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4-14-12 Education Issues in the News
Press of Atlantic City - Plan would cut state school aid $300 million; not all districts affected the same… ““The OLS analysis also compares the state formula and the formula with the proposed changes as fully funded, which rarely occurs.“...“We have to deal with the reality of the political world and the economy,” said Lynne Strickland, executive director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, which represents largely suburban districts throughout the state...“We are not naive,” she said. “But we have to work in the moment and prepare for the future.”

Times of Trenton - School districts holding April elections down to a dwindling few

Press of Atlantic City - Plan would cut state school aid $300 million; not all districts affected the same… “The OLS analysis also compares the state formula and the formula with the proposed changes as fully funded, which rarely occurs...“We have to deal with the reality of the political world and the economy,” said Lynne Strickland, executive director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, which represents largely suburban districts throughout the state...“We are not naive,” she said. “But we have to work in the moment and prepare for the future.”

Posted: Saturday, April 14, 2012 1:15 amUpdated: 7:17 a.m., by DIANE D’AMICO Education Writer

Public schools would lose about $300 million or 3.5 percent of state aid under changes proposed by the state Department of Education, according to an analysis by the state Office of Legislative Services.

But the changes would not affect all districts the same. The report said almost a third of all districts would get the same aid as they would under the current school funding law. But 12 percent of districts would get at least 20 percent less aid, and one percent would see at least a 20 percent increase in funds.

The reductions are concentrated in the state’s poorest districts, where advocates adamantly oppose the changes. Representatives of more suburban districts are not happy with all aspects of the proposals, but they say the changes do address some of their concerns about special-education funding. State legislators are cautiously reviewing the report and trying to calculate how to best represent constituent districts when some may be winners and others losers.

“My district really is a perfect storm,” said Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, who sits on the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. “I’ve got districts that would already take a hit because of enrollment (decreasing), and then Christie decides to reduce the formula for at-risk student aid. Add in the new attendance piece (where aid is is reduced based on poor student attendance), and the geographic adjustment (that gives proportionally less money to southern New Jersey) and every district is affected.”

According to the OLS report, 25 of the 34 school districts in Van Drew’s legislative district would get less aid using the proposed changes than they would under the current funding formula. Those that would gain aid include Avalon, Stone Harbor and West Cape May, although because of their small size and property wealth, those towns get relatively little state aid overall. The biggest losers in Van Drew’s district would be Lower Cape May Regional, Upper Township, Wildwood, Millville and Vineland.

“It’s like Robin Hood in reverse,” said John Saporito, superintendent in rural Maurice River and Lawrence townships, which would lose aid, and Commercial Township, which would stay about the same.

Frank Belluscio, spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association, said a still-unanswered question is how the state might redefine an “at-risk” student, if not through participation in the federal free meal program. The answer has been assigned to a new Education Funding Task Force, named April 4, that includes former Absecon City Councilman Charles Urban.

The OLS report says the biggest cut would be $228 million in so-called “adjustment aid” that was included in the funding formula to assist districts that might otherwise have lost aid. The proposal would cut those funds by 50 percent over five years in districts that are already spending above what the state considers “adequacy.”

Atlantic City would be the hardest hit local district under the proposed changes. The proposed 2012-13 budget gives the district $15.2 million in aid. That would eventually shrink to $9.3 million under the proposed changes, but would grow to $21 million under the current funding formula.

State Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, a teacher in Atlantic City, said while economic issues remain a concern, the state must also recognize that students in poor, urban districts need more services.

“If they start out behind it is very hard for them to catch up,” he said. “I have no problem putting more emphasis on their needs. If there are concerns about districts squandering money, then fix that, but the solution is not to just take money from all urban districts.”

The OLS analysis also compares the state formula and the formula with the proposed changes as fully funded, which rarely occurs. Fully funded, state operating school aid for 2012-13 would total $8.6 billion under the existing formula compared with the $7.8 billion in Christie’s proposed budget, which implements the proposed changes, but without full funding. The proposed new formula, if fully funded, would raise total aid to $8.3 billion.

David Sciarra, of the Education Law Center, has called the proposed changes a scam.

