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2-20-12 Education Issues in the News...Gov's Budget Message tomorrow afternoon
Philadelphia Inquirer - In bid for N.J. school aid,sense of betrayal

Star Ledger.Opinion.NJ Voices - Did Gov. Christie drop a hint on school aid formula re-do?

Gloucester County Times – Deptford schools to implement new, state-mandated teacher evaluations before year's end

Philadelphia Inquirer - In bid for N.J. school aid,sense of betrayal

By Matt Katz, Inquirer Trenton Bureau, Posted:Sun, Feb. 19, 2012, 3:01 AM

Figures flow from Jennifer Cavallaro's memory as she recounts her futile crusade for an extra million bucks for her son's school district in Gloucester County.


Nine: That's how many Gov. Christie town hall meetings the 35-year-oldmother of two attended. She always arrived five hours early to ensure afront-row seat, and the governor called on her to speak eight times.


Fifty: That's how many supporters joined her at the Hammonton town halllast March, when Christie himself encouraged Cavallaro to push for legislationto supplement funding for the Swedesboro-Woolwich School District, which spendsonly half as much per pupil as the state average. "I will help you,"the governor told her.


And 4 p.m.: That's the time she got a call one day last month from anapologetic governor's aide, saying Christie would veto the bill she hadshepherded through the Legislature at his suggestion.


"I was devastated," Cavallaro said.


On Tuesday - day 612 of this quest for more money for a handful ofGloucester County districts struggling with skyrocketing enrollment - Cavallarowill head to state Assembly chambers to watch Christie deliver a budget addressthat, she hopes, will offer a solution.


She won't be the only one hanging on the Republican governor's words.Interest groups of all sorts - along with taxpayers, mayors, and schoolsuperintendents in poor and wealthy towns alike - will wait to hear how thefiscally conservative governor chooses to allocate about $30 billion in statefunding.


The highly anticipated annual address is a numerical reflection of thegovernor's priorities. After haggling over the details, the DemocraticLegislature will make changes by June 30 and return the fiscal-year 2013 budgetto the governor for his signature. He can then line-item veto whatever heopposes.


Christie won't talk about what's in the proposal, but the challenge isclear: He must keep his constitutional obligation to balance the budget amidlower-than-projected revenue and rising pension and debt costs. And he intendsto incorporate the first phase of a 10 percent income-tax cut that he proposedlast month. That'll cost about $150 million.


So where does that leave school districts, which collect a third ofstate funding? Reductions in state school aid often mean increases in localproperty taxes, which New Jerseyans tell pollsters is their top concern.


Christie already has sought to control rising property taxes by signinginto law a 2 percent cap on annual increases. Though the cap allows for a fewexceptions, it already has prompted many districts to share services, eliminateprograms, and reduce staffs.


But the cap presents a particular challenge to districts dealing withgrowing enrollment, such as those serving the housing boom off Exit 2 of theNew Jersey Turnpike.


In 2004, the K-6 Swedesboro-Woolwich district had 1,059 students,according to Superintendent Victor Valeski. Now, there are 1,728, with 3,200projected by 2016-17.


The result is "a slow erosion of the programs and educationalservices," Valeski said, because he needs schools built and teachershired.


Among the state's K-6 districts, South Harrison next door spends theleast per pupil, at $8,852, according to state data from the 2010-11 year, withSwedesboro-Woolwich next on the list. Some districts spend more than threetimes as much.


"We're crippling these school systems. Right before our eyes, it'shappening," said James Lavender, superintendent of the Kingsway RegionalSchool District in Woolwich, which spends the least per pupil among regionaldistricts.


Christie has long said the state formula for funding schools was unfair,and he is working to change it. He is hampered, he argues, by the so-calledAbbott rulings from the state Supreme Court that have required the state tosend a disproportionate amount of money to poor, low-performing schooldistricts.


Since 2010, Cavallaro's questions at town hall meetings about thefairness of school funding have given Christie the opening to wow crowds withstatistics about the amount of money going to districts such as"disgraceful" Camden, where test scores are among the worst in thestate.


In return, Cavallaro got a chance to lobby Christie and collectinformation for her community. "I'm here to say, 'We need your juice,Governor,' " Cavallaro told Christie at a January 2011 meeting in Chesilhurst.


Two months later, in Hammonton, Christie called out "our friends inthe front row from the Swedesboro-Woolwich School District," for whom hehad found a possible solution.


Explaining that he had no authority to redistribute school funding, hesaid he had learned that a "specific change" through legislationcould be made to help the district.


If Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), Cavallaro'slegislator, sponsored a bill for a "fix," Christie promised: "Iam going to consider that legislation and consider signing it.


