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4-22-14 Education Issues in the News
NJ Spotlight - Two Dozen Districts Still Hold School Elections, Budget Votes in April...Two-year-old law has transformed election schedules for virtually all districts in state

Star Ledger - New Jersey residents cooling on consolidation, poll shows

NJ Spotlight - Plea by Newark Clergy Ratchets Up Debate Over School Reforms...Call for moratorium on ‘One Newark’ plan and creation of community advisory panel gets cool response from education officials

Star Ledger - NJ slashes fees on NJBEST 529 college savings plan by 50 percent

NJ Spotlight - Two Dozen Districts Still Hold School Elections, Budget Votes in April

John Mooney | April 22, 2014

Two-year-old law has transformed election schedules for virtually all districts in state

 

Two years after the law that allowed New Jersey districts to shift April school board elections into November, just 26 of more than 500 districts statewide will hold their annual votes this Wednesday.

Another 16 districts in the past year made the change to November, as allowed by the 2012 law, which permits districts to move elections from the traditional April date and end school budget votes entirely if they stay within state tax caps.

Related Links

Vast Majority of April Votes Approve School Budgets

Shift to November Votes Leaves School Elections with Little Cash, Less Attention

Districts Continue to Shift School Board Elections Into November

Only a handful of districts initially made the move, but the trickle became a torrent in the past two years as districts cited the advantages of ending budget votes and the uncertainty they bring, officials said.

Just nine of 21 counties are seeing any votes this week, mostly in one district or two. Nine districts in Bergen County are sticking with April votes, but that is still a small fraction of the more than 70 overall.

In addition, two districts will be asking residents on Wednesday to vote not only on the base budgets, but also on so-called second questions for programs above the spending limits set by the state.

In the Chathams, the ballot will include an extra $460,000 for technology improvements. The Greenwich district in Warren County is asking voters for permission to spend an extra $1.1 million to maintain 17 staff positions, including 10 classroom teachers.

The list of districts holding votes Wednesday on school boards and budgets follows: board members and budgets is the following:

·         Bergen County -- Cliffside Park, Emerson, Fairview, Garfield, Hackensack, Midland Park, Oakland, Palisades Park, Ramsey

·         Cumberland County -- Bridgeton

·         Essex County -- Irvington, Newark (a state-operated district with no budget vote)

·         Hudson County -- North Bergen, Secaucus, Weehawken

·         Middlesex County -- Edison, New Brunswick

·         Monmouth County -- Neptune

·         Morris County -- School District of the Chathams, Mountain Lakes, Pequannock, Riverdale, Rockaway Borough

·         Passaic County -- Passaic, Totowa

·         Warren County -- Greenwich Township

Star Ledger - New Jersey residents cooling on consolidation, poll shows

The changing face of Route 27

Nassau Street in Princeton is shown in this file photo. Princeton Township and Borough in 2011 voted to consolidate. But a new poll shows voters are cooling to the idea. (Saed Hindash/The Star-Ledger)

Matt Friedman/The Star-Ledger By Matt Friedman/The Star-Ledger The Star-Ledger
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on April 22, 2014 at 6:30 AM, updated April 22, 2014 at 8:11 AM

TRENTON — New Jersey residents are cooling to the idea of merging towns to curtail the state’s famously high property taxes, a poll released this morning found.

The Rutgers-Eagleton survey shows residents who four years ago supported municipal consolidation by a comfortable margin are now evenly split on the issue. The shift comes even though the idea is being pushed hard by Republican Gov. Chris Christie and state Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester).

When asked if they’d like their town to merge with another municipality, 46 percent preferred to stay independent and 45 percent chose consolidation. In 2010, 54 percent wanted mergers, while 38 percent said their towns should remain the same.

For decades, Trenton politicians would never even discuss consolidation because of Jersey voters’ long dedication to the concept of "home rule" stressing a local identity. But the idea gained steam as New Jersey property taxes continued to soar.

With 565 municipalities in New Jersey, Christie and Sweeney have said towns could save money by combining or sharing services. Christie has said his hometown of Mendham Township should consolidate with Mendham Borough. Sweeney has been pushing a measure for several years that would reduce state aid to towns that refuse to share services recommended by the state.

Princeton Borough and Princeton Township residents voted to merge their towns in 2011, which resulted in a 2 cent decrease in the tax rate.

