, commented on the revised lunch program in the district.

"The intent of the new regulations is to combat childhood obesity," he said. "I think it's beneficial for students to eat a healthier meal because it can only improve their ability to perform academically and will improve their health in the long run. As of right now, I haven't received any feedback on it, whether it's being positively or negatively received."

Bill Petrick, superintendent for the Little Falls School District, felt the district already prioritized the importance of nutrition for its students.

"My general feeling is that time and again, the simple political solution to every problem of public concern is to pass legislation that dumps the burden of parenting onto under-funded public school districts," he said. "That said, Little Falls has a serious and sincere commitment to the health and nutrition of its students and is constantly considering and reconsidering it lunch menus and providers. The mandates will simply be one more part of those already thoughtful and deliberate considerations."

In Totowa School District, the changes that were made to the school lunch menu was met with support from Dr. Vincent Varcdipane, superintendent.

"It's definitely a good thing to encourage students to eat healthier and not consume foods that are high in fat and low in nutrition," he said. "If they can revamp the lunch and put kids in a more health conscious frame of mind, along with exercise, I support it."

At Passaic Valley High School, Dr, Viktor Joganow, superintendent, also was supportive of the changes incorporated to the food items at the high school the students will consume.

"I don't think anyone would argue that on one level it's beneficial to ensure that students are going to be eating healthier lunches," he noted. "I think people are concerned that the portions will be smaller and the prices will be higher. However, this is a federal mandate and it has nothing to do with the local schools. These are the new guidelines that school districts must follow."

Recently at Parsippany Hills High School, students chose to boycott the new lunch program by bringing their lunches instead of buying them.


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