"I will help you if they [pass] it, but you've got to get them todo it," he said.


Cavallaro spent the next 10 months getting the bill sponsored andwritten. She met with Christie's staff and once spoke to the governor on thephone to go over the details. Finally, in the waning days of the legislativesession in January, the Legislature approved a bill sending $4.1 million to 13high-growth districts. They included Chesterfield in Burlington County and EastGreenwich Township, Kingsway Regional, South Harrison Township andSwedesboro-Woolwich in Gloucester County.


Then Christie let the bill die in a maneuver known as a "pocketveto."


Asked why at a news conference last month, Christie said his policy wasnot to allocate money beyond what is prescribed in the annual budget.


"I don't do special legislation to give money to certain schooldistricts," he said.


He tried to clarify the recording of his statement at the meeting."I don't think I said to [Cavallaro's group], 'Get me a supplemental billand I'll sign it,' " he said.


For the coming budget, though, he said he was looking at addressing the"inequities that affect districts like Swedesboro-Woolwich."


Then he criticized Sweeney, who sponsored the bill: "He passed abill again, as Democrats often do, trying to spend money that we haven'tbudgeted for. We don't do that here."


He added: "I am confident that if you took [Sweeney] out for adrink and asked him, he never thought for a second I was going to sign thatbill."


"That's complete bull," Sweeney responded Friday.


Sweeney said that after watching a video of Christie's statement inHammonton, "I wholeheartedly expected him to sign it for one reason: Hesaid he was going to. And normally when the gov says he's going to do something,he's pretty good about it."


Sweeney praised Cavallaro, saying she "has done one hell of a jobfor these people she represents."


Cavallaro recently started a Fair Funding Action Committee, made up of local school and municipal officials. Lawn signs are being printed, and a huge poster, planned for an intersection, will say, "The state of New Jersey owes us $40 million."


The latest town hall meeting Cavallaro attended was last month, shortlyafter the veto. She arrived in Voorhees early as always, the first one in line,and sat in the front row. She and the governor locked eyes, she recalled.


"For some reason," Sweeney said, "he didn't call on her."

Star Ledger.Opinion.NJ Voices - Did Gov. Christie drop a hint on school aid formula re-do?

Published: Sunday, February 19, 2012, 12:53 PM Updated: Sunday, February 19, 2012, 12:55 PM

By Carl Golden/NJ VoicesThe Star-Ledger
About midway through his State of the State address to the Legislature last month, Gov. Chris Christie stared directly at the Justices of the Supreme Court seated about 10 feet away and declared: “It is time to admit that the Supreme Court’s grand experiment with New Jersey’s children is a failure. Basic human decency and simple common sense say it is time for a different and better approach.”

The Justices didn’t react, of course, and Christie elaborated by repeating his recommended reforms --- revising teacher tenure protections, corporate-subsidized scholarships for youngsters to attend private schools, and considerably expanding the number of charter schools.

His verbal whack at the Supreme Court’s more than three decades of history in ordering increases in state aid to poor school districts was noted in the coverage of the speech, but was overshadowed by the Governor’s call for an across the board ten per cent cut in the state income tax rate, a far more politically charged issue.

Did he, though, offer a quick peek at the larger issue, one which may surface in Tuesday’s budget message? By his high profile criticism was the Governor serving notice that he intends to recommend a new funding formula for school aid, one that dramatically alters the existing distribution which lopsidedly favors urban districts --- for years referred to as Abbot districts --- and substitute one that provides higher levels of aid to suburban districts?

Christie has been an outspoken critic of the current formula, repeatedly citing as examples districts which for years have spent upwards of $20,000 per pupil --- much of it from state funding --- while achieving no appreciable progress in student test scores, graduation rates, or dropout levels.

He’s used the nearly 40 years’ worth of Supreme Court rulings which directed increasing amounts of aid to those districts both as evidence that the policy is flawed and hasn’t achieved the desired result and as support for his intention to remake the Court through his nominees.

It is, of course, a risky enterprise to speculate on what any Governor might propose in a budget message and whether Christie’s State of the State comments deliberately sent a signal to the Court and the Legislature that he’s had his fill of judicially-mandated spending on education is open to debate.

Christie’s budget --- his third --- comes at a time when the state is at a tipping point. The economy has yet to recover to a robust level, unemployment is stubbornly lodged above nine per cent, and tax revenues are running some $300 million behind projections.

At the same time, the state has experienced modest private sector job growth, property tax increases last year fell to their lowest level in decades, state spending has remained essentially flat, and there are signs that businesses are considering re-locating or expanding in the state.

