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11-18-13 Education and Related Issues in the News
NJ Spotlight -Study Shows Steady Exodus of School Superintendents, But Not a Stampede…Statistics on salary cap impact are preliminary and full effect may not be felt for a few more years

Star Ledger - College Tips: How to pick the right teacher to get the best recommendation

Star Ledger - Chris Christie, Democratic lawmakers to tangle over tough state budgets…Gov. Chris Christie and the state's Democratic legislature will butt heads while hammering out some of the toughest budgets in decades.

Philadelphia Inquirer - In N.J. bill, tuition break for some undocumented

NJ Spotlight -Study Shows Steady Exodus of School Superintendents, But Not a Stampede…Statistics on salary cap impact are preliminary and full effect may not be felt for a few more years

John Mooney | November 18, 2013


Gov. Chris Christie’s controversial cap on school superintendent salaries has drawn plenty of questions and criticism since it was enacted in early 2011, but there’s one thing it hasn’t generated much of: hard data.

And at least on the surface, what little data is available belies the common assumption that superintendents are leaving the state in droves. In fact, fewer school leaders have left their jobs since the caps were enacted than in earlier years.

That finding comes courtesy of the state’s school boards association, which is starting to compile some of the first real numbers, but that early data still doesn’t answer all of the questions being raised about the law’s impact.

The New Jersey School Boards Association on Saturday presented to its delegates’ assembly its first comprehensive survey of the extent to which the salary caps have spurred school superintendents to leave their jobs.

The most common complaint has been that the caps, which are based on district enrollment and typically limit the superintendents’ annual pay to no more than $175,000 – equal to the governor’s salary – have driven veteran and valued superintendents to retire or move elsewhere to avoid severe pay cuts.

But while the anecdotal evidence tells of respected education leaders making an exodus from New Jersey schools, the association’s data has so far found actually a smaller turnover of superintendents since the regulations were put in place by former state Education Commissioner Bret Schundler, Christie’s first commissioner.

According to the report, the annual turnover of superintendents has averaged about 133 in each of the three years since the regulation was enacted, a drop from an average of about 153 superintendent jobs turning over in each of the prior three years. There are 553 superintendent posts in New Jersey overall.

Of those who retired or moved to another district, a total of 55 superintendents – or about 18 per year statewide – specifically cited the caps as their reasons for leaving, the report said.

Bergen County has seen the biggest turnover overall, with an average of nearly one-third of its school districts changing superintendents each year, followed by Monmouth and Morris counties. The turnover has been lowest in some southern counties, although Hudson and Union counties also haven’t seen much change, the report said.

Either way, the numbers statewide so far are lower than what has been assumed by even the association itself, given the complaints from some corners as well as several legal challenges lodged by superintendents themselves.

Association officials this weekend stressed that they think the three-year compilation of statistic is just a start and that they need to continue to track the turnover.

There are indeed a few caveats about what the numbers show so far. For one, the full wave of turnovers may not yet be finished, officials said, with a number of four- and five-year contracts that were entered into on the eve of the caps still running their course. Many districts sought to lock in their superintendents before the caps went into effect.

“The data has to be further examined, particularly since the law went into effect in 2011, and many superintendents have five-year contracts (not yet expired),” said Larry Feinsod, executive director of the association.

“It’s incomplete right now,” he said. “It’s an incomplete picture.”

In addition, the turnover of superintendents from 2008-2010 was unusually high to start with, mainly due to pension changes that gave superintendents an incentive to retire.

Nonetheless, several school board delegates on Saturday said the association may want to start looking at some qualitative measures as well, with several local school leaders saying they want changes made to the salary caps so they can avoid losing their superintendents in the next couple of years.

Karen Cortellino, president of the Montville school board, said that Morris County district has benefited greatly from its superintendent, Paul Fried. But she said the mandated salary cap will lead to a potential pay cut of more than $30,000 once his contract expires.

“He would face a cap of $165,000, and he is now over $200,000,” she said. “It would maybe save us $5 a household, but the thing is, he has been the best superintendent we’ve had in a long time.”

While Cortellino said Fried has not indicated that he would leave if his salary is cut, she added, “I don’t know, but I fear that.”

“If they are going to continue to study this,” she said, “they need to look at parameters that go beyond just turnover. They need to look at the experience level that is lost. . . The effect of the caps may not be seen for years.”

The regulations “sunset,” or expire, in 2016, but Christie has given no indication that he would end them at that time. His current education commissioner, Chris Cerf, early on acknowledged concerns with the caps but since then been steadfast in saying they were unlikely to change soon – at least before 2016.

