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10-19-11 (Lots of) Education Issues in the News
Njspotlight.com - Unfunded Mandates on Schools Under Debate…Little-known state council rules on school busing, anti-bullying next

Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial: Successful districts make a point on charters…Charters should be an option. But they shouldn't be allowed to crop up where they aren't needed and will take state funds from good schools. The state also needs to provide better oversight of charters, monitoring their academic performance, management, and financial practices.

Philadelphia Inquirer - N.J. announces applications for 42 more charter schools

The Record - Ahearn: For N.J. schools, new bullying rules test patience New Jersey Newsroom - NJASA: Fast-track implementation of pilot program does not allow time for adjustments

Njspotlight.com - Unfunded Mandates on Schools Under Debate…Little-known state council rules on school busing, anti-bullying next

By John Mooney, October 19 in Education|


The state's Council on Local Mandates only meets a few times a year. Its task: determine if a statute constitutes an unfunded mandate on a community and, in turn, is unconstitutional.

But in the case decided yesterday and with one coming up that involves the state's controversial new anti-bullying law, the little-known panel is making its presence felt on some high-profile matters facing both local schools and the Statehouse.

Yesterday's decision concerned a complaint filed by the Springfield Board of Education. It argued that the law requiring districts pay for transporting non-public school students was unconstitutional once the state cut the funding for the program. The payments amounted to $771 a year per student.

But in a rare split vote, the council yesterday ruled 5-3 that it did not have jurisdiction in the case. It will not give its reasons until its formal decision is released in the next 60 days.

The next case may prove trickier, though. The Allamuchy school district has filed a complaint against the new anti-bullying law, claiming that the extra costs it has forced on schools in staff training and other duties constitute an unfunded mandate.

The law, passed overwhelmingly and signed by Gov. Chris Christie earlier this year, has caused considerable stir in New Jersey's schools this fall -- not all of it positive.

While schools across the state have stepped up efforts and events concerning tolerance and bullying prevention, school officials have also said that the requirements for additional reporting and investigation of all alleged incidents have been an administrative burden that has taken a considerable amount of their time.

Allamuchy's complaint centers on specific costs for the required training of all staff, as well as the directive that every district and every school have specific people in charge of coordinating prevention and investigations.

The sums in themselves are not high. The complaint said the software required for training costs $6,000, with a $1,000 renewal fee. The appointment of anti-bullying coordinators will also come with a cost.

"The additional job titles will require financial stipends for any employees who are members of a collective bargaining unit and therefore will be funded through local funds," reads the complaint.

The case is likely to touch off a slew of interest, since advocates and others in and outside the Statehouse have already said they expect other districts to join the legal action. The School Boards' Association is starting to compile information as to what additional costs, if any, districts are starting to incur.

"We're just 45 days into the implementation, but we have heard there has been an additional administrative burden," said Frank Belluscio, the association's communications director. "We will be doing data collection to what impact this is having."

The chairman of the council, John Sweeney, a former Burlington County judge, said the panel's role is clearly gaining greater attention as the recession continues to affect the state and local communities.

In addition to the judge the council comprises lawyers, executives, former mayors, and legislators.

"When I joined the council two years ago, we had no cases pending," said Sweeney, a former Superior Court assignment judge and former assemblyman. "Now in my second year, we have already decided three cases and have two more pending."

"I think the economic situation has a lot to do with it," he said. "People are scrutinizing laws a lot more carefully to see if they are spending anything at all."

Although the panel ruled unanimously this summer in the Springfield case that it did have jurisdiction, the state's lawyers asked for reconsideration and contended that the state's constitution had its own separate provisions that permitted the mandate, even without the full funding.

On the new motion, Springfield's attorneys and the state's lawyers yesterday testified for more than an hour before the panel, after which it met in closed session and announced its vote. Sweeney called it a difficult decision, and conceded that such jurisdictional decisions are the "exception, not the rule."

"It shows it was not something we decided off-handedly or easily," he said of the close vote.

Springfield's lawyer, Vito Gagliardi Jr., said he was mystified by the council's reasoning. "We are disappointed that they would not decide on the merits of the case," he said.

But until he could read the opinion, Gagliardi said he did not know if he would ask for reconsideration. The council's decisions are considered final and cannot be appealed to another body.



Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial: Successful districts make a point on charters…Charters should be an option. But they shouldn't be allowed to crop up where they aren't needed and will take state funds from good schools. The state also needs to provide better oversight of charters, monitoring their academic performance, management, and financial practices.


October 16, 2011

What a surprise that the latest battle over charter schools in New Jersey is in the relatively affluent and highly regarded Cherry Hill School District.

Across America, resistance to charters has been largely viewed as coming from failing urban districts trying to avoid competition with privately run schools funded with public money.

There has been little sympathy for the urban districts, which are accused of trying to hold on to public funds even if it means fewer children can get out of a bad school and into a charter.

