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9-16-11 Education Issues in the News

 

NJ Spotlight - State Starts to Consider New High School Test and Testing Contract

According to administration, negotiating and awarding contract will take better part of a year

By John Mooney, September 16 in Education|Post a Comment

Lofty rhetoric about the need to improve New Jersey's high school tests aside, the Christie administration this week got down to a more mundane task: the advertising and awarding of its next testing contract.

The state's current testing contract with Measurement Inc., a North Carolina-based company, expires after this school year. Measurement, which also holds the contracts for elementary and middle school, is paid $9 million a year to develop, distribute and score the state's High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) and its alternative and subject tests.

Looking to the 2012-2013 school year, administration officials said they have begun discussing what the next exam and contract could look like, and are about to start a public process to develop the requests for proposals (RFPs) for a new agreement.

Department spokesman Justin Barra said the RFP will likely be completed "in the coming months," and it will take the better part of the school year to negotiate and award the final contract.

The next step, he said, will be the formation of an advisory committee of education leaders and other experts to discuss the kinds of skills and knowledge that should be expected of New Jersey's high school graduates.

"Things will be moving rapidly," Barra said of the process. "The initial conversations have been held, but internal discussions alone won't address all this."

"We don't want to do this in isolation," he said.

Talking up the effort, acting education commissioner Chris Cerf this week put out a few hints about the new high school test. Cerf is traveling with Gov. Chris Christie on a three-stop campaign to promote the governor's education agenda.

Cerf said it could be a state-developed test like the HSPA, or even the national ACT college-entrance test, a benchmark used for Colorado students. He said he has not ruled out individual course exams like the Regents tests in New York state, where Cerf worked as a New York City deputy schools chancellor. New Jersey's own pilot end-of-course tests in biology and algebra have been suspended for now.

But Cerf, too, said he wanted to talk to stakeholders and others before proceeding.

"I don't know enough to make a recommendation, and that why I want to go out into the field to talk to people," Cerf said on Monday at a Pennington event with the governor.

When pressed on any details decided or being considered, Barra yesterday said everything is up for discussion, including whether the next exam will even be immediately required for graduation or maybe field tested for a year. Passing the HSPA or its alternative is currently a graduation requirement in New Jersey, and neither Christie nor Cerf has given any indication that he would stop the requirement in the long term.

The Record - State aid boosts Hackensack schools, staff

Friday, September 16, 2011 Last updated: Friday September 16, 2011, 3:34 AM

BY MARK J. BONAMO

MANAGING EDITOR

Hackensack Chronicle

HACKENSACK The additional $852,000 in state aid that the Hackensack school district received for this fiscal year will be used to hire more teaching staff, as well as restore 21 part-time aides to full-time positions, according to school officials.

The city Board of Education approved the appointments of the aides last month, and also signed off on adding technology technician and high school biology teacher positions.

The aides in question are paraprofessionals who help students, teachers and special needs children perform better.

According to interim Superintendent Raymond Gonzalez, the new hires will help the district provide more services to students. For example, the introduction of another biology teacher will help the high school limit the size of those science classes to approximately 24 students per class.

The extra money will also help the school district to provide for computer upgrades, according to school officials.

Hackensack schools received the extra state aid as part of new funding pledged by Governor Christie when he signed the budget for the new fiscal year on June 30.

The new funding numbers announced in July raises the total state aid to Hackensack from more than $9.9 million during the 2010-2011 fiscal year to more than $11.6 million for 2011-2012. The originally projected amount was more than $10.7 million, according to numbers provided by the New Jersey Department of Education.

The additional aid includes the state Supreme Court-ordered $450 million for the 31 New Jersey cities formerly known as Abbott districts. The aid guarantees that these districts receive the money required by the School Funding Reform Act formula, passed in 2008. Hackensack is not an Abbott district.

The governor's move restores some of the funding lost following the 2010 budget cuts. These cuts resulted in the Hackensack school district having to cut back on administrative and teaching costs, which included the reduction of assistant and vice principals in the district during the new school year.