“My position is as it has been all along: It is the law of the state, and it will remain the law of the state,” Cerf told the state’s school superintendents at a gathering this fall.

Feinsod said the association continues to have serious concerns about the rules and hopes changes will come, either when the existing rules expire or sooner.

He said districts already face separate caps on overall administrative spending and on their property tax levies, effectively making the superintendent limits a “cap within a cap.”

“It’s too constraining, and we feel the best decisions about compensation should be made by the elected officials of that local community,” he said.

“If the compensation is considered to be inappropriate within a community, let the community turn out and decide.”

Star Ledger - College Tips: How to pick the right teacher to get the best recommendation

By Peggy McGlone/The Star-Ledger The Star-Ledger  Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on November 18, 2013 at 7:15 AM

Your college bound student should probably have asked for teacher recommendations already, but some teens are slow out of the gate, and others realize half-way through the process that a specific school wants more than one letter.

We asked Nancy Siegel, head guidance counselor at Millburn High School, for some tips on getting a good recommendation.

Ask a teacher who knows you best, even if you didn’t get an A or the class is a subject you don’t see yourself pursuing in college, she said. Don’t worry about including humanities and science, or languages and math. Ask the teacher that you connected to, or whose class brought out your best qualities, because that teacher will make the best impression.

Colleges that are going to read teacher recommendations want to know if the student has been innovative, what they have done,” Siegel said. “You don’t want a teacher who writes this is the hardest working student I ever had.”

Siegel encourages students to share the themes of their application, so the teacher can echo those qualities in the letter. “Students should be direct. I’m going to talk a lot about experience X in my essay, or I do a lot of volunteer work and that’s what I’m focusing on,” she said.

And watch how teachers respond to the ask. “I don’t believe any teacher anywhere is going to say yes to writing a recommendation for a student they can’t give a good recommendation to," she said. "So if I teacher says I don’t think I can do that, move away,” she said.

Finally, she offered some tips on etiquette: don’t ask by email, don’t stop a teacher in the hall, and don’t interrupt class to ask for a letter. And if you're asking now, with a deadline just weeks away, be extra polite.

"Say 'I know I'm putting you in a difficult position, and I should have asked you earlier," she said. "Be polite about it."

Star Ledger - Chris Christie, Democratic lawmakers to tangle over tough state budgets…Gov. Chris Christie and the state's Democratic legislature will butt heads while hammering out some of the toughest budgets in decades.

By Salvador Rizzo/The Star-Ledger The Star-Ledger Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on November 17, 2013 at 6:06 AM, updated November 17, 2013 at 9:14 PM

TRENTON — Get ready for a rumble in Trenton in the coming months as Gov. Chris Christie and Democratic lawmakers hammer out the first of what are expected to be some of the toughest state budgets in decades.

Financial experts say Christie’s second term comes at a time of reckoning for New Jersey’s economy, with the cost of education, health care and transportation programs all set to explode by billions of dollars over the next four years — and not enough money coming in to keep them afloat.

Christie’s first four budgets averaged 3 percent annual growth, with the current one clocking in at $33billion.

Now comes the real test, experts say: State revenue needs to grow twice as fast over the next four years — averaging 6.5 percent annual growth — just to keep up with the ballooning cost of schools, Medicaid and public workers’ health care and retirement benefits.

A vigorous U.S. economic recovery would replenish the state treasury and defuse any financial time bombs. But economists say that’s not in the cards for now, which means Christie will have to raise taxes, borrow billions of dollars or drastically roll back education and health care expenses to make ends meet.

On top of that, transportation upgrades and wastewater treatment are expected to cost more than $100 billion over the next decade, according to the State Budget Crisis Task Force, a group of national experts that‘s warning about similar challenges in statehouses across the country.

"The fundamentals are good, but the risks are too many," said Sohini Chowdhury, an economist at Moody’s Analytics, who added that the Garden State is built to thrive during economic booms in New York and Europe but has a steeper climb than other states after a recession.

"Of late, we have seen a growth in professional services employment, but if you dig down deeper, you see that most of what is coming in is in low-paid jobs."

First-term Christie quickly rejected a series of Democratic bills to raise taxes for high earners, and second-term Christie will keep doing so, said his spokesman, Michael Drewniak.

In fact, when the budget season revs up again early next year, the governor will be beating the drum for a 10 percent reduction in New Jerseyans’ income tax bills, Drewniak said, a plan Christie has tried to pass for two years without success.

