|GSCS on Education Mandates before Assembly Environment Committee September 2010|
GARDEN STATE COALITION OF SCHOOLS/GSCS
Education Mandates: Assembly Environment Committee, September 20, 2010
Good morning Chairman, members of the committee. My name is Lynne Strickland and I am Executive Director of the Garden Coalition of Schools/GSCS. Today GSCS represents 100 school districts statewide, from Bergen County to Camden County. A grassroots education advocacy group, GSCS keeps its eye on quality education and school finance. GSCS volunteers are composed of parents, board of education members and school administrators. Thank you for the invitation to speak to the committee today.
Over the years, GSCS has kept a focus on education mandates and is known for taking a lead in recommending the reduction of mandates where feasible and where quality education would not be diminished.
In 2003 GSCS encouraged the current administration then to establish the Education Mandate Review Commission. GSCS had a seat on that commission. More recently, GSCS was approached by Lt. Governor Guadagno’ s Red Tape Review Group, as well as the Governor’s Education Transition Team, to submit a list of mandates to be considered for their review. Many of GSCS suggestion became formal recommendations of both groups, as well as some the Department of Education made later on.
Red Tape Review Group Report:
p. 31 Notes in particular that school district representatives requested reinstatement of the Last Best Offer instrument be allowed to local school boards in contract negotiations, consistency in curriculum standards, and lifting the QSAC district monitoring bar of every 3 years to 7 years for districts that are well-performing. The report then refers to Appendix F for the list of the Department of Education recommendations for easing mandates for schools. (pp 113-114 of the Report)
Excerpt of Education Transition Team Recommendations:
Excerpts - Executive Order Forming the Mandate Review Commission (October 2003)
WHEREAS, the education of the State's children is critically important to the State's economy and future prosperity….
WHEREAS, in times of fiscal crisis, it is imperative that the State invest its resources in programs that maximize educational achievement such as early literacy, high quality teaching, and modern school facilities …
WHEREAS, it is important for the State and school districts to scrutinize spending and determine where savings can be achieved in order to preserve educational programs and to use State and local resources as wisely and efficiently as possible; and
WHEREAS, several educational advocacy organizations, most notably led by the Garden State Coalition of Schools, have sought legislation to establish a commission…
Final Mandate Commission Report excerpt 2004:
Recommended for Immediate Action
Holidays and Other Events This area generally concerns mandated programs and activities. While all are valuable, each entails the directed use of time and, sometimes, resources at a cost to school districts.
1. Mandate considered: Observance of Flag Day, N.J.S.A. 18A:36-6, Arbor Day N.J.S.A. 18A:36-7, Commodore Barry Day, N.J.S.A. 18A:36-10 through 12, Patriotic exercises preceding holidays, N.J.S.A. 18A:36-13 and similar statutes.
2. Mandate considered: Eliminate any requirements relating to providing circulars or other printed items that entail cost to school districts.
3. Mandate considered: Eliminate the transcript requirement for violence and vandalism hearings and give discretion to school districts to set the date for an annual hearing, N.J.S.A. 18A:36-5.1.
Business Services This area generally concerns recordkeeping, application and reporting requirements relating to school finances and facilities. Some of the items the Commission considered are redundant to other requirements in the law. Other requirements call for a level of detailed reporting inappropriate to the goal or project in question. The Commission recommends the Legislature amend the statutes set forth below.
1. Mandate considered: Eliminate custodian/treasurer of school monies and reassign duties to Board Secretary, N.J.S.A. 18A:8-33, N.J.S.A. 18A:13-14.
2. Mandate considered: Raise threshold for vendor's certification to the current quotation level. N.J.S.A. 18A:19-3.
3. Mandate considered: Eliminate reporting for items purchased below State contract amount. N.J.S.A.18A:18A-51(e).
Data Collection Most of the recommendations for mandate review concerned duplicative and lengthy data collection requirements. Deputy Commissioner Pfennig noted, in his report, the many redundant reporting requirements and the variedquality of the data collected. The Commission recommends that the State Board of Education amend the Administrative Code to consolidate record keeping requirements.
