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GSCS on Impact of Education Aid Cuts - Senator Buono hearing January 2011

GARDEN STATE COALITION OF SCHOOLS/GSCS

204 West State Street, Trenton NJ 08608

gscs2000@gmail.com       732 618 5755       www.gscschools.org

 

Senator Buono Hearing, Edison High School, January 20, 2011

Impact of Education Aid Cuts on local schools

 Good evening Senator Buono.  My name is Lynne Strickland, and I am the Executive Director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools.  GSCS appreciates the opportunity this hearing provides to focus on the impacts students and schools are experiencing as a result of the recent dramatic, and historic, education aid cuts imposed on school budgets.  Today GSCS represents 100 school districts and 300,000 public school students statewide, from Bergen County to Camden County.

Primarily suburban, GSCS is a grassroots education advocacy group comprised of parents, board of education members, and school administrators.  As you know, GSCS has been keeping a focused eye on quality education and school finance issues for more than 18 years.  Today, the Garden State Coalition is very worried that substantial reduction in state support for its public schools is leading precipitously to a diminishing of the high quality education that over the years New Jersey has been appropriately recognized for nationally.  GSCS overall has enjoyed a high success rate in student performance, and our purpose is to see that continue and grow, not be lost as one of the highest of priorities for our state.  Tonight we will offer some examples of the negative impact of the education aid loss as relayed from members around the state.  We will be glad to answer any follow up questions you may have.

Not even a year ago, when $475 M in fund balances were removed from school districts statewide, GSCS members lost a total of nearly $90 M in fund balances.  Fund balances by law were to be used as property tax relief in the following school budget year; fund balances also help local districts maintain stability and high bond rating.  These are important factors for school budgets that were lost in this mid-year surprise last February, but the resultant negatives will remain for a long time.

In last year’s proposed state budget and ensuing Appropriations Act FY2011, state aid was reduced across the board by 5% per district.  That resulted in 59 districts – many were GSCS members - receiving absolutely no program aid, including state-mandated special education aid.  Another 140 or so districts nearly lost all their state aid as well. Every district in the state had to cut back, while the fixed-costs side of the equation—such as health care and utilities and prior contracts—keep moving ahead.  Special Education Categorical aid was reduced by $307M; Transportation Categorical Aid by $267M.  As you know, categorical aid is distributed by individual students’ needs, no matter where they live; this aid helps offset costs to local communities for state-required programs.  When this funding is reduced, districts must find a way to fill these holes.  An example of this ‘hole-plugging’ effect can be seen with the lessening of special education aid over the years, compounded by the SFRA reduction in categorical aid for special education.  It is reflected in the statewide reduction of (minus) 5% in regular education instruction, compared to a statewide increase of (plus) 5% in special education instruction over the past 10 years.

 

 

IN THEIR OWN WORDS: Here are some specific examples, provided randomly by GSCS members, of the impacts of education aid cuts from FY2010  (Surplus Reduction) and FY2011 State Aid cutbacks:

GSCS Member/Bergen County

RIF = 72 FTE people including:  20% of administration (supervisors and central office); guidance counselor; maintenance worker; secretaries; aides

Eliminate elementary teacher taught WL and replace with Rosetta stone

Eliminate 14 coaches

Eliminate 30% of sub coverage by putting 9-12 classes in cafeteria when teacher is out

Cur in PD

Eliminate all capital project money from budget

Central office no increase

GSCS Member/Essex County

Eliminated all full-time teachers' aide positions, replacing the positions with part-time positions

Eliminated Spanish in grades 1 and 2 by eliminating the position of the teacher who provided that instruction

Eliminated a library aide at the High School

The vast majority of the High School teachers are now teaching stipended sixth period assignments.  (This is in excess of the contractually mandated 5 periods per day of teaching.)  This results in more wear and tear on teachers, less prep time and less scheduling flexibility.

Raised the fees for Pre-K and student activities

Turned a full-time domestic arts teaching position into a half-time position.  We are now unable to fill it because of the shortage of certificated domestic arts teachers and the unwillingness of the existing ones to take part-time (no benefits) jobs. 

Cut a full-time PE teacher position at our elementary schools to 1/2 time

Cut a full-time Assistant Principal's position at the High School, despite the fact that student enrollment in that 7-12 building is on the rise

It is important to note that we are at capacity, so we cannot improve our finances by taking school choice or tuition students.  I think it also bears repeating that we are one of the 59 districts that lost all state aid for this school year.  We already do cooperative buying for just about everything, share services with our municipality and other districts and have a lower per-pupil cost than other I-J districts, not to mention the contiguous districts of E. Orange, Montclair and Bloomfield. 

 

GSCS Member/Hunterdon County                                                                                                                               

We outsourced 17 custodians (cleaning staff). 

We eliminated clerical staff, the remaining are struggling to keep up with mandated reports and workload.

We've had a number of clerical and aide resignations since July.

Our classroom aides now pay 100% of health benefits costs 

Staff training has been cut. 

An intervention program was cut.

We went from receiving about 10% of our revenue in state aid to 6%.

