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2-20-15 Education Issues in the News

NJ Spotlight - Atlantic City School District Goes Bust, Fiscal Monitor Put in Place…School system wracked by aftershocks from collapse of casino industry, city's fiscal calamity

John Mooney | February 20, 2015

New Jersey has placed fiscal monitors in nearly a dozen school districts to date, almost all intended to address alleged mismanagement or other weaknesses in the local administrations.

But Atlantic City schools are presenting a novel problem: they’re running out of money.

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Another District Gets Fiscal Monitor to Solve Budget Woes

Questioning the Wisdom of Atlantic City Bailout

The Christie administration yesterday announced it would send Gary McCartney, a retired superintendent from South Brunswick, to lead a team of financial experts to start scouring the district’s budget for savings in the face of a drastic drop in local tax revenues, largely due to the collapse of casinos in the city.

“This is an extraordinary, if not unique, fiscal crisis due to the ratable drop,” said state Education Commissioner David Hespe yesterday.

“We have had monitors go into districts when there is a fiscal dilemma, sometimes by the administration or the board, sometimes by external conditions,” Hespe said. “This is clearly in this case due to the latter.”

The numbers are stark. In 2012, the city had a local tax base of $18 billion. This year, it was down to $12 billion, and next year will be closer to $8 billion. That has left the district, which gets only $18 million in state aid out of an estimated $170 million overall budget, scrambling for cash, with plans in place to cut $13 million next year.

“The rest of the money comes from the local taxpayers,” said Glenn Forney, director of the department’s office of state monitors. “That why we need to get ahead of this … These are clearly circumstances that are unparalleled in the state.”

Waiting for his team to get on the ground, Hespe wouldn't say if the state would bail out the schools with an infusion of emergency aid. Atlantic City already has a monitor and emergency manager in place for the municipal government.

The timing is pressing: Gov. Chris Christie will present his budget for fiscal 2016 next week, and it will include proposed state aid for next year for all school districts.

“In a few weeks, we should be able to answer that question [of a bailout],” Hespe said in an interview. “I think the governor and the Legislature will be looking to us and asking the question of what are the revenue needs for a fiscally responsible budget.”

Given the state’s own fiscal condition, Atlantic City’s prime advocate in the Legislature wasn’t holding his breath for significant financial help from Trenton.

“I think people in Atlantic City are resigned to the reality that a bailout isn’t coming [for either the city or the schools],” said state Sen. Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic), a former mayor and retired teacher from the district.

“The state can’t pay for its pension liability, the Transportation Trust Fund is going broke, they money is not there, it is just not there,” he said.

Nonetheless, Whelan also said that he didn’t think the district needed to make steep cuts beyond those it has already planned. But it is also a time of transition, with Superintendent Donna Haye going on an extended medical leave and then retiring at the end of the school year.

“I’m just hoping [the monitor] doesn’t come in with a meat axe approach of chop, chop, chop,” he said. “That not to say cuts don’t have to be made at all, but I hope it’s not a ‘ready, shoot, aim’ approach.”

Atlantic City will be the 10th district to be put under a fiscal monitor, a step short of the state taking control of fiscal operations altogether. The others are Asbury Park, Belleville, Elmwood Park, Elmer, Garfield, Lakewood, Pleasantville, Trenton and Woodbine.

 

Star Ledger - PARCC testing begins today for some N.J. students

By Adam Clark | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com The Star-Ledger
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on February 20, 2015 at 6:30 AM, updated February 20, 2015 at 7:48 AM

 

After months of discussion and debate, some New Jersey high school students today will begin taking the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams.

Most students will not start taking the test until March. But a "small percentage" of districts are taking advantage of the alternative start date for high schools, Department of Education spokesman Michael Yaple said.

The Department of Education did not release which schools are administering PARCC assessments today, but the list includes high schools in some of the state's largest districts, like Camden and Hamilton, according to school websites.

