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4-19-10 GSCS MANDATE RELIEF SUGGESTIONS to GOV CHRISTIE'S RED TAPE REVIEW GRP (& to Legislators), first submitted by invitation December 2009

Garden State Coalition of Schools/GSCS

204 West States Street. Trenton, N.J. 08608

609 394 2828      732 618 5755

Testimony before the Lt. Governor’s Red Tape Review Group

Brookdale College, March 9, 2010

 

Good afternoon Madame Chairman and members of the Red Tape Group. My name is Lynne Strickland and I am the Executive Director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools (GSCS). Thank you very much for the opportunity to comment on the welcome topic of mandate relief for schools.

The Coalition’s overarching mission is quality education for New Jersey’s public school students. GSCS, a grassroots group whose volunteers are comprised of parents, board of education members and school administrators, keeps a persevering focus on school funding and stability. Attached to this testimony is an updated flyer on the GSCS organization for your information, now in its 18th year representing high performing , primarily suburban, school districts across our state.

Given the grave fiscal status of the New Jersey state budget for current year and for the fiscal year 2010-2011 ahead at least, we must recognize the financial straightjacket which we face head on, not only from the state budget perspective, but also from that of the local school district budget. 

A main tenet of the Coalition is ‘public support for public education’. A major GSCS priority is how to achieve fiscal responsibility to local and state taxpayers while assuring a stable base for quality education.

It is a high priority to the Coalition that any potential for damage to programs for our students is minimized by the best planning possible.  Mandate relief to  offset school support reductions is at the top of GSCS’ list.

GSCS notes that the Education Transition Team Report recommends relief from many of the mandates and regulations that our members have told us hamper their efficiency, effectiveness and that are often costly (see related attachment). Where feasible, quick response to recommendations can be of help and should be addressed as soon as possible.

We note that ways in which Trenton can help local districts is to consider a slowing down, or moratorium, on new school legislation in general. And, also when new school bills are introduced GSCS requests that the cost to local districts and their taxpayers is specified so that all are equally informed. We suggest that the Joint Session on Property Taxes Committee Reports be reviewed as a resource when moving forward on policy initiatives.  

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

-          a call to revisit the 'Burden of Proof' requirement at the state level

-          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.’ 

We hear the administration say tools will be provided to districts to help them get over the hump of dealing with aid loss during this year and the negative implications for property tax relief in Fiscal Year‘11. We look forward to hearing more on what those tools will be and when they will be available.

Just as schools are being targeted to help put the current year state budget back on a more even keel, we ask folks in Trenton to reciprocate by allowing relief from as many mandates and regulations as possible, which will result in savings of time and money. And, we hope that can be done soon.

ADDENDA

GSCS: ‘Tools for Schools’ (some examples)

-             Pass the 1.5% plan for teachers to contribute to their health benefits

·          Reinstate ‘Last Best Offer’ as a negotiation tool to local boards of education.

·          Mediation: Improve the system overall/require that mediators must take economy into account in  

            negotiations process; increase number of mediators statewide (only 4 mediators now); improve

            training program.

·          Ensure incentive ‘buyout’ programs conform with legal process and do not violate pension rules.

·          Eliminate penalty imposed on districts that re-enter the SHBP .

-          Fund the special education student directly with categorical aid, based on the individual’s needs.     (This action would bring special education funding into conformance with the SFRA’s stated objective: “money must follow the child”; current aid distribution is based statewide population averages and equalization of 2/3 of special education aid.)

In addition:

 1. Require Fiscal Notes be executed for local impact when legislation is first introduced.

2. QSAC: increase from 3 to minimum7 year rotation for successful districts.

3. Allow parents to donate their time, material and labor in their own school districts (including professional services).

4. Allow districts that own buses to compete with private carriers for special education runs.

5. Centralize non-public services administration on a countywide/regional basis.

    (Currently these services are required to be administered by the local district.)

 

Attached: Submission of GSCS List of Suggestions for Mandate/Regulatory Relief

(Originally submitted to the Education Subcommittee of the Red Tape Group, 12-2-09)

                                     

 

__________________________________________________

GARDEN STATE COALITION OF SCHOOLS          

draft/091207/revised 091230/100304

LIST - REGULATIONS & MANDATES TO CONSIDER/MEMBER INPUT

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

__________________________________________________________________________________

PROACTIVE

4% 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
609-394-2828



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