But to have suburban Cherry Hill argue that a proposed charter would wrongly take money from regular schools puts a different slant on that argument, which may generate more traction.

Cherry Hill officials are appealing the state Department of Education's approval of the Regis Academy Charter School, which is set to open next fall at the Solid Rock Worship Center, a nondenominational church. In addition to traditional classroom instruction, Regis students would learn how to operate a business and develop governmental and cultural organizations.

The K-8 school would enroll 450 students from Cherry Hill, Lawnside, Voorhees, and Somerdale. Those local school districts would be required to contribute funds from their state allocation to help cover the charter's costs.

Cherry Hill, among the largest districts in the state, would have to fork over $1.9 million a year. School officials say such a large loss in state funding would force Cherry Hill to lay off teachers and cut programs, unfairly hurting its noncharter students.

Cherry Hill further contends that a charter school is not needed there because the district already has good schools. Parents in Millburn similarly lobbied against plans to open two charter schools in that Essex County town that would emphasize the teaching of Mandarin Chinese.

These cases raise a fundamental question: Should taxpayers be forced to foot the bill for public-school children to get a boutique, private-school-style education?

It shouldn't be difficult for the Legislature, which first approved charter schools in 1995, to figure out the obvious answer: No. The state's charter-school law should be overhauled to make that clear. The Senate Education Committee heard testimony Thursday on a bill that would require a referendum in a district before a charter school could be approved. That's one way to address the problem.

Charters should be an option. But they shouldn't be allowed to crop up where they aren't needed and will take state funds from good schools. The state also needs to provide better oversight of charters, monitoring their academic performance, management, and financial practices.


Philadelphia Inquirer - N.J. announces applications for 42 more charter schools

By Rita Giordano

Inquirer Staff Writer

The desire to open charter schools in New Jersey appears to remain strong, as the state Tuesday announced a new crop of 42 charter applicants.

While shy of the 58 named in April by the Department of Education, this list represents a sizable showing of interest, including in some nonurban districts that are not traditionally fertile soil for the alternative schools.

In South Jersey, the Creative Arts Charter School would open in the generally well-performing Voorhees Township district, eventually accommodating 190 children in grades two through five.

Sponsor Pamela Brown, an art educator, said the school would offer a year-round arts-based curriculum.

Brown said she was "very hopeful" that the state's recent approval of the Regis Academy Charter School to serve Cherry Hill, Voorhees, Somerdale, and Lawnside would "open the doors" for her school.

The Cherry Hill district is fighting the state's approval of Regis, saying, as officials in other suburban districts around the state do, that charters in non-failing districts are unnecessary and siphon aid money away from well-performing schools.

Cherry Hill estimates it would lose as much as $1.9 million depending on how many students opt to attend Regis.

Regis' founder, the Rev. Amir Khan, pastor of the Solid Rock Worship Center, said his school, which would be nonreligious, as required by law, would be an alternative for families who want one.

Among the other new charter proposals announced Tuesday is the Shaolin Temple Charter School in Somerdale, which would grow to 260 students in grades kindergarten through 12.

The charter sponsors could not be reached, but the Shaolin Temple, based on its website, appears to be a Buddhist temple with an emphasis on martial arts.

Four new charters are proposed for Camden City, and one, the Willingboro College Prep Charter High School, is proposed in Burlington County. It plans to grow to 450 students.

Last month, the state announced the approval of four new charter schools, bringing the number given the OK this year to 27.

Charter schools are independently run schools that receive public funding.

The new applicants will learn in January if they are approved, according to an Education Department spokeswoman.

Contact staff writer Rita Giordano at 856-779-3841, rgiordano@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @ritagiordano.



The Record - Ahearn: For N.J. schools, new bullying rules test patience

Wednesday, October 19, 2011 last updated


IN RIDGEWOOD the other day, a teacher at Benjamin Franklin Middle School overheard a student calling his friend “a retard” during lunch. In years gone by, the teacher would have taken the student aside and told him his language was inappropriate. That would have been the end of it.

No longer. Last fall the New Jersey Legislature passed the Antibullying Bill of Rights, and Governor Christie signed it into law in January. Things have changed. Boy, have they ever.

The Ridgewood teacher told administrators of the incident, as required by the law. School officials met with both sets of parents and filled out a report. It would be sent to the district superintendent, the school board and the state Department of Education.

Anthony Orsini, the principal of Benjamin Franklin, said of the offending student, “Now it’s on his record that he committed an act of HIB [Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying]. The consequences are real now, potentially. It’s possible a college could get access to a disciplinary record. I can’t say to a parent that it’s not possible, and that’s a concern in a place like Ridgewood.”

Indeed it is. Orsini told Record reporter Patricia Alex that he had investigated three incidents of the sort in the previous month. The Antibullying Bill of Rights provides no funds to school districts to deal with such matters. As a result, Orsini has had to devote much of his time to them, at the expense of time needed to run the school.