Hamilton is not worried about students refusing to take the test, as some PARCC opponents have advocated, Acting Superintendent Steven Bollar said. Only about 50 of Hamilton's 12,000 districtwide students have submitted refusal letters from their parents, he said.

Those students must stay in the classroom during the tests but will be able to read a book or work on other independent activities, he said.

"Anything new, people get a little nervous about," Bollar said, "but we are ready to roll."

The new tests in English and math have generated backlash from parents in some communities and are the target of an ad campaign launched this week by the state's largest teachers union.

Proponents, including the state's PTA and the associations representing New Jersey principals and superintendents, believe the tests will provide a more detailed picture of student learning. The results, expected to come this fall, will show parents how their child compared to the school average, state average, district average and PARCC average -- a comparison to students in other states taking the same test.

But opponents believe the test questions and computerized format are too confusing. Parents have complained that too much instructional time is being diverted to test prep, minimizing the focus on non-tested subjects like social studies and science.

Teachers have decried the fact that student performance on PARCC will be a 10 percent weight in some teacher evaluations.

Hamilton decided to start the tests early because it doesn't have the technology for every student in grades 3-11 to take PARCC during the standard March 2-27 testing window, Bollar said.

Middlesex High School is starting testing on Friday for the same reason, Superintendent Linda Madison said. The district's middle school houses 800 students in grades 4-8 and the district does not have a 1:1 laptop ratio.

"In order to share the devices that we have, we are going to need every week in March, just at the middle school," Madison said. "So we thought with this option we could get the high school out of the way."

Middlesex had not received any refusal letters from high school parents until Thursday, when the district received three, Madison said. The district has directed those students to stay home Friday morning and arrive to school near the end of the morning testing window, she said.

"I feel like Middlesex Borough is in very good shape, both from implementation of curriculum, through familiarity with devices, to helping our parents understand what to expect and to try put everybody's feelings and anxieties to rest," Madison said.

Students will not have to pass the PARCC tests in order to graduate until 2019, but the tests can be used as one method to meet graduation requirements if students take and pass them.

A bill passed by the Assembly Education Committee would delay the use of PARCC scores for any decisions affecting students or teachers for three years beginning in 2015-16.

Adam Clark may be reached at adam_clark@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on twitter at @realAdamClark. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

 

Star Ledger - PARCC tests postponed after tech glitch in one N.J. school ‘…Dumont was one of a small percentage of New Jersey high schools that began administering the new state tests on Friday, according to the Department of Education. The testing for most students, including students in grades 3-8, won't start until March 2. Testing at Steinart High School, in Hamilton Township School District, went smoothly, said Daniel Ashton, president of the district's teachers union.

By Adam Clark | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com The Star-Ledger
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updated February 20, 2015 at 1:18 PM

DUMONT — A technical glitch this morning with the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams forced one New Jersey high school to postpone administration of the computerized tests, according to its superintendent.

Dumont High School realized Thursday evening that a "start" button test administrators must click to give students' access to the test was not appearing on the screen, superintendent Emanuele Triggiano said. When district staff checked the test this morning and the button was still not available administrators made the decision to postpone the tests until next week, he said.

The "start" button did become available about 15 or 20 minutes after the scheduled 8 a.m. start for the tests, Triggiano said.

Dumont was one of a small percentage of New Jersey high schools that began administering the new state tests on Friday, according to the Department of Education. The testing for most students, including students in grades 3-8, won't start until March 2.

Testing at Steinart High School, in Hamilton Township School District, went smoothly, said Daniel Ashton, president of the district's teachers union. Ashton visited the school and was not alerted to any major problems with technology or students refusing to take the tests.

"I was very, very curious as to how it was going, especially about all the concerns with the infrastructure and and kids opting out," Ashton said. "Everyone kept saying, 'Quiet so far.'"

Adam Clark may be reached at adam_clark@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on twitter at @realAdamClark. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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