1. Mandate considered: The Commission looked at most of the various reporting requirements, N.J.S.A. 18A:7A-1, including the Quality Assurance Annual Report (QAAR).
2. Mandate considered: Consolidate New Jersey School Report Card, amend N.J.S.A. 18A:7E-1 through 5 to create a single document with the Federal Report Card.
3. Mandate considered: A variety of other reports were brought to the attention of the Commission including elements of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFRA), annual report of school aides, improving teacher quality/highly qualified teacher survey and others.
Special EducationMany of the mandates considered for review concern Special Education. Special education involves a myriad of federal, State and judicially imposed and interrelated requirements. The Commission does not want to make any recommendation that will weaken valuable special education programs or services. An exhaustive review of these mandates will take more time than available to the Commission given the scope of its charge. Based on its work thus far, however, the Commission strongly believes that a comprehensive review of special education mandates will result in a number of recommendations to improve services and decrease costs. Therefore, the Commission recommends extending its own term and including in this special edu cation review group, in addition to the original commission members, representatives of various stakeholder groups with knowledge of and experience in special education related issues.
GARDEN STATE COALITION OF SCHOOLS draft/091207/revised 091230/100304
LIST - REGULATIONS & MANDATES TO CONSIDER/MEMBER INPUT
Note: This list is provided to facilitate discussion and should not be seen to rule out other options.
OVERALL MORATORIUM on new programs/expanded initiatives/potential new laws
e.g., High School Finance graduation requirement
(Scheduled for September ’10 implementation)
S2850 (Companion A4151 already passed) Prevailing Wage for Food Service Employees
A4142 ‘instant tenure’ bill prohibitive costs, re money and quality teaching
A4140 Subcontracting revisions (costly to local districts; reverts back 10 years ago)
School Accountability Regulations (recently enacted ones) – review and modify
SFRA Law – needs complete review now for future applicability;
Authorities, Boards, Commissions, etc. – Review structure for power balance and common sense fairness to reach objective policy decision-making.
Data: Upgrade software and require intra and inter-agency compatibility; integrate findings and reports to eliminate duplication of effort and promote quality analysis
Fiscal Notes: Require for impact on local property taxpayer and school budget impact
2% CAP – FIXED COSTS ISSUE: Apply same cap to state approved/legislated services with which school districts must utilize
Out of district tuitions; certain transportation; insurances, utilities, etc.
Benefits - Cost growth far outpace caps, need to stabilize increases, assess fairly between municipalities and schools, and recognize that the attendant costs far outpace the 4% cap (even with the adjustment for above average fees per plan cost);
State Health Benefits Plan – Eliminate penalty imposed when districts that have moved from the SHBP are re-entering the program. The costs of health benefits sometimes rise as much as 25% in a year; responsible districts must shop around annually to get the best price.
State should exercise oversight and have ability to impose judgment only where findings show that increases are fair and reasonable. Revisit plan structure and requirement, penalties, etc.; review make-up of governing body for fairness in objective decision-making.
Cap Sick Leave at $15K for all
Charter Schools – Review overall : current program design , process, implementation – look to improve practice and funding structure to increase workability and collaboration with regular public education…consider ‘waiting period’ prior to student entry (eliminate criticism of ‘private’ schools)
Contractual Tenure/Extending Tenure to 5-7 year action with renewable review on regular basis (5 years, e.g.) - As currently enforced and enacted, teacher tenure in New Jersey has slipped from its moorings as an employment protection that also benefits the public. If we are serious about improving our public schools, then contractual/extended tenure for teachers is an overdue step that we should take now.
Extend length of administrator contracts to 5 year minimum – to avoid the ‘cottage industry’ growth of competitive market that increases salaries and creates job over-exercise of job movement.
Last Best Offer/LBO – Restore this power to boards of education
Long Range Facilities Plan --eliminate current restrictions - Customarily requires hiring architectural firm to complete
Mediators – Mediators must consider economy of state and the nation as primary factors re settlement recommendations; revisit training and practices.