Christie recognized the unsettled situation when he touted the “New Jersey Comeback,” but warned it was in its beginning stages and it was vital to remain committed to the fiscal path his Administration has charted if a return to more prosperous times is to be achieved fully.

His message on Tuesday is likely to return to that theme and reflect cautious optimism.
It is anticipated that the budget will include the first phase of his proposed income tax reduction along with recommended spending cuts to offset the revenue loss, estimated to be in the $150 million range, a relatively modest sum in the context of a $30 billion budget.

The cuts are apt to be fiercely contested by the Democratically-controlled Legislature, however, particularly in light of their denunciation of the income tax reduction as a windfall for the rich, a pittance for the middle class, a slap in the face to the poor, and a politically-motivated effort by the Governor to burnish his credentials with national Republican leaders.

While he hasn’t done so specifically, Christie’s State of the State address subtly linked his income tax cut to the restoration of the earned income tax credit which primarily benefits low income families and whose suspension last year hit a raw nerve with Democrats.

The Governor also confronts the Constitutional mandate to contribute an estimated $500 million to the state’s beleaguered pension fund as well as pressure to provide greater assistance to higher education, medical insurance coverage for the poor, aid to cities struggling with the fallout from layoffs and reduced services, and to hospitals falling further behind because they are forced to shoulder a greater burden for uncompensated care.

Moreover, Federal stimulus money has been exhausted and will not be available to fill in some of the funding gaps as it did in prior years.

There would appear to be very little room for Christie to maneuver toward offering any significant level of property tax relief and, while Democrats will seize on any lack of funding, the Governor will point to the controls already in place which have severely dampened their rise and will re-assert the need for local governments to continue to practice austerity.

It’s unlikely the Governor will propose any major new spending programs and will confine any increases to mandated ones or a small handful of priority items.

All gubernatorial budget messages are highly anticipated events and the one scheduled for Tuesday is no exception. If, as has been said in a not uncomplimentary way, that budgets are 90 per cent political and 10 per cent fiscal, the one for 2012-13 will support that observation and, if a new school funding formula is included, it will prove it beyond doubt.
Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Richard Stockton College.



Gloucester County Times – Deptford schools to implement new, state-mandated teacher evaluations before year's end


Published: Saturday,February 18, 2012, 4:00 AM

By JessicaBautista/Gloucester County TimesGloucester County Times

DEPTFORD TWP. — Deptford Township Board of Education is in the process of implementing an unfunded, state-mandated teacher and administration evaluation system as early as the fall, although the board still isn’t certain where thedollars to fund it will come from.


According to board President Walter “Butch” Berglund, the newway to evaluate teacher performance within the district could cost upwards of$100,000, including training, program purchases, and about 20 new iPads.


“Listen, it’s great, but we have to fund it somehow,” Berglundsaid. “Our dollars are already being stretched.”


Berglund — who explained the district recently forked out ahefty sum for its bullying program and has since been trying to be conservativewith money — doesn’t see why the current evaluation method isn’t sufficientanymore.


“We’re all over the place for evaluating teachers,” InterimSuperintendent Ralph Ross said. “This will be a universal system. I don’t thinkwe’re going to lose anything if we have this in place.”


Assistant Superintendent Carolyn Morehead added that the currentevaluation system being utilized is not one that all of the administration wastrained for and isn’t entirely research-based.


According to the state’s Department of Education, the programhas been piloted in a few other school districts — West Deptford Township beingthe only other district in Gloucester County.


The decision to pilot a new teacher evaluation system statewidewas based on the recommendations of the New Jersey Educator Effectiveness TaskForce Report from March 2011.


The new program is expected to provide more meaningful feedbackto teachers and administration to improve the quality of education for studentsand adequately measure the level of effectiveness.


DOE spokesman Justin Barra said the state plans to roll out thenew evaluation framework for every district in the state by the 2013 - 2014year.


According to Ross, the Deptford’s district is trying to remainahead of the game and plans to have much of the program implemented bySeptember.


The district has been looking into four of the state’s approvedevaluation systems, and decided to use the McREL Teacher Evaluation System —which is user friendly, data-heavy, and mostly electronic.


Part of the new system will also feature random walk-throughs toevaluate classroom interactions.


As of now, Ross said the district is planning to apply for asmany grant opportunities as possible to fund the new system and is expecting atleast $37,000 in federal assistance.


“We’re already preparing for this in our budget. I think teachers already know this is coming and the administrators have been receptive. I believe this is a good thing,” Ross said of future implementation.“While it is a possibility we might not have all the money for it, we’re counting on federal assistance. If that doesn’t work, we’ll go to plan B, whatever that is.”


Garden State Coalition of Schools
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