 

GSCS Member/Mercer County

16 and 1/2 faculty positions:

2 elementary Spanish, 1/2 science, 1 math,1  writing, 3 early reading intervention, 3 spec education, 1 soc studies ,1  high school reading specialist, 2 elementary teachers , 1 OT , 1 modern living

20 fulltime aide positions with benefits went to 40 part-time no benefit positions

nighttime custodians were privatized

several co-curricular programs were cut

almost all summer school programs for remediation and transition

As we function this year, we have increased class sizes in elementary and in the high school, a weak elementary world language program (prior it was the only NDOE model world language program in the state), fewer opportunities after school for pupils, hundreds of students missing summer assistance that is necessary.

Another wave of cuts like last year's is not possible if we are to meet the standards, graduation requirements and maintain a sound system.

GSCS Member/Monmouth County

Facing a projected 2011-12 revenue shortfall of $3-$4 million:

Reduction in Teaching Staff – As a result of projected declining enrollment, it was recommended

that six teaching positions district-wide be eliminated.

Outsourcing of Instructional Assistant Staff

Outsourcing of Transportation Staff

Outsourcing of substitute teachers

Percentage cut across-the-board

Significant increase in class size                                                                                                                        Change in pay-to-participate fees:

Middle school schedule changes considered, but concern:  negative impact on at-risk students

Administrative reduction-in-force

Furthermore, some full-time equivalent (FTE) reduction in content-area supervisors may be accomplished by sharing supervision

Mentor payment reductions

Alternate transportation reductions: Subscription busing

This district has been and is presently recognized by the state, the Executive County

Superintendent and Executive County Business Administrator and the Department of

Education as being among the most cost-efficient districts in the county and the state,

especially in administrative personnel. Current state comparative data ranks the district as

ninth lowest in both teacher and student ratios to administrators and among the lowest in

actual cost per pupil.

GSCS Member/Morris County

…one of the main things that needs to be repeated is that  whether districts made significant cuts or did not because voters approved the budget, all property owners had their taxes go up.  Any ability to modify the tax increase was eliminated by the state just taking our surplus; for most of us that was not state money, that was property tax money.

Secondly, we have this situation where suburban districts are basically paying the full cost of running their schools with little or no help from the state; It seems to me the governor and the legislature have great ideas about how school districts and municipalities can save money, but no ideas how the state can save money.  Our answer is they should give us back 5% of the income taxes our communities send to Trenton; that would hold property taxes level and might reduce property taxes.  If we got 10% back, we could reduce property taxes every year for at least 5 years.

Our district has continued to experience enrollment growth. so while we have not let teachers go, we have not replaced everyone who retires, and all our class sizes have grown.

We have reduced 2 supervisory positions and have expanded the responsibilities of all supervisors and administrators.  We will most likely have to cut positions this year and almost every year going forward.

 

GSCS Member/Morris County                                                                                                                                             

In March of 2010, our district received the news that 100% percent of our state aid would be cut and that we would also lose 15% of our debt service aid that represented the state’s promised contribution to our successful 2005 referendum project.  In April, Madison lost its first school budget election in 15 years, spurred by the damaging rhetoric emanating from the governor’s office regarding teachers’ salaries.

September 20th, like many other suburban school districts in and around the state, our district was dealt another blow when we learned that our share of the federal “Education Job Fund” monies would only be $52,637 – money, though we are grateful for, is not even enough for us to restore one full time teaching position.  When the math is done on the distribution of these funds, it becomes apparent that there was little thought given to equity in the process: we only saw 3.3% of its aid restored.  The restorations in the Abbott districts ranged from 30% -73% (excluding Hoboken, which only got 13%), averaging 56%.  Morris County averaged about 9%.  The average $/student restored was about $190; our district received $25/student.  Perversely, the greater the percentage of state aid lost, the lower the percentage restored.

Now we are reaching the financial breaking point.  Our surplus is seriously depleted as we had to use a large portion of our 2% allowable surplus to help close the budget gap last year when our state aid was cut.  We are now carrying a surplus of approximately 1%, which will not be enough to cover a catastrophic failure of a roof or a boiler or unanticipated special education placements.  We have no capital reserve and no way to fund some pressing infrastructure needs.  This is the fate of suburban schools all across the state, and why we … are forced to focus on how to preserve the status quo and to keep facilities operational, rather than how to improve achievement and broaden opportunities for all students.

GSCS Member/Union County

We cut 50 staff members at all levels of our organization. 

We no longer offer middle school sports

We reduced the time for our kindergarten aides where they are greatly needed.

GSCS Member/Union County

Reduction (2) Administrative positions (Network Admin. & Tech. Co-coordinator)

Reduction of 4 teachers & 2 Child Study Team members (Social workers) and 2 positions reduced to .5

Reduction 4 secretarial positions

Reduction 1 Grounds person

Reductions following budget areas: Summer work (teacher training & planning); Contracted services; Maintenance & Repairs; Supplies & Equipment

Elimination of Middle Schools Sports (15 coaching positions)

Elimination of Resolve Counseling in all Elementary schools

Elimination of all capital

projects                                                                                                           Further reductions in staffing, which resulted in increased class sizes

Initiated Activity Fees in 2009-2010

GSCS Member/Ocean County

2010/2011 Budget cut the following:

Student Accident Insurance $175,000

Professional Development $25,000

Field Trips $50,000

Middle School Sports $321,590

High School Sports & Extra Curricular Programs $609,994

Equipment $109,147

District Wide Library Supplies $314,710

And

 90 positions (54 teachers) $4,096,338


Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608
609-394-2828