But a recent study by the Rutgers Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy cast doubt on the idea that consolidation would make a dent in property taxes. The study found that large New Jersey municipalities aren’t cheaper to run than small ones.

David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton poll, said one reason fewer residents support merging towns is because property taxes haven’t been jumping by big margins in recent years. Property taxes went up an average of 1.8 percent in 2013, and 1.6 percent in 2012. They rose at a far faster pace in the previous decade.

"While some towns have had large tax increases, many have not, which ironically may be reducing pressure to cut local government costs," Redlawsk said.

Mayors have credited a 2 percent limit on arbitration awards — how much in raises third-party arbitrators can give to police and fire unions at an impasse with towns — with helping to stem property tax increases. But that law expired April 1, when the Democrat-led Assembly and Christie could not agree on the form it should take. It prompted Christie to bash Democrats on the issue at rallies and town halls.

Yesterday, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) said he and Christie are negotiating the law’s renewal. "I am in conversations with the governor and hopeful that we will find a compromise," Prieto said.

In the poll, almost half of those who opposed consolidation said they would be won over if they were guaranteed tax savings. Forty-four percent said they’d change their minds if it meant stable property taxes or a 10 percent cut. Still, 47 percent stuck with their original answer to keep towns as they are.

"For consolidation to be embraced, proposals will have to all but guarantee tax cuts," said Redlawsk. "But we don’t know whether voters would believe politicians who say combining governments will cut taxes."

Garden State residents were also split on whether consolidation would make local government more efficient: 37 percent said it would, 37 percent said it would not make much of a difference, and 18 percent said it would make local government less efficient.

Forty-four percent said the quality of services would stay the same in a merged government, while 20 percent said it would get better and 27 percent said it would get worse.

The survey of 816 New Jersey residents was conducted March 31 to April 6. Its margin of error is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

NJ Spotlight - Plea by Newark Clergy Ratchets Up Debate Over School Reforms

John Mooney | April 22, 2014

Call for moratorium on ‘One Newark’ plan and creation of community advisory panel gets cool response from education officials

A year ago, Newark schools Superintendent Cami Anderson filled a downtown Newark reception at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center to unveil her proposal for remaking the school district under a plan called “One Newark.”

Let’s just say she would probably have a tougher time filling the place now.

Related Links

Newark Clergy Position Statement

One Newark Website

Newark Public Schools Letter to Families

Anderson and her sweeping plan – which calls for closing schools, consolidating others and creating a single enrollment system encompassing both district and charter schools – in the last week has sustained what may have been its hardest round of hits, raising new questions about what will happen next.

Protests targeting the state-appointed superintendent and her reform plans are nothing new, of course, as parents, community activists and political leaders have continually assailed the One Newark plan.

But the latest criticism came from those who might be seen as natural allies. It started in the form of a position statement delivered on Good Friday by 77 members of Newark’s clergy, who called for a moratorium on enacting the plan and rethinking of Anderson’s approach to dealing with the community.

“The disruptive and divisive nature of the One Newark Public School Plan could have catastrophic and far-reaching consequences for the children of Newark,” read the two-page statement.

The statement had a powerful impact, due to both the timing of its release and the unanimity of its authors.

“It is unprecedented and certainly historic, but it speaks to the depth of the feeling in the community,” said Dr. Mamie Bridgeforth, pastor of Faith Christian Center, who added yesterday that she was among several pastors who distributed the statement to parishioners on Easter Sunday.

“I had parishioners who wanted to take it home and share it with their families,” she said.

It didn’t stop there. Alfred Koeppe, former president and CEO of PSE&G and now CEO of the Newark Alliance, a business group partnering with the district, said yesterday in an interview that he, too, is worried about unrest in the city over the “One Newark” plan.

“I know it’s not an easy road – Newark is not an easy place,” he said. “But that’s what’s in jeopardy. People are feeling powerless.”

Koeppe said that he hoped that Anderson and the Christie administration would heed the clergy statement’s call for forming a local council of advisors to help bridge some of the divide.

“Things can get better,” he said. “It’s about having a dialogue and putting out to the community that we can do this together. . . It’s not saying burn the house down, but let’s build a better house.”

And he said the clergy statement’s influence shouldn’t be underestimated: “Every Sunday, they talk to 40,000 people.”