"We will meet budget challenges ahead just as we always have," he said. "Governor Christie will continue governing as a fiscal conservative, working with the Legislature to keep New Jersey on sound fiscal footing with pro-business, job-growth policies to expand our economy and revenues without raising taxes."

Already being courted to run for president in 2016 by GOP donors and strategists, Christie also could end up leaving office before the steepest bills start to land on his desk.

David Rousseau, a state treasurer under Gov. Jon Corzine and now an analyst at the left-leaning think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective, said Christie could crank out two more budgets before he would need to dedicate himself to running for president.


Governors are always crunched for cash, but Christie will have much less breathing room because of a law he signed in 2011, Rousseau said. To patch up an $86 billion hole in the state’s pension and health care funds for public workers, the state committed to bigger and bigger pension payments every year until 2018. The contribution this year was $1.7 billion; next year it will rise to $2.4 billion.

Those payments alone will eat up about half of whatever new revenue the state collects each year, Rousseau said.

"You’re just going to have to decide that you can’t do as much as everybody wants you to do," he said. "Administrations for the last 20 years have been dealing with the stress of not enough money to meet all the needs out there. Every year, we come up with a balanced budget using different methods — raising taxes, diverting funds, not funding things — but no matter what, we have to balance the budget."

Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) has been fretting over the looming financial crunch for months and recently vowed to keep Christie’s budget-cutting in check.

"Understand something, we’re going to fight," Sweeney said on election night after results showed Democrats retained the Legislature despite Christie’s landslide in the governor’s race. "The people of this state don’t want a Republican Legislature. They don’t want a rubber stamp for Chris Christie — when he’s trying to control the courts, when he’s made moves to cut women’s health (and) millionaires’ taxes."

The pensions and benefits overhaul doubled or tripled costs for public workers, froze their annual cost-of-living adjustments and raised their retirement age. Christie expects it will save the state more than $100 billion over 30 years. Still, analysts say that’s not enough.

"It’s not a perfect solution, but it could be worse without it," said John Sugden, a New Jersey analyst at Standard & Poor’s. "New Jersey has faced some significant challenges over the past four years and before, so certainly there’s been some improvement … (but) they’re still not fully paying their pension."

New Jersey’s unemployment rate is higher than the national average, at 8.5 percent; the state’s debt load is the fourth highest in the country per capita, according to Moody’s; and foreclosures have piled up to record levels since the 2009 recession, which drove down home prices across the market.

"It is New York’s neighbor, and it has this thriving professional-services industry, a highly educated workforce and a well-connected transportation hub in Newark," which are all strengths, Chowdhury said. However, the state’s thriving pharmaceutical industry and its casino capital of Atlantic City have been in retreat during Christie’s first term, and it doesn’t look like they can turn back the tide, she added.


Patrick Murray, a political analyst and poll director at Monmouth University, noted that Christie and the Democrats struck a budget deal last year quietly and without blasting each other in public. Whether that approach keeps up depends on which Chris Christie will be governing the state: the bipartisan dealmaker, or the conservative firebrand.

"He’s got to look like he’s fiscally sound but still balance the budget without creating too many political waves," Murray said. "Another option is to change the tactic that they’re going to use in 2016, and slash the budget and cut all his Democratic allies loose. I don’t think he’s going to do that this year. I think that’s a possibility for next year’s budget. For now, he still needs some of the kumbayah."


Philadelphia Inquirer - In N.J. bill, tuition break for some undocumented

Maddie Hanna, Inquirer Trenton Bureau

Last updated: Sunday, November 17, 2013, 11:59 PM Posted: Saturday, November 16, 2013, 11:14 PM

TRENTON Giancarlo Tello, 23, didn't know he was in the United States illegally until he was a sophomore in high school and his mother told him he couldn't get a driver's license.

Other realizations followed: Tello, whose parents brought him to New Jersey from Peru when he was 6, learned he didn't have a Social Security number. He couldn't work, except at odd jobs. And he couldn't receive financial aid to go to college or qualify for in-state tuition.

While he earned enough as a tennis coach and computer instructor to attend Bergen Community College - hitching rides from his father, who woke him at 5 a.m. and picked him up from the school at 11 p.m. - Tello couldn't afford to continue a political science major he had begun at Rutgers University, he said Thursday.

He's hoping to reenroll based on the outcome of a bill moving through the New Jersey Legislature that would allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition and apply for state financial aid. To qualify, students must attend high school in New Jersey for at least three years, and must graduate in New Jersey or receive the equivalent of a high school diploma.

