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GSCS Testimony on Hurricane Sandy before Assembly Education Comm - Aftermath and Suggestions
Testimony offered by Dr. David Abbott, GSCS President and Superintendent of Marlboro Schools, Monmouth.

GARDEN STATE COALITION OF SCHOOLS/GSCS 12-13-12

160 West State Street, Trenton, NJ 08608

Testimony before the Assembly Education Committee: Lessons learned - Hurricane Sandy

Dr. David A. Abbott, GSCS President; Superintendent, Marlboro Schools, Monmouth County

Good afternoon, Chairman Diegnan and members of the committee. Thank you for the opportunity to present to you today. I am David Abbott, President of the Garden State Coalition of Schools. My comments today certainly cannot be inclusive of all schools issues that have arisen due to Sandy, nor do we even know yet all the related problems that will evolve as we move along day to day. We do know that our primary focus on quality education for New Jersey’s students has and will forever remain steadfast. With your help, we can move forward positively and with hope that we have all learned something from this tragedy that will help build a stronger and more secure future for children and families across our state.

Post-Hurricane Look at Schools Communications in Emergency Situations - GSCS Board of Trustees  feedback : GSCS Board of Trustee members shared the following information recently about the communications methods that worked in their districts during the storm’s after effects.  

- Because cell calls were not getting through, texting was an important way to reach parents and staff, but only if all cell phone numbers were updated.                 

- Many people relied on social media—such as Facebook, Twitter, Naxle (which gives police updates) for their information.

- A few towns used a town-wide conference call to great effect. Thousands of residents dialed in to hear short updates from their mayor, assembly people, and public-safety officials.

- Reaching foreign speaking populations was a concern in some districts.

- Some districts used PTA calling chains. Some used their student management database systems to reach student homes.

- Some municipalities relied on local districts to communicate town information

- New Jersey’s NJEA Convention should be in the summer, as in all other states, rather than in November, when it is very disruptive. Now is the time to advocate for this change.

Overall, schools found ways to communicate to their communities as needed, albeit under stressful and never-before-experienced conditions.  We suggest that the state and schools work together to find a emergency communications plan that can be tested and supported functionally at the state and local level as soon as possible.

On a broader level, we are very concerned about how the drop in ratables will affect school funding revenue in the very near future. At Tuesday's Senate Budget hearing on Sandy in Highlands, the Senate Budget Chair Paul Sarlo specifically noted that the legislature is aware of the negative reach that lowered ratables will have for schools and he relayed that the issue would be addressed in the State Budget FY 2013-2014.

Issues as noted in attached testimony of Christopher Rooney

·         Will the state budget contain provisions for municipalities that are unable to collect enough taxes to make school payments?

·         Will municipalities have re-evaluations due to storm damages?

·         The McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act is requiring school districts to provide levels of services that have never been seen previously. Would the legislature consider reallocation of existing funds from areas not impacted as severely to areas of high impact? Often these Federal Funds do not get completely exhausted by all school district.

We are also worried about the absolute time frames that are in statute that districts are required to follow for their budgeting process. The statutes also have not been updated to reflect the reality that only 67 school districts still will hold elections this April. Clearly, the timelines should be revisited as a matter of course, but also the dates need to be revisited in light of Sandy's impact to give districts the time to gain more information to format realistic budgets. Executive County Superintendents also need more time to be able to pay appropriate attention to their required review of school budgets (see attached testimony of Monmouth County Interim Executive Superintendent).

The following is excerpted from testimonies of 1) Christopher Rooney, Superintendent of Henry Hudson Regional in Highlands, New Jersey and 2) Joseph Passiment, Interim Executive County Superintendent-Monmouth. The points we copy here are relevant to the situations faced by many districts and need to be addressed expeditiously so that difficulties that emerged as a result of Sandy can be ameliorated in an opportune fashion.

Per Rooney testimony: “There are six concerns that I would like to raise with the committee as you develop the state budget.

1. Will the state budget contain provisions for municipalities that are unable to collect enough taxes to make school payments?

2. Will municipalities have re-evaluations due to storm damages?

3. Will the legislature consider laws permitting school districts to modify school calendars without negotiating with each individual employee? Currently there is case law that requires this.

4. Could there be a unified memorandum of agreement from the state for shelters in school facilities? These might require latitude for site specifics circumstances.

( Districts that were shelters for both Irene and or Sandy quickly learned that there are serious

problems with shelters. Many of us have been quietly going about searching for agreements prior

to the next issue requiring sheltering. We are spending a lot of time and tax payer money

developing these individual agreements. Everything from energy costs (fuel for generators)

transportation, food, custodial services, nursing services, etc. Too many districts are spinning their

wheels. In addition without these in place you may have some local OEM issues. An agreement

needs to be in place prior, approved every year so everyone knows their roles.)

 

 

5. The McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act is requiring school districts to provide levels of services that have never been seen previously. Would the legislature consider reallocation of existing funds from areas not impacted as severely to areas of high impact? Often these Federal Funds do not get completely exhausted by all school districts.

(Our region is Monmouth, Ocean and Middlesex counties. Alan Ferraro is the Director- his office is out of brick 732-785-3000 ext 2802 (you might want to speak with him). There are seven regions state wide. Allotments range from $100,000 to $210,000. Our regions initial allotment was $331,000. This has to pay for his salary and the assistant. Currently this is $60,000 available. However he has well over $300,000 in requests. Most districts have not even sent in their requests yet. Brick's request is $200,000 alone!)

 

6. Could future insurance premium increases to school districts be legislated to be no greater than the state budget cap placed on districts?

While I recognize these six concerns are very small in comparison to everything we are facing as a state, we must continue to work together to address the small issues before they become larger unmanageable issues.”

Per Passiment Testimony:

“Statute and Code require school districts to present a budget to the Executive County Superintendent of Schools for review and approval. The Statutes and Codes indicate that the budget is presented by March 4 of each year and that a public hearing is held approximately 45 days before the vote in April. Therefore there is only two weeks in which a thorough review of a school district budget can take place. As the Executive County Superintendent of two counties, Monmouth and Union, I am responsible for the review of 53 budgets in Monmouth County and 23 budgets in Union County. Those 76 budgets are crucial to the education of children and the stability to their communities. This past year a major change took place that allowed districts to not have a vote on the budget and move the school board election to November. In Monmouth County 51 of the 53 districts moved to have no vote on the budget and hold the school board election in November. In Union County all 23 districts moved to have no vote and the school board elections in November. What did not change were the statutes and codes for the review process.

In order for the time frame for budget reviews and approvals to be lengthened, it will be necessary to modify the current statutes and codes for those districts that have no vote on the budget. I have listed below the various statues and codes that I believe will need to be modified so that budgets can be reviewed and approved prior to the May 19th date for certification of taxes. I propose the follow changes to the dates upon which budgets are submitted and reviews are done by the Executive County Superintendent and when public hearings are held for those districts that have no vote on the budget. Districts that hold April votes will follow current statute and code.”

Move the budget submittal date from March 4 to March 11

Have the review period for budgets from March 11 to April 19

Hold public hearings from April 22 to May 3

Statutes to be amended:                                                            

Codes to be amended:

18A:7F-5 and 18A:7F-6                                                   6A:23A-9.1

18A:22-10, 18A:22-11 and 18A:22-12                        6A:23A-9.2

18A:22-7 and 18A:22-8                                                   6A:23A-9.7(a)(5)

18A:22-32

 


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



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