Yesterday, the school district released the following statement from Ruben Roberts, Director of Community Affairs and Engagement:

“While we respect and appreciate hearing the opinions of our community leaders, we do not believe a moratorium is in the best interest of the kids and families we serve,” the statement read.

“As many of the clergy know well given their participation in conversations and feedback sessions surrounding the creation of the One Newark plan, much of what they now recommend has in fact already been done -- including substantial data analytics to inform our policy decisions and extensive small and large group engagement forums to solicit stakeholder input.

“We support the clergy's call for a more civil and constructive dialogue on the future of public education in the city and are eager to partner with them in creating more of such opportunities going forward."

Bridgeforth and other clergy said they do not believe Anderson had yet reached out to any of those who signed the statement.

Acting state Education Commissioner David Hespe, who received a copy of the statement, would not comment yesterday beyond saying the situation in Newark “is still very complicated, and we are still working through the issues with the state superintendent.”

But there appears to be at least some acknowledgement by Anderson about specific concerns that have been raised about her plan. In a letter to families released yesterday, Anderson said the district had postponed making final assignments of students under the universal enrollment system while it works out transportation options for children.

The enrollment system will allow students to choose the schools they would prefer to attend, district or charter, potentially resulting in children traveling across the city from their own neighborhoods to attend school.

One particularly strong criticism is that the enrollment system would also force students, some of them small children, to take public transportation to get there.

The letter to families said the “match” letters will be sent out in the first week of May, as the district works to “identify transportation options.” What those other options could be, however, is unclear given the state of the district’s 2014-15 budget, which already calls for the layoff of up to 400 teachers.

The postponement also puts the school-choice decisions close to the upcoming May 13 mayoral election, in which Anderson and her plans have become a focal point of criticism from both major candidates.

Star Ledger - NJ slashes fees on NJBEST 529 college savings plan by 50 percent

By Kelly Heyboer/ The Star-Ledger The Star-Ledger
Email the author | Follow on Twitter on April 21, 2014 at 1:43 PM, updated April 22, 2014 at 7:03 AM


TRENTON — Investors in New Jersey's 529 college savings plan will have a little more cash to put toward their children's college expenses, state officials announced today.

The management fees for NJBEST, the college savings plan for New Jersey residents, are being slashed by 50 percent to help cut the administrative costs participants pay to invest in the fund, according to officials with the state Higher Education Student Assistance Authority and Franklin Templeton Investments, which administers the plan.

In the past, New Jersey had been criticized for offering parents a college savings plan with high fees and low returns compared to other states. But in recent years, the state and Franklin Templeton have made an effort to reduce costs.

Under the new terms, NJBEST will reduce its management fee from 0.2 percent to 0.1 percent. A decade ago, New Jersey families were paying as much as 1 percent in fees to invest in the plan, which then ranked as one of the worst in the nation.

“This is good news for the individuals and families who are saving for higher education expenses,” said Gabrielle Charette, executive director of HESAA, the state agency that oversees NJ BEST. “This most recent reduction in fees allows for more of investors' savings to go toward college savings goals, with fewer dollars going to administrative costs."

Franklin Templeton 529 College Savings Plan, which is offered to investors nationwide, will also reduce its fees from 0.4 percent to 0.25 percent, the company said.

NJBEST and Franklin Templeton 529 College Savings Plan have more than 228,000 accounts with $4 billion invested, the company said.

“As assets have grown, we have been able to achieve significant economies of scale and are pleased to pass these savings along to our plan participants,” said Roger Michaud, senior vice president of Franklin Templeton Distributors, the San Mateo, Calif.-based investment company.

NJBEST — short for the New Jersey Better Educational Savings Trust — began in 1997 during Gov. Christie Whitman's administration as a way for parents to save for college with offers of tax breaks and scholarships. Franklin Templeton was hired in 2003 to replace the state treasurer as administrator of the plan.

Under the current NJBEST plan, investors can contribute as little as $25 a month to the saving account and students will be eligible for up to $1,500 in scholarships if they attend New Jersey colleges.

Nearly every state has a 529 plan, which is named after the section of the tax code that allowed the creation of the funds in 1996. Families can invest in any state's plan, though some states offer incentives for residents of their states to participate in a local plan.

SavingforCollege.com, a New York-based private company that has ranked 529 plans since 1999, recently gave NJBEST five caps, its highest ranking. The site had previously ranked New Jersey's plan among the country's worst shortly after the fund was formed.

 


Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608
609-394-2828