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Garden State Coalition of Schools
Elisabeth Ginsburg, Executive Director
160 West State Street
Trenton, New Jersey 08608

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Garden State Coalition of Schools/GSCS

Eighteenth Annual Meeting

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Forsgate Country Club



President Jim O’Neill opened the meeting and introduced Treasurer David Abbott, who presented his report.  Dr. Abbott announced that the budget for 2009-2010 is balanced and encouraged expansion of the Coalition.  The Treasurer’s Report was moved, seconded and accepted by a voice vote of the members.


Vice President and Nominating Committee Chair Lynne Biehn presented the following slate of officers for 2009-2010

·         President: James O’Neill (Superintendent, Chatham)

·         President Elect: David Abbott (Superintendent, Marlboro)

·         Vice President: Elisabeth Ginsburg (Board Member, Glen Ridge)

·         Vice President: Meredith Shaw (Board Member, East Brunswick)

·         Past President: Daniel Fishbein (Superintendent, Ridgewood)


A motion to approve the slate was moved and seconded, and approved by a voice vote of the members.  The members also approved the appointment of Brick and Paramus as trustee districts.


Executive Director Lynne Strickland emphasized that the GSCS is a “watchdog in Trenton.” She summarized the Coalition’s accomplishments, including this year’s special meetings in Moorestown and Leonia and ongoing advocacy in Trenton and beyond on issues including state aid/property taxes; school consolidation;”tweaking” the funding formula; debt service aid; high school redesign; pre-school aid and categorical aid for special education.  Ms. Strickland also encouraged members to visit the website, which has had over a million hits.


The Executive Director also announced the GSCS new policy that creates a new membership category: Non-Voting Associate Member.  Edison Township will be the first Associate Member. 


President O’Neill encouraged districts to share their individual issues with the GSCS and stressed this year’s positive developments, including the 70% passage rate for school budgets and the fact that Assembly Education Chair Joe Cryan has tackled mandate reform by requesting lists of burdensome/costly mandates.  Mr. O’Neill also mentioned issues in need of attention including negotiations reform.


Governor John Corzine spoke about the state’s economic challenges, citing the value of stimulus aid from Washington.  He acknowledged that aid to education helps reduce property taxes.  He praised the DOE’s school reform efforts, including high school redesign, NJ SMART and raising proficiency standards.  Governor Corzine also said that if revenues become available, early childhood education programs will be the first to be restored.


The Governor answered the following questions:

  • 60% vote on second questions—The Governor is not in favor of changing this restriction, as it helps control property taxes
  • Elimination of budget vote for under-cap budgets/change in school election date—The Governor favors moving school elections to November
  • Efficiency/spending caps—Existing caps are not “the tightest in the world,” but are necessary.  He is committed to funding the formula fully over time, but said that fragmentation of governance (too many local units) works against cost savings.  Commissioner Davy mentioned that the cap law is up for review in 2011.
  • Negotiations—The Governor may be in favor of returning the “last best offer” option to schools.  He will encourage PERC mediators to consider the spending cap when settling BOE/union negotiations issues.  He encouraged districts to hold out in union negotiations, citing the example of Paterson.
  • Consolidation and inequity between districts: Savings are created by “economies of scale.”  Consolidation works for the “greater good.”
  • Further Cuts—Not anticipated, but revenues are dropping and times are tough.


Former Star Ledger education writer John Mooney talked about changes in journalism and how education coverage suffers when the number of education journalists declines.  Papers are struggling to adapt while journalists turn to social networking and other web venues to inform the public about the issues.  Mooney mentioned www.njspotlight.com, the new site founded by him and Dunstan MacNichol.


A panel composed of Assemblyman Joe Cryan, Assemblyman David Wolfe, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey and DOE Commissioner Lucille Davy took questions from the audience (via Lynne Strickland), as follows:

  • Can 50% of IDEA stimulus funds be used to support existing expenditures?— Within certain limitations, yes. Commissioner Davy referred the audience to the DOE website for further information and Assm. Cryan asked for patience on matters related to the Federal money.
  • Deferred payments: Districts will receive two payments in July and those that have to borrow will receive interest amounts from the state.  Assm. Cryan predicted that there will be no deferred payment next year.
  • DFG “B” districts and pre-School: There is no chance that “B” districts will receive pre-school expansion aid for 2009-2010.  Commissioner Davy reminded districts that they can use Title I money for summer programs.
  • Negotiations and the 4% cap: Asw Jasey mentioned the need to look at mediation outcomes and the possibility of considering regional maximum/minimum salaries.  She and Asm Cryan pledged to try and help by sitting down with stakeholders.  Demonizing groups like the NJEA does not help.  Asm. Wolfe advocated for arbitration in finance and Special Education disputes.
  • Asked about the anomaly of certain districts, such as Loch Arbor, having to pay extraordinarily high per pupil costs (via the SFRA ability-to-pay formula) as a sending district, Assemblyman Cryan said he was concerned about it, had just heard about it, and termed the issue an “unintended consequence” which the legislature would investigate .
  • Small districts/towns that suffer under the new formula—The formula may need “tweaking”, going forward.  Upcoming regional consolidations studies will help spotlight the inequities.  Asw Jasey spoke about the need to replicate good educational programs statewide.
  • Extraordinary aid—Applications are up.  The aid is still in the budget, but there are insufficient funds to cover the number of applications.
  • DOE regulations hearings—Six hearings will be held in June at various locations.  See the DOE website
  • Debt service aid reduction—There is no money for this, but districts can raise the tax levy to compensate or take money from capital reserve or other budget lines (pending enabling legislation)
  • Increase in 2% surplus—Asm. Cryan said that overall the 2% surplus has worked, but it will be reviewed in 2011 as part of the review of the cap law.  Cryan also asked for date on any district that has seen its bond ratings downgraded as the result of the surplus restriction.
  • Mandated consolidation—Consolidation cannot be forced.
  • NJEA position on consolidation and teacher salaries—NJEA is in favor of teacher salaries going to the level of salaries in the highest paying of the districts being consolidated
  • Mandatory Full-Day Kindergarten: Poor districts already have full-day K, while wealthier districts make other choices.  The new formula gives more state aid for full-day programs and priority will be given to construction projects that accommodate full day programs.  These considerations are not wealth-based.
  • Magnet schools and special education—the questioner asserted that magnet schools, like the Vo-tech “academies,” avoid special education costs by only accepting high performing students.  Panelists were not aware of this issue but encouraged further input and discussion.

 *Note: GSCS advocated for increased funding for special education extraordinary aid and also for the Appropriations Act NOT to include an administration-recommended cut of $35M to debt service aid. Both of these GSCS initiatives were responded to: Extraordinary aid was increased by $10M and Debt Service aid was not reduced in the Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2009-2010.


The meeting was adjourned with thanks to the panelists and attendees.


Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608