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5-18-12 Education and Related Issues in the News
Politickernj - Allen bill seeks to strengthen anti-bullying law

NJ Spotlight - Room at the Top: NJ's Urban School Districts Search for Supers…The administration is taking a very active interest in who gets the top slot in some of the state's most troubled districts

The Record - Tax-relief proposals on hold… Lawmakers are contending with an increasingly unsettled budget picture in Trenton, forcing them to shelve two bills — both said to offer tax relief — as they await more information on state revenues

Star Ledger - N.J. Department of Education to shut down Jersey City charter school

Politickernj - Allen bill seeks to strengthen anti-bullying law

By Bill Mooney | May 17th, 2012 - 12:35pm

TRENTON – Taking steps to address an issue that is drawing increased attention, Sen. Diane Allen, (R-7), Edgewater Park today said she would introduce legislation to make it easier to fire teachers who bully students.

Respecting an accused’s due process rights does not mean bullying allegations cannot be investigated more quickly, she said.

Her bill would build on the state’s Anti-Bullying law by mandating that among other things investigations must be conducted within four to 10 days by the district’s specialist, and after tenure charges are filed, an arbitration process with the Education commissioner must last no longer than 30 days.

The legislation was spurred in part by the news in Cherry Hill in which a parent caught teachers abusing his child via audio recording.

Under current law, such accused teachers can remain on the payroll pending disposition of the allegations, which can take a long amount of time.

“New Jersey has made it clear that we will not stand for the bullying of our children in our schools,’’ Allen said. She said New Jersey has the nation’s toughest anti-bullying law, but she said when the law was passed it was envisioned as a means to address bullying by students. “We didn’t contemplate teachers being the bullies,’’ she said.

She said that the vast majority of teachers obviously are good and care about what they are doing, but this bill will deal with the very few who do not belong around children.

Right now the process of investigation can take years and that is untenable, she said.

Currently a school has 10 days to conduct an investigation, but this bill would urge the district to complete it within four or five days if at all possible.

Then a superintendent would have three days to file the charges.

Allen said she spoke with the N.J. Education Association Wednesday and they were not pleased with this proposal and felt their members are not getting due process.

Allen has pursued this issue for over a decade. She said when she first sponsored anti-bullying legislation in 2002 it merely said schools “should’’ do something, but the law and thinking has evolved to the point w here it is necessary to have minimum standards in place, while still allowing communities and districts to have input.

“If we identify a bully we need to move swiftly,” she said.

Julio Artuz, a bullying victim of a teacher, said he endured name-calling and threats, and said “It was the lowest I’ve ever felt in my whole life. Nobody should have to go through that.” He said he was threatened with getting beat up every day.

And his mother, Joyce Artuz, said “We need to give children a voice.”

Their case involves a special education school and she said kids – especially those who cannot always speak for themselves - should not have to carry recording equipment to school to expose harmful teachers.

And Stu Chaifetz talked of his son’s case and said, “Schools are supposed to be fertile ground where they can grow into healthy individuals. If some good can come out of these tragedies we witnessed then it is to make people aware, and congratulate the good teachers and get rid of the ones who are not good.’’

He said people worldwide have poured out their compassion over this incident, and he urged the Legislature to act swiftly.

He believes the teacher in his son’s case is on administrative leave but could not provide further details.

NJ Spotlight - Room at the Top: NJ's Urban School Districts Search for Supers…The administration is taking a very active interest in who gets the top slot in some of the state's most troubled districts

By John Mooney, May 18, 2012 in Education|2 Comments

The Camden school board's move this week to launch a search for a new superintendent adds to the growing list of urban supers in flux in New Jersey -- where the Christie administration could play a prominent role in filling most, if not all, of them.

Camden joins Jersey City and Trenton in the process of replacing their superintendents, while Paterson and Perth Amboy are almost equally uncertain about their future leadership.

Paterson superintendent Donnie Evans is working under a one-year contract with the state, while Perth Amboy superintendent Janine Caffrey is in open warfare with her board.

One thing they all have in common is a direct or indirect role for the Christie administration -- namely Chris Cerf, the acting education commissioner -- to exert its influence in what happens next.

For Paterson and to a degree Jersey City, the state continues to hold at least partial control of the district. Meanwhile, Perth Amboy's fight is before Cerf as a legal appeal, and Trenton and Camden are districts where the state has considerable influence with the state monitors in place.

If nothing else, all of those contracts will likely need the state's approval if they exceed the superintendent salary caps, almost a certainly given the size of the districts.

Cerf in an interview yesterday acknowledged that these are significant decisions for the districts and, if necessary, the acting commissioner to make in the coming months. He stressed that was not to say he will impose his views; in some cases, he said, the search processes were proceeding well on their own.

"The bottom line is what are we going to do about Newark, Paterson, Elizabeth, Jersey City, Camden, and Trenton," he said. "While we do high-level thinking about things like teacher effectiveness or Common Core [curriculum], the question is what exactly will we do tomorrow about those districts."

He immediately cited the administration's obvious and direct role in picking superintendent Cami Anderson in Newark, now a year on the job and seeking wide changes in the state's largest district, including a new teacher accountability system and reconfiguration of schools.

Cerf's comments did not come without some warnings from critics, one of whom said she hopes the administration will allow the local process to take its course.

"The residents of Camden and Newark and Paterson and Jersey City deserve the right to democratically control their public schools, just like the residents of every other New Jersey community," said Julia Sass Rubin, a leading organizer with Save Our Schools NJ, a grass-roots, pro-public schools group. "

"You cannot improve a school system by ignoring the wishes of the people whose children attend those public schools," she said.

