Testimony Before the New Jersey Senate Select Committee on School Funding Fairness
February 14, 2017
Good morning Chairman Senator Stephen Sweeney and members of the committee. †My name is Bernadette McCausland, Trustee of the Paramus Board of Education and a Vice President of Garden State Coalition of Schools.† I am grateful to provide commentary on the effect of reduced funding for public school education.† While I am here today to testify about my experience as a Paramus Board of Education trustee, I am not here to represent or speak for the Paramus Board of Education.
Paramus has proposed an efficient budget that increases the educational experience, provides security for student safety and repairs our aging facilities.† At first glance, we appear to be in great financial shape, yet we struggle to keep below the state imposed 2% tax cap.† The 2016 increase in our tax levy was 1.99% which funded 90.4% of our districtís general fund budget and represents 54.4% of the total property tax bill.† We are only able to absorb such a large share of the residentís tax burden because of our communityís significant tax revenues from malls and other retailers. Communities without large commercial business zones struggle even more.† One concern that we share with other communities is to protect the individual studentís experience from any budget cuts.
When I ran for the Paramus Board of Education in 2009, I wanted to ensure that any cuts would come from outside the classroom.† I was determined not to reduce any studentís educational experience. †
I have discovered that I was wrong to think that we could insulate student instruction from budget cuts. There are only so many places that we can cut before we begin to impact the classroom, and with state aid coming in at only 2.5%, I fear that we are at a tipping point. In 2009 our state aid was $3,751,532 then in 2011 our state aid was reduced to less than $10,000.† We have never recovered from our aid plummeting. †Years later we struggle to maintain our programs and class sizes. †We maintain a list of programs to eliminate if aid is reduced.
After the nightmare cuts in state funding in 2011 our district eliminated entire tiers of administration.† At that time, I felt that was a good decision because administrators had only limited contact with students and so these cuts should not be felt in the classroom.† I was wrong. Having too few administrators impacts the students in ways I could never imagine. †
Reducing administrators leaves fewer experts developing curriculum, observing instruction, and monitoring that there is a healthy school culture.† In addition, there is a significant workload arising from the Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying or HIB law. The few administrators we have are stretched thin working to handle the constantly growing load of cases to be investigated.† †
We need administrators in the human resource department to help teachers understand the changing healthcare rules and to properly administer the employee contracts.† These are complex issues that schools struggle with because they do not have a consistent stream of revenue to hire administrators for human resources.†
Individual supervisors of the different courses of study were eliminated and now we struggle to pull from the same small group of administrators to design curriculum to meet federal and state requirements.† In many cases, we have needed to hire outside consultants to develop curriculum and to provide instructional support to our teachers in the classroom.†
With the shortage of administrators, it has become more difficult to supervise, review and mentor teachers.† The newest regulations of TEACH NJ require 2 long and 1 short formal observation and there are now two additional classroom walkthroughs required.† Individual teacher Student Growth Objectives must be set and reviewed using one of the Achieve NJ approved evaluation systems to record teacher self-assessments including the review of artifact logs of relevant supporting classwork to ensure that our faculty is meeting their goals.† In addition, at least one of the post observation conferences must be face to face between the administrator and the individual teacher and the summative evaluation conference will be face to face. Proper supervision takes care and time.† Education is constantly evolving and we need additional administrators.†
The lack of predictable state funding and extra ordinary aid payments creates volatile swings in revenue and spreads fear and concern over whether our saved surplus will be held against us in the calculation of future funding.† †I am asking for the legislature to provide consistent and equitable funding so that we can continue to provide our students with great schools.
Thank you again for your attention.† I am happy to answer any questions that you might have.