“He’s trying to use the budget bill to get changes that he can’t get through the Legislature,” Sciarra said of the governor. “I understand some districts got more this year, and that was better than nothing. But we can do better.”

Others are more pragmatic.

“We have to deal with the reality of the political world and the economy,” said Lynne Strickland, executive director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, which represents largely suburban districts throughout the state. She said her members don’t all agree with the revision plan, but will likely accept this year’s aid, then address the proposed changes.

“We are not naive,” she said. “But we have to work in the moment and prepare for the future.”

The lack of full funding is most noticeable in growth districts. Egg Harbor Township has been allocated almost $40 million in state aid for 2012-13 but under both the current funding formula and the proposed changes is entitled to almost $10 million more. Hammonton, Galloway Township, Hamilton Township and Greater Egg Harbor Regional would also get millions of dollars more than they are now under either plan, but only if fully funded.

Van Drew said he hopes the Legislature can negotiate with the governor to find a compromise.

“We always have issues with school aid,” he said. “We’ll try to negotiate something we can all live with.”

Contact Diane D'Amico:  609-272-7241

Times of Trenton - School districts holding April elections down to a dwindling few

Published: Sunday, April 15, 2012, 6:59 AM

By Erin Duffy/The TimesThe Times, Trenton

April school elections could be heading the way of the dinosaurs.

Thanks to a newly signed law that allows school districts to switch election dates from the third Tuesday in April to the general election in November, only five local districts — Lawrence, Hopewell Valley, Princeton Regional, West Windsor-Plainsboro and Montgomery — will hold elections Tuesday. Voters in those districts will be asked to pass or fail budgets and elect new school board members.

Statewide, 468 districts moved their elections to November in an attempt to streamline the election process, increase tepid voter turnout and make budget approval nearly foolproof. In school districts that will hold elections in November, voters won’t have to approve budgets unless they exceed the state-mandated 2 percent cap on property tax increases. That’s an especially tantalizing carrot for districts whose budgets are voted down year after year.

“(Elections) have frequently been a frustrating experience because the school board will propose a fiscally prudent budget, one that’s below the cap, and voters will reject it, not because they don’t like the budget, but because of the overall economy or their feelings on other government spending,” said Frank Belluscio, spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association.

But the prospect of automatic budget approval wasn’t enough for districts that decided to keep elections in April. Some local board members felt it wasn’t fair to cut voters out of the process, or they wanted more time to see how smoothly November elections run.

“There were certainly board members who said they liked the idea of a community being able to vote on the biggest element of their property tax bill,” Lawrence school board president Laura Waters said.

In Lawrence, another major concern of board members was the risk that nonpartisan school board elections would be muddied by party politics if they were lumped in with the general election in November.

Rebecca Cox, president of the Princeton Regional Schools Board of Education, said districts were given just a few weeks to vote on the election change after the bill was signed into law in January.

“We had a very short time in which to decide,” she said. “We would like to see what happens with other districts in this next year before we make any moves to change the elections to November.”

Cox said it’s also unclear whether the promised cost savings will materialize — sponsors of the bill had said November elections could save school districts $8 million to $10 million statewide.

“We don’t know what the cost savings are, and we won’t know until the other boards go to November and tell us what their expenses were,” she said.

Three townships will also hold referendums in coming months:

• A Lawrence Township measure will be on the ballot Tuesday asking voters to exceed the 2 percent cap by $2.275 million.

• On May 8, Hopewell Township will ask voters to approve a $4.1 million bond referendum to add sewer service to homes, businesses and future affordable housing units in the Route 31 corridor south of the Pennington Circle.

• Voters in Robbinsville will be asked in a December referendum to approve a $19.9 million bond to finance a major school expansion project.
Steven Mayer, the Robbinsville superintendent, said the referendum will be set for December because it is one of only five times during the year when school districts are allowed to put out a referendum for school facilities. If voters approve, the district would be able to add 29 classrooms — 24 at Sharon Elementary and five at Pond Road Middle School — enough for 638 additional students.

Staff writer Carmen Cusido contributed to this report.

 


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



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