The district will now have to send in an amended budget to Trenton demonstrating how the funds will be spent, according to school officials.

Email: bonamo@northjersey.com

Philadelphia Inquirer - Unresolved labor pacts weigh on start of new school year in South Jersey

By Rita Giordano

Inquirer Staff Writer 9-16-11

 

In a community like Haddonfield, where high academic achievement motivates families to buy homes, Back to School Night is a big deal.

Parents get to visit their children's new classrooms and meet teachers. Many start an education partnership that will last the whole year.

But this year is different.

"It is with sincere disappointment," read a note by Superintendent Richard Perry, "that I must notify you that the Back to School nights for this fall are canceled."

The reason: Haddonfield's teachers, in their second year without a contract and dissatisfied with the status of negotiations, have opted out of the September tradition.

The decision was not made lightly, according to their union leadership.

"We know a lot of parents are upset, and we understand that," said union copresident Sharon Stokes. "They have to understand our situation."

Across New Jersey's education landscape, unresolved labor situations abound as the desires of employees - many who are seeing diminished benefits - clash with what district officials say they can afford to pay.

Both the largest teachers' union, the New Jersey Education Association, and the New Jersey School Boards Association have noted significantly more districts than the norm starting the school year with unsettled contacts.

"Typically, we have from 100 to 150 unsettled teachers' contracts in the state at this point in the year," said Kathryn Coulibaly, an NJEA spokeswoman.

This year, in the state's 590 districts, there are about 225 unsettled contracts, she said. Of those, more than 35 are in Burlington, Camden and Gloucester Counties.

"The process is taking longer," Coulibaly said.

The school boards association reported that typical annual wage increases for teachers were down to 2.1 percent for contracts settled by April 1, 2011, compared with 2.66 percent for contracts settled after Jan. 1 but before July 1, 2010. The decline has been steady, according to association figures.

School boards association executive director Marie S. Bilik attributed the decline to the 2 percent tax levy cap; the continuing effect of 2010-11's reduced state aid; and school board concerns about the effect of the property tax and the poor economy on constituents.

The difficulty in reaching settlements is affecting even districts with a tradition of good relationships with teaching staff.

Recently, highly rated Moorestown approved a new teachers' contract after going two years since the last one expired.

The three-year agreement calls for an overall 6.5 percent salary increase, with under 2 percent for the first and third years and 2.76 percent for this year. Existing staff will continue to pay 1.5 percent of their salary toward health care, with new employees contributing 10 percent to 20 percent of health-care costs. In the third year, as required by law, there will be additional health-care contributions.

Recently, staff in the Haddon Township teachers' union held a rally before a meeting with the school board and a fact-finder assigned to the negotiations. This is their second year without a contract as well.

While local education association president Lori Wells Freedman said she could not discuss specifics of the negotiations, she said the district and the staff were apart on wages and benefits. She said teachers would participate in her district's Back to School Night.

"It is rare for us to not be settled," she said, noting their last agreement was reached in six months and five bargaining sessions.

Haddonfield's Perry said he hoped that the Back to School nights, which were to start Thursday at Tatem Elementary and conclude Sept. 26 at Central Elementary, would still happen. He said the school board was making every effort to bargain in good faith. In a letter to parents, he cited "difficult financial times requiring tough decisions to be made."

Stokes said the union has had to make some tough decisions, too.

"We will do our jobs 100 percent," she said. However, she said, the teachers would not work free. That includes tutoring, non-stipended student activities, and meetings. And that includes Back to School Night.

"Am I bummed about it? Of course," said Kryssy DeVivo, president of the central committee of the district's Parent Teacher Association leaders.

Still, she said, she doesn't blame the teachers, and hopes the negotiations move toward a settlement and a return to normal education.

"That's why everyone moves here," DeVivo said. "We love the teachers. We love the schools."

 

 


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