|2-14-12 Education Issues in the News|
NJ Spotlight - Will Christie Cut School Aid?...With Cerf working on a report about school funding, some districts are already resigned to seeing no increases “…If my members were held to flat funding, it would be hard to be content with that,” said Lynne Strickland, executive director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, which represents mostly suburban districts. David Abbott, superintendent of Marlboro schools and president of the Garden State Coalition, said districts are growing resigned to the austere times in the aftermath of Christie’s cuts in his first budget….”
Star Ledger - Hearing on N.J. acting education boss postponed over residency questions
NJ Spotlight - Will Chrisite Cut Aid? With Cerf working on a report about school funding, some districts already resigned to seeing no increases …“If my members were held to flat funding, it would be hard to be content with that,” said Lynne Strickland, executive director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, which represents mostly suburban districts. David Abbott, superintendent of Marlboro schools and president of the Garden State Coalition, said districts are growing resigned to the austere times in the aftermath of Christie’s cuts in his first budget….”
When Gov. Chris Christie releases his state budget next week, his proposed income tax cut will grab a lot of attention. But the biggest -- and possibly the toughest -- questions may have to do with state aid to schools, which accounts for one-third of the overall budget.
The Christie administration has so far been mum or at best vague as to what it will propose for public schools next year.
Meanwhile, acting education commissioner Chris Cerf has been working on a court-ordered report to the legislature that revisits the formulas used in the School Funding Reform Act to determine if they provide enough -- or too much -- aid to districts.
Although SFRA covers all New Jersey school districts, if the formulas are revised it could have a significant effect on the 31 so-called Abbott Districts. The state Supreme Court ordered Christie to fully fund these districts under SFRA, which resulted in a $477 million increase in school aid this year.
Cerf isn't discussing the report’s conclusions, but lobbyists and others expect it could spell some tightening of the purse for some of the Abbott districts.
“I think some of them will be happy to keep what they have,” said Michael Vrancik, lobbyist for the New Jersey School Boards Association.
The idea of the administration tinkering with SFRA is not going over well with the legislature.
“We’re hearing rumors that he is going play around with the funding formula.,” said state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) in an interview. “If they drop that in our lap that’s radical in its changes, we won’t allow it."
“We have a formula that works and is fair,” he said. “There’s just no way we are taking up [big changes].”
Christie has said his proposed 10 percent income tax doesn’t preclude an increase in school aid. But he has not hid his contempt for how much aid the state’s urban districts receive under the Abbott v. Burke rulings.
The various signals have left school districts a little nervous about their fate.
Several superintendents said they were told by state officials to draw up a budget with level funding from the state. Others said the state hinted to as much as a 2 percent increase.
“Our members are certainly wary of any changes coming,” said Vrancik. “If he is going to cut income taxes, he is going to have ways to operate public schools less expensively.”
Christie is in a bit of a box with school aid, which he cut by 5 percent in his first budget and then restored one fifth of that across the board last year.
State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen), the Senate’s budget chairman, called state aid to schools an “integral part of this year’s budget.”
”And with all the other demands that are out there,” he said, “it will be interesting to how they propose to deal with it.
“The courts have been pretty clear that he has to begin to fund (SFRA), and at the end of the day, it will be critical to see how he is going to handle it,” Sarlo added.
One option out there is tapping into so-called adjustment aid to schools, close to $600 million this year to help prevent cuts in Abbott and lower-middle class districts. Eliminating or phasing out that extra aid, as the court permitted, could provide some additional aid to suburban districts, lobbyists said.
“If my members were held to flat funding, it would be hard to be content with that,” said Lynne Strickland, executive director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, which represents mostly suburban districts.
David Abbott, superintendent of Marlboro schools and president of the Garden State Coalition, said districts are growing resigned to the austere times in the aftermath of Christie’s cuts in his first budget.
Now with a 2 percent property tax cap in place, he said additional aid to the schools would likely just go back to taxpayers in his district. “We’ve learned to live with scarcity mentality,” he said.
“But you don’t hear as much gravitas from districts,” he continued. “We’ve learned to live with less. And it’s not like anyone would much listen to us anyway.”
Star Ledger - Hearing on N.J. acting education boss postponed over residency questions
Published: Monday, February 13, 2012, 5:41 PM Updated: Tuesday, February 14, 2012, 6:05 AM
By Star-Ledger StaffThe Star-Ledger
TRENTON — Christopher Cerf may not want to order those new business cards just yet.
In a surprise move today, the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee postponed a scheduled Thursday confirmation hearing for Cerf, who was nominated by Christie in December of 2010 to become the state’s Education Commissioner.
Cerf has retained the acting tag for more than a year as State Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex) blocked the nomination using a senatorial practice known as courtesy. The informal rule allows senators to block gubernatorial appointments of people who live in their districts.
Cerf, who has owned a home in Montclair since 1999, lives in Rice’s district. He seemed to bypass the legislative tactic last month when it surfaced that he rented a home in Somerset County and thus courtesy shifted to State Sen,. Christoper Bateman (R-Somerset).
But Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), who chairs the Judiciary Committee, says he pulled Cerf’s name from the hearing because he has new doubts about Cerf’s actual abode after Cerf gave an interview to the Asbury Park Press where he said, "I have two residences."
"The facts are that I own a home in Montclair and that I reside there many nights a week. I have also rented a home … in the southern part of the state and I spent several nights a week there. I use it to shorten my commute," Cerf said.
Playing referee in the dispute is nearly impossible because the courtesy process is governed by tradition, not law. However, State Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Bergen) said he has always opposed nominees who used gimmicks to skirt senatorial courtesy.
"I think you have to be honest about this stuff," Cardinale said. "I would not sign off on this if he said he lived in place, but lived in another. But we should get the facts before we judge, so I agree with Scutari for trying to get to the facts, even if the governor is a Republican."
Christie’s office declined to comment.
Cerf deferred questions about his nominations and residency to his spokesman at the Department of Education, Justin Barra, who did not return calls and emails seeking comment.
Rice invoked senatorial courtesy after learning a consulting firm founded by Cerf had been paid $500,000 to make recommendations about which Newark schools could be closed or consolidate based on declining enrollment or poor academic performance. Cerf cut ties with the firm before assuming his public role and did not profit from the contract
"If in fact this is true, then it goes back to the main problem," said Rice. "This man lacks integrity and veracity and that should concern the governor."
Former Montgomery Township Mayor Louise Wilson said the news was all over town that Cerf had moved to Montgomery. She said she never saw the acting commissioner around the township, but "I’m not sure I would recognize him, to tell you the truth."
Montgomery, in staunchly-Republican Somerset County, is known for its open space and large, luxurious homes, but Wilson said the address given for Cerf is much more "modest."
She also said Montgomery is also frequently home to many who work in Trenton, however. "It’s a much shorter commute than from Montclair," she said.
Wilson, a Democrat who served on Montgomery’s township committee for eight years before losing reelection in 2010, also referred to the tiff over senatorial courtesy.
"When I first heard the news, I assumed he had made the choice to live here so as not to be burdened with that any more, and frankly I didn’t blame him," she said. "The 18 months as acting commissioner because of his nomination being held up all this time, I just don’t know that’s fair."
She said Montgomery is a "great place" to live.
"I hope that he ultimately moves his whole family here, because then there wouldn’t be this perception," Wilson said.
Garden State Coalition of Schools