Testing – do not expand at this time; seek better testing
Regionalization concept - Revisit for cost reduction (Evidence suggests how naïve it is to equate prospective school district consolidation with administrative staff and cost reductions (and thus with meaningful property tax relief.) It also suggests how manipulative it is to portray New Jersey public education as suffering from administrative bloat. What we are suffering from is a surfeit of political manipulation.
State Health Benefits Plan – State exercise power of oversight and have ability to impose judgment only where findings show that increases are fair and reasonable.
Algebra Mandate – Revisit (Now the race is on to get California's 6.3 million public school students prepared for the more rigorous requirement. "If one really believes that every single eighth-grader should take algebra and be proficient in it, then an investment of $3 billion is not that substantial," said John Mockler, the former executive director of the California State Board of Education. "Education improvement is not an elevator ride. You have to take the stairs.")
NJ SMART [compilation, entry, reporting)
Long Range Facilities Plan --eliminate current restrictions - Customarily requires hiring architectural firm to complete
Nonpublic services: The Mandate Review Commission “strongly recommends exploring the possibility of centralizing administration of nonpublic services on a countywide or regional basis.”
An excerpt from the 2004 Mandate Relief Commission report underscores the need to consolidate administration of the coordination of these services at the county level:
Mandate Considered: Nonpublic school services: Administration of services to nonpublic school students-such as transportation, technology, nursing and nursing services-are administered on a district-by-district basis. In situations exclusively relating to reimbursement, this often means that a number of different districts will be sending pass-through funding to the same school
Prevailing wages requirements –Review Overall for cost and local impact
One aspect of these requirements that school parents and community members find especially discouraging is the mandate that impacts local community member donations of time and materials -This mandate has been a repeated concern of GSCS members over the last few years, as explained in this member quote:
"If a parent or booster group wants to donate something to the district-something as simple as a new snack shack at the athletic complex-the donor must pay prevailing (union) wages if any money changes hands. This makes it very difficult for us to have generous parents who may be contractors-albeit non-union contractors-donate to the district the time and services of their work force. This requirement applies for items valued down to $2,000. The preference would be to get rid of this altogether on anything being donated to the district, but at least it should not apply to things valued under $30,000."
Prevailing wage requirement for projects exceeding $2000 - align with municipal limits (Current municipalities benchmark is $14,187 with annual escalator to increase floor prior to application of prevailing wage requirement)
QSAC – Eliminate 3 year turnaround for all school districts - Only failing districts should be monitored every 3 years; lengthen QSAC monitoring to at least 7 years apart in districts that are succeeding.
Transportation - Allow school districts owning their own buses to compete with private carriers for special education runs
Currently, in order to form a "jointure," districts must each have children going to the same out-of-district school. But the legislation creating this situation limits viable alternatives for cost-effective public school transportation.
For example, one district owns its buses and has its own drivers. A neighboring district asks that district to transport a student to a private placement in another town. The district asking for help had been quoted $52,000 by X-Bus Co. to transport their one special-needs child to that private facility. The neighboring district has an available bus and driver and could cover the run for $18,000. But by law districts are not allowed to compete with private bus companies unless the requesting district also has a student going to the same private school as the district with the bus. Only then can the two districts form a jointure. Without the jointure, the district with need of transportation will have to pay $52,000 to X-Bus Co instead of saving $34,000.
Treasurer of School Monies – eliminate: An excerpt from the 2004 Mandate Relief Commission report underscores the issue: Mandate Considered: Eliminate the custodian/treasurer of school monies and reassign the duties to the Board Secretary, N.J.S.A. 18A:8-33, N.J.S.A. 18A: 13-14
Commission Recommendation and Rationale: This is an anachronistic position predating GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) accounting that served as a check on the Board Secretary. There is no longer a need for this position for which, according to information obtained from the New Jersey School Business Officials, districts pay between $2,500 and $12,000 per year. Potential annual statewide savings could be as much as $3.6 million, as calculated by multiplying the number of school districts times the average reported salary.”
Vote of School Budgets – eliminate
Workplace injury – reduce requirement that schools must pay 1 full calendar year w/o absence charged to annual/accumulated sick leave for employee (only schools are held to this standard)
Garden State Coalition of Schools