Ridgewood, ranked tops academically and socioeconomically, is not unique. To the contrary. The principal of middle-class Clifton High School, the biggest in the state with 3,400 students, has been fielding 10 to 15 complaints a day since the fall school term started. Each was investigated, reports were filed, parents contacted.

But, says Principal Michael McGinley, only two or three resulted in students being disciplined. “In some cases, it’s blown so out of proportion that when I call some of the parents, they say, ‘You’re kidding me?’”

No compaints filed at Eastside

On the other hand, you might suppose that long-troubled Eastside High School in Paterson would be flooded with complaints. With a suspension rate of 10 percent and a graduation rate of only 60 percent, the 1,700-student Eastside was plagued with violence.

Last year, the school was divided into three academies, each with its own curriculum, staff, entrance and uniforms, to give students a “small school” experience. No complaints of bullying were filed at Eastside in September. None. The reorganization into academies may have been partly responsible. But Stephanie Roberts, the school’s anti-bullying specialist, also says that in an urban school environment like Eastside, students don’t bother asking officials to intervene when insults are exchanged. Instead, there is “an altercation or a fight.”

Across the state, school officials are still getting used to the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, said to be the toughest in the nation. It was passed in an emotional rush following the suicide of Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi of Ridgewood, whose dorm encounter with another man was allegedly secretly recorded by a roommate.

The law requires that all public school teachers and staff members receive training in suicide prevention and in recognition of harassment, intimidation and bullying. Students engaging in such conduct can be subject to penalties up to and including suspension and expulsion.

Written report

Any school employee who observes or is told of an offensive incident must file a written report with the principal within two days. In every school, the principal must appoint a member of the staff as anti-bullying specialist. Some have accepted their new responsibilities with enthusiasm. In New Milford, Doreen Zacher prepared a 52-page (!) PowerPoint presentation on preventing bullying.

Also, all public colleges and universities must include anti-bullying rules in their student codes of conduct, a direct response to the Tyler Clementi affair.

The week beginning with the first Monday in October of each year is designated a “Week of Respect,” to be observed with “age-appropriate instruction.” In Dumont’s Honiss School, the recent lesson for that week for kindergarten through second-grade pupils used humor to inculcate the message.

The new law includes provisions recommended by Garden State Equality, an advocacy group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. The law has been a roaring success for the organization. Steven Goldstein, its leader, says the hot line it established has received more than 1,700 calls.

However, critics say the current enforcement apparatus is too encompassing and rigid. The governor has established a task force to address education issues, including unnecessary red tape. Its interim report, submitted last month, did not deal with the anti-bullying matter. Its final report is due by the end of the year.

The Education Department has issued a sample district anti-bullying policy, but little more. The governor and acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf should seize the opportunity of the final report to set guidelines for anti-bullying rules and procedures that are clear and reasonable.

James Ahearn is a former managing editor of The Record.



New Jersey Newsroom - NJASA: Fast-track implementation of pilot program does not allow time for adjustments

A new teacher evaluation system will be implemented statewide next year before administrators and educators have sufficient time to evaluate the success of its pilot program and make necessary adjustments, according to the New Jersey Association of School Administrators (NJASA).

The teacher evaluation system is a result of an executive order of the governor, which created a task force to develop a more authentic teacher assessment. The assessment will focus equally on classroom performance and student achievement. Currently, 11 districts are piloting the program that began in September 2011 and will conclude in March 2012.

“There needs to be time to review the results of the pilot program to determine whether it addresses all of the difficult questions,” said Dr. Richard Bozza, executive director of the NJASA. “For example, if one classroom has a number of special education students or limited English speaking students, should we rate the teachers the same on their students’ test scores? Authentic assessment is more complex than it appears.”

The NJASA advocates getting feedback from the pilot districts, as well. “Educators in the pilot districts are actively engaged and eager to participate,” noted Dr. Bozza. “But many of them are frustrated by the amount of work required in such a short time. We need to examine what is practical to implement statewide. We don’t want to launch a program before it’s ready. Let’s take the time to do it right.”

11 pilot districts are testing the new statewide teacher evaluation system during the 2011-12 school year with guidance and funding from the state. The districts include Alexandria Township, Hunterdon County; Bergenfield, Bergen County; Elizabeth, Union County; Monroe Township, Middlesex County; Ocean City, Cape May County; Pemberton Township, Burlington County; Red Bank, Monmouth County; Secaucus, Hudson County; West Deptford Township, Gloucester County; and Woodstown-Pilesgrove Regional, Salem County. The Newark school district also will participate through a separate grant.

On the federal level, similar frustrations are being felt by the Race to the Top grant winners, according to the NJASA. Educators and administrators also are struggling with practical questions about how to judge job performance fairly.

“This is a not a problem unique to New Jersey,” concluded Dr. Bozza. “We can definitely learn from each other.”

Dr. Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, is available to discuss the potential effects of implementing the pilot teacher evaluation program too soon.


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