The Senate is expected to vote Monday on the measure.

"This problem isn't going away. . . . They're here. We can't ignore it," Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) said before a committee vote Thursday, after Sen. Steven Oroho (R., Sussex) asked whether the bill would be "enticing" more illegal immigrants to the state. "This is an opportunity to be fair."

New Jersey in 2011 was the state with the seventh-largest number of undocumented immigrants, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Last year, 909,000 noncitizens - including legal permanent residents, undocumented immigrants, and refugees - lived in New Jersey, according to American Community Survey data. Of that group, 88,000 were college age, between 18 and 24.

Just a small percentage of that group would have graduated from high school and would seek to use the tuition equality benefits, according to Erika Nava, a policy analyst at New Jersey Policy Perspective, a liberal-leaning think tank.

"It is really hard to estimate this population," she said.

In Texas, which Nava said has three times as many undocumented immigrants as New Jersey, 16,000 students benefited from in-state tuition in 2010, and 60 percent qualified for state financial aid, she said.

Proponents of tuition equality make both a moral and economic case. Young undocumented immigrants are no different from their peers and not at fault for decisions their parents made, supporters say. And after paying for an undocumented child's public-school education for 12 years, it is to the state's benefit that the child get a college education and help contribute to the economy, they say.


"New Jersey can't afford to keep placing roadblocks to higher education," said Milly Silva, a union leader who ran for lieutenant governor as Democrat Barbara Buono's running mate. Silva touted a need for "high-skilled workers" to attract businesses and jobs.

While 15 states have passed tuition equity legislation, and university systems in three additional states have adopted similar policies, states that grant financial aid to undocumented immigrants - who cannot qualify for federal college aid, such as Pell grants - are less common. California, New Mexico, and Texas allow undocumented immigrants to apply for state aid.

Assembly Speaker-elect Vincent Prieto (D., Hudson) said Thursday that he wanted the Assembly version of the bill to mirror the Senate's, sponsored by Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D., Essex), with access to state financial aid included. The bill must pass both houses before it can go to Gov. Christie's desk.

Making a choice

A Christie spokesman said the governor does not comment on legislation before it is passed. At a gubernatorial debate last month with Buono, a state senator, he said he had "never been opposed to tuition equality."

"What I've been opposed to is making that choice when there are other choices that needed to be made in the budget," Christie said. Now that state revenues are improving, he said, "this is now something that we need to sit down with the Legislature . . . to talk about how we could responsibly fund tuition equality."

At a Senate committee hearing Thursday, Republicans voiced concerns. "Any legislation . . . should not put American citizens at a disadvantage," said Sen. Joseph Pennacchio (R., Morris), who objected to "a struggling family in a neighboring state - American citizens" paying more to attend a New Jersey school than an undocumented immigrant.

Bill supporters say they're asking for equal treatment, not advantages. Sen. Linda Greenstein (D., Middlesex) said many undocumented immigrants pay sales tax and filed income taxes, using individual taxpayer identification numbers.

"They are paying their way as best they can, and when they're documented, eventually they'll pay full freight," Greenstein said.

The committee ultimately supported the bill on an 8-3 party-line vote, with one abstention.

For Renata Mauriz, 20, "my dream is to be able to go to law school," she said.

Mauriz, of Morris County, came to New Jersey from Brazil eight years ago, overstayed her visa, and never left.

Mauriz's mother, who had moved from Brazil years earlier, "asked me to stay," Mauriz said. "She knew we belonged together. I couldn't stay without her any longer."

Like other students, Mauriz benefited from the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy enacted last year, giving temporary relief from deportation to undocumented immigrants ages 15 to 30 who came to the United States before they were 16, had lived here since 2007, and had graduated from high school or were in school, among other factors.

In New Jersey, 28,500 immigrants were immediately eligible for the policy, according to the NJPP. So far, 16,000 have applied.

The policy let immigrants like Mauriz get a driver's license, Social Security number, and work permit. She has earned enough waitressing to attend the County College of Morris, though she pays $350 per credit hour, instead of the $134 paid by in-state students.

Tello, who also received deferred action, said he at first didn't understand what it meant that he was undocumented. He remembers taking the SATs and realizing he needed a Social Security number.

When he decided to apply to Rutgers-Newark, "my friends thought I was crazy," Tello told lawmakers. Annual tuition is $24,742 for out-of-state students, compared with $10,718 for residents.

"It baffles my mind I am considered a nonresident after living 17 years here," he said.

mhanna@phillynews.com  609-989-8990 @maddiehanna


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