In other districts where the state has direct control, such as Paterson, Cerf said he feels Evans is making headway. The commissioner has put him on a short leash, only granting him a one-year extension of his contract and setting aggressive performance incentives in that contract, including significant achievement gains.

"I am extremely encouraged by Dr. Evans work over the last year, with the plan he's developed and the support and collaboration he has had with the board," Cerf said.

In Jersey City, the process is underway to replace Charles Epps, the longtime superintendent who was effectively removed by the board with the state's acquiescence.

Under state law, the local board technically regained governance power several years ago, and will have significant say in the selection. It interviewed six candidates for the position last weekend, including interim superintendent Franklin Walker.

Cerf yesterday wouldn't not speak to his role in the process in Jersey City, but he said it appeared to be moving well. "It looks like they have some very strong candidates," he said.

The other districts are more uncertain, with Cerf reviewing any final contracts that come in above the $175,000 salary cap, as they all will.

In Trenton, it looks as if a new superintendent has been chosen. The board this week announced the selection of Francisco Duran, an assistant superintendent in Philadelphia.

But Cerf did not hide his particular interest in Camden, where the board this week approved a buyout of former superintendent Bessie Lefra Young and the start of a national search for a replacement.

"We certainly will be as helpful as we can be in moving along that process," Cerf said. "I would like to think the board will conduct a national search and will select an extraordinary and transformative leader. Anything short of that won't get the job done."

The Record - Tax-relief proposals on hold… Lawmakers are contending with an increasingly unsettled budget picture in Trenton, forcing them to shelve two bills — both said to offer tax relief — as they await more information on state revenues

Friday, May 18, 2012



Lawmakers are contending with an increasingly unsettled budget picture in Trenton, forcing them to shelve two bills — both said to offer tax relief — as they await more information on state revenues.

A bill that would create an income tax credit for middle class homeowners — put forward by Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, as a counter to Governor Christie's proposed 10 percent income tax cut — was held by the Senate Budget Committee on Thursday.

The panel also decided to shelve legislation that would help local governments by rerouting nearly $440 million from state energy tax revenues to municipal coffers. It would amend a 1997 law that created the Energy Tax Receipts Property Tax Relief Fund, the largest source of municipal aid in the state budget.

The tug-of-war over funds comes as lawmakers are awaiting next week's revenue update from state Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff, who is scheduled to appear before the Assembly and Senate budget panels.

Earlier this week, data released by the state Department of Treasury showed New Jersey tax collections are trailing budget projections by $230 million heading into the last two months of the budget year.

The treasurer is expected to explain how the administration plans to handle the shortfall in the current budget year, and if there will be any changes to the spending plan the governor has proposed for the next fiscal year.

Those appearances are typically a precursor to the more intense budget negotiations that will begin in advance of the state constitution's deadline for a balanced budget, which is July 1.

Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo, D-Wood-Ridge, said his energy tax receipts bill was tabled, "pending as part of the budget."

Democrats are now expected to discuss Sweeney's tax credit legislation as part of a deal with Christie on taxes during a caucus meeting next week.

Christie has proposed a new $32.1 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, but that spending plan relies on increasing tax collections to cover the cost of tax cuts and more spending.

The Senate committee voted Thursday in favor of a Sweeney bill that would restrict towns from charging fees for services traditionally covered by the state's cap on property tax levy hikes. The measure would require such fees to be included in the calculation of the tax cap.

Fees another burden

The Record reported late last month on several North Jersey towns that have increased fees after the cap went into effect in January 2011. Those fees are added to the financial burden facing New Jersey land owners who are already forced to pay some of the nation's highest property tax bills.

But on Thursday, Mayor Vince Barrella of Point Pleasant Beach told lawmakers that the "impact fees" charged in his town are not an attempt to burden taxpayers, but to protect his 5,000 residents from the cost of policing and cleaning the town's boardwalk area, popular among summer revelers.

"We are at a point where my taxpayers are subsidizing 109 law enforcement officers for a few businesses," Barrella said. "This is the kind of impact that justifies a fee."

The property tax cap — enacted after a compromise in 2010 between Christie, a Republican, and the Democratic-controlled Legislature — was a "game-changer" for local governments, Barrella said.

"The things we used to be able to do we can no longer do because of the cap," he said. "It is essential that we maintain some flexibility in terms of our ability to pay for those services."

Despite that testimony, the bill cleared the committee by an 8-0 margin.

"The property tax cap was put in place to prevent these kinds of things from happening," Sweeney said. "It is not there so that local officials can find new and creative ways to get around it."

Local leaders, meanwhile, are hoping to get budget help from another source, the bill put forward by Sarlo.

Municipal aid from energy tax revenues was intended to grow annually to account for cost-of-living increases, but the state has kept an increasing share of utility tax revenue, while at the same time cutting other forms of aid.

In 2012, the state will collect about $1.2 billion in energy taxes, $788.6 million of which is distributed to towns as aid — the remainder supports the state budget. Municipal leaders, pressed by the tax levy cap, say the state has deprived them of much-needed funds.

Sarlo's bill would reinforce the state's obligation to increase the energy tax fund, restoring $385 million cut from the aid program between 2009 and 2011, with an additional $54 million to support aid increases required by law. The funding would be phased in over five years.

The bill appeared to have strong support on the budget committee. But Senate Republicans have disputed the idea that higher state aid would lead to lower property taxes, and suggested there may not be room in the $32.1 billion budget to fund the program.

Email: obrien@northjersey.com and reitmeyer@northjersey.com


Garden State Coalition of Schools
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