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Garden State Coalition of Schools
Elisabeth Ginsburg, Executive Director
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GSCS on Education Mandates before Assembly Environment Committee September 2010


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.

Easing of mandates can save time and money and GSCS appreciates the legislature, and this committee, for keeping the discussion alive and current.


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:


GSCS Email-Net

 Keeping GSCS Members & Friends Informed 

Christie Transition Teams Release Reports
January 27, 2010


Education Transition Team Recommendations Reflect GSCS Input


Throughout the Transition Team's Education Committee report, GSCS is encouraged to see many of the recommendations we had gathered from our members and submitted during our meeting with the team on your behalf.  A few that we note include:

· a call for a moratorium on new programs and expanded initiatives and a review of educational rules and regulations
· an immediate review of the School Funding Reform Act for its applicability in the future
· an expectation that fiscal assessment will be done for all new legislation, rules and regulations to determine the impact on local property taxes and school budgets (as underscored in Executive Order 4, 1/20/10)
· a concern for how the approximately $1 billion in Federal Stimulus grants that went into 2009-10 state funds for public education will be replaced as a source of funding without cuts to state aid
· a suggestion that high performing districts already in compliance should only need to go through QSAC monitoring every seven years
· a call for the state to move away from the "one size fits all" approach to governing local districts
· a call for allowing well-performing districts to be released from burdensome central controls and oversight
· a recommendation that High School finance literacy requirements be amended to allow for inclusion in existing courses
· a call for a moratorium on school accountability regulations ('Burden of Prooof' noted)
· a call for an overall review of special education, particularly where state regulations exceed federal mandate
· an acknowledgement of proposed bills A-4140, A-4142 and prevailing wage legislation as problematic
· a call for quality education for all NJ children

GSCS will be watching to see if these positive recommendations make the required next steps to become reality.


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.

Commission recommendation and rationale:  The Commission believes that the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards drive or should drive the provision of all matters of instruction including instruction concerning significant holidays and other events or celebration.  Appropriate holiday observation is fully embedded in the curriculum regardless of the presence or absence of statutory mandate.  Legislatively mandated curriculum is either redundant or requires allocation of class time in a manner not most effective to assure attainment of the Core Curriculum Content Standards or the purpose of the event intended to be celebrated.  The Commission recommends that the Legislature amend this statutory framework to give school districts flexibility and options concerning holidays and events and that the Legislature collapse the statutes referenced above into a single statute to afford options and flexibility. 

2.        Mandate considered:  Eliminate any requirements relating to providing circulars or other printed items that entail cost to school districts. 

Commission recommendation and rationale:  There are a variety of ways to make information available such as on a website, at a library or media center, in a textbook or other classroom material.  These methods offer the ability to circulate varied information and do not entail additional copying or printing cost to school districts.  The Commission recommends that the Legislature amend statutory requirements to provide printed copies of circulars, and that the State Board eliminate regulatory reference to required printed copies.

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.

Commission recommendation and rationale: 
The Commission recommends that the Legislature amend N.J.S.A. 18A:36-5.1.  This statute requires an annual public hearing during the third week in October during which the Superintendent reports to the Board of Education violence and vandalism that occurred during the previous year.  Although the third week in October is School Violence Awareness Week, many school boards do not meet the third week in October.  In those cases, complying with this requirement may entail holding a special meeting.  Second, the statute requires each district to transcribe the hearing and provide a copy to the Department for review   This is the only area in school law in which a hearing transcript is required.  The cost of a transcript can run from several hundred to several thousand dollars depending upon the length of the hearing.  Meeting minutes can accurately verify that a hearing took place, identify the names of speakers and capture discussion at the hearing.  Third, verification of the report is added to the already lengthy list of items to be included as part of monitoring.  Along with an annual report by the Superintendent at a regular meeting of the board, the requirement in the law that the majority representative of school employees have monthly access to the number and disposition of all reported cases is an adequate tool to assure compliance. 

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. 

Commission recommendation and rationale:  This is an anachronistic position that predates GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) accounting and 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 $2500 and $12000 per year.  Potential annual statewide savings could be as much as 3.6 million dollars as calculated by multiplying the number of school districts times the average reported salary.   

2.        Mandate considered:  Raise threshold for vendor's certification to the current quotation level.  N.J.S.A. 18A:19-3. 

Commission recommendation and rationale: This is a redundant requirement.  An invoice and a signed statement of completion of the work or receipt of goods are already required for these purchases regardless of amount.  Under current law it is not necessary to obtain quotations for purchases under fifteen percent of the bid threshold.  Therefore, the Commission recommends that additional paperwork not be required to be prepared until the purchase in question reaches the quotation amount.

3.        Mandate considered:  Eliminate reporting for items purchased below State contract amount.  N.J.S.A.18A:18A-51(e).

Commission recommendation and rationale:  If districts are able to purchase items below the amount negotiated through state contract, districts should not be penalized by having to generate another report.  The record keeping requirement can be satisfied by noting on the purchase order that the item was purchased at a minimum of ten percent less than the state contracted amount.

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).

Commission recommendation and rationale:  The Commission recommends eliminating the QAAR and consolidating the data in a simplified reporting system.  The QAAR is merely one example.  The Commission strongly recommends consolidating all of the reports into no more than three or four annual data submissions.

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.

Commission recommendation and rationale:  The Federal Report Card requirements of No Child Left Behind are somewhat different than the New Jersey School Report Card requirements.  The Commission recommends collapsing the two into a single Report Card.  This will save the cost of generating two documents and make it easier for parents to review information. 

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. 

Commission recommendation and rationale:   The Commission strongly supports simplifying recordkeeping and reporting requirements as a way to save time, expenses and assure the consistency of data.  The Commission supports the goal of NJ SMART (Standards Measurement and Resource for Teaching).  The Commission recommends full web-based implementation of the DOENET (Department of Education Network) data collection program and full implementation of the web based Teacher Certification Program.  The Commission anticipates that the savings to each district, based on number of hours not spent in reporting and collecting data will be significant.

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


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;

  • certain principles, such as running the formula annually, need to be maintained in order for district wealth factors to be updated annually in order to remain current and relevant;
  • special education aid should be applied as categorical aid for all districts
  • look at how district wealth factor is calculated and how it is applied (approximately 200 districts still considered to wealth to receive basic state aid)
  • review ‘adequacy’ under formula
  • immediate funding concerns -  Hold Harmless v. Shortfall; hybrid ‘special education’ funding
  • See GSCS White Paper, Fall 2007 (Find on www.gscschools.org)

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. 

Current Mandate/Reg:

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.")

DATA compliance:

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)

SPECIAL EDUCATION: An Overall Priority 

Special Education costs have grown to approximately 20%-25% of operating school budgets

Review and Revisit: DOE (2007) ‘list of 78’ Mandates & Regulations that exceed federal requirements

Burden of Proof – eliminate  - New Jersey in 2008 legislation requires the school district to prove its program decisions meet the child's needs whenever a family brings a complaint; it reverses the recent  US Supreme Court decision that gave this responsibility to the family bringing the complaint.

Conflict of Interests- Private consultant’s dual identity as the director of an area private school as well as sitting on Child Study Team - there is nothing in law or regulations that bars the practice described in the letter.

Out-of-district placements – cap the fee

Unilateral Placements – Must be reviewed for reasonability; feasibility; affordability


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