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Special Education--Joint Committee Hearing--3-22-17--Schiff Testimony

Testimony to the NJ Joint Committee on Public Education:† Special Education

March 22, 2017

Jorden Schiff, Ed.D.,

Superintendent of Schools, Hillsborough Township, NJ 08844

I would like to begin by thanking the Leadership and Members of the Committee for inviting our comments on special education.† My name is Jorden Schiff and I am the proud superintendent of the Hillsborough Township Public Schools.† In addition to serving as the Hillsborough Superintendent, I am also President of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, as well as the Chair of the NJASA Legislative Committee.†

Special education is near and dear to my heart.† I began my career close to 25 years ago teaching emotionally disturbed middle school boys at a residential facility in central Jersey.† I still remember working with these terrific young men who needed structure, predictability, and the knowledge that a caring adult was always available to them.† It was those experiences almost a quarter century ago that forged my commitment to spending my professional life educating children.† My passion and commitment to special needs students cannot dull the fact that New Jersey public schools are at a crossroad.† Due to shrinking revenue and increase costs superintendents across the state are faced with a dire reality of funding mandated programs at the expense of non-mandated program.† Special education costs consistently rise above the 2% property tax cap, and as a result, special education needs are reducing investments in other areas of public school budgets.† This is not a matter of philosophy or priorities.† It is a matter of simple arithmetic.† When revenues are capped and costs in mandated areas exceed the cap, then programs and personnel will need to be reduced in other areas of the budget.† New Jersey has never been a state where we educate one group of children at the expense of another.† We have always been a state that educates ALL CHILDERN, regardless of ability or disability.†

We at the Garden State Coalition of Schools wish to not only identify a problem, but also offer possible solutions.† We have three solutions that will provide a sustainable pathway to protect the quality of the educational experience for ALL STUDENTS in New Jersey public schools:

  • Return Greater Control and Decision-Making to Local School Boards

Local school board members are publicly elected or appointed officials who represent and live in the communities they serve.† They are the best people to determine taxation policy that balance the needs of the students with the communityís ability to pay.† Each township, borough, village, and city is unique and has its own complexity and needs.† Broad-brushing a one-size-fits-all policy from Trenton, fails to recognize and appreciate each communityís unique situation.† Policy-makers in Trenton are not held accountable in the same way that a local school board is held to account by their community.† Special education costs outside of a boardís control that extend beyond the 2% property tax cap should be part of an automatic adjustment process as is done currently with the healthcare adjustment.†

  • Recognize Educational Services Commissions (ESC) as an Alternative to Expensive Out-of-District Placements for Special Needs Children (see Chart 1)

Part of the mission of all Educational Services Commissions throughout the state is to provide special services that are not available in local districts.Similar services are provided by private schools at a greater cost.It is important that equivalent services are provided in an effective and efficient manner.The attached document illustrates potential cost savings while providing equivalent services for our out-of-district special needs students.

  • Explore the Ability to Require Related Services Expenses for Special Needs Children to be Claimed Against the Parentsí Private Insurance Carrier and Have the School District Fund Any Out-of-Pocket Expenses

Currently, students who qualify for Medicaid and receive certain special education services qualify for a program (SEMI) that reimburses the local school district for specific special services.Similar to the SEMI program, parents of students with special needs should be required to submit a claim to their private insurance carrier for services that are covered within their private plans. The school district would then cover any out-of-pocket expenses. Protections would need to be put in place to make certain that insurance carriers do not increase premiums for the parents of special needs children.

In closing, I would like to thank the committee members for listening and giving serious consideration to our testimony.

Chart 1

The chart about shows the Somerset County Educational Services Commissionís out-of-district tuition rates for special needs students as compared with other private schools providing equivalent services.† All costs indicated in red are savings to the local communities.

Data Source:† SCESC Office of the Superintendent


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