GSCS Testimony on proposed State Budget for 2011-2012, FY'12

GARDEN STATE COALITION OF SCHOOLS/GSCS

204 West State Street, Trenton NJ 08608

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

Senate Budget Committee Hearing: State Budget FY2011-2012

March 7, 2011 Paramus, N.J.

Good morning Chairman Sarlo, members of the Committee. My name is Lynne Strickland, and I am the Executive Director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools.

GSCS appreciates the opportunity to provide input to the legislature on the proposed Fiscal Year 2011-2012 State Budget. Today GSCS represents 100 school districts and over 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 nearly nineteen years now.

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.

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The proposed FY’12 state budget restores one percent of the five percent taken away via state aid reduction from local school budgets in FY’11. We welcome this giveback and acknowledge that it will help districts to move forward from the anticipated low points in budget building being considered for this year’s budget preparation process. The giveback generates a sigh of relief and is regarded as a ‘good start’. However, we must acknowledge that districts are still behind the eight ball from where they were prior to the FY’11 aid ‘take-away’ (See attached, NJ Spotlight excerpt).

Among the highlights, the biggest percentage cuts over two years (excerpt from NJ Spotlight ‘Doing the Math on State Aid to New Jersey Schools’ 3-1-11):

· Carlstadt (Bergen) -80% (-$354,640)

· Secaucus (Hudson) -80% (-1,315,805)

· Paramus (Bergen) -80% (-$2,836,519)

· Mendham Township -80% (-$612,233)

· Hanover Park Regional (Morris) -80% (-$1,152,406)

· Deal (Monmouth) -80% (-$109,169)

· Rumson (Monmouth) -80% (-$530,115)

The Garden State Coalition remains worried that the FY11 substantial reduction in state support for its members and New Jersey’s public schools will continue to erode the high quality education that over the years New Jersey has been appropriately recognized for both at the national and local level.

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 (this year an 8.9% increase, on top of a 22% increase last year) and utilities and prior negotiated contracts —keep moving ahead. Last year also saw:

· $475 M in fund balances were removed from school districts statewide, GSCS members alone lost a total of nearly $90 M in fund balances. (Note: These fund balances are comprised of local monies, that are carefully husbanded to be used for property tax relief in the ensuing budget year.)

· Special Education Categorical aid reduced by $307M; Transportation Categorical Aid by $267M.

When categorical funding for mandated programs 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.(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 budgets are cut or stagnate, funding cuts set up a confrontation of competing needs where regular education programs eventually are reduced in order to support required programs. This effect is reflected in the statewide reduction of (minus) 4% in regular education instruction, compared to a statewide increase of (plus) 4% in special education instruction over the past 8 years. (See attached, Charts 1 and 2)

Charter schools are rapidly becoming another example of a ‘hole’ in the regular public school budgets. GSCS members understand that with expansion of charter schools, suburban districts – which support their budgets primarily through local property taxes – are likely to see more and more charter schools open into their communities. Per current law, local taxes will also be the main support for those charter schools and yet the local taxpayers have no say in that regard.

In the last ten years, public school transfers of general funds to support charters in their districts has grown from approximately $85M to $317M (See attached, Chart 3 and, for individual district payout listing, see attached printout: ‘The Growth of Local District Budget Transfers to Support Resident Students attending (corresponding local) Charter Schools’).

For example, already East Brunswick public schools have to contribute $1. 2M to the Hatikvah Charter School which opened this year. One of Hatikvah’s draws is its full day kindergarten program. Ironically, the local taxpayers in East Brunswick have voted the option of a full day Kindergarten program down in the recent past. Princeton Regional is contributing $4.6M of its budget to local charter this fiscal year.

These are just some examples of the pressure points on local schools’ budgets and how these pressure points can spur a downward spiral in quality education over time.

Please review the information GSCS gathered from a sampling of its members directly below. This input helps fill in the broader statewide statements in GSCS’ testimony today and will personalize the picture we present.

Thank you for your kind attention.

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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

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.

GSCSMember/HunterdonCounty 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 specialist

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

Chane ig 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

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

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Attached:

Excerpt from NJ Spotlight 3-1-11 ‘Doing the Math on State Aid to New Jersey Schools’

“…But how that plays out over two years in individual communities varies widely in terms of the actual state aid each receives, according to a new NJ Spotlight analysis of three years of state aid figures.

For instance, wealthier suburban communities, by and large, are still seeing a greater share of their state aid reduced from 2009-2010, on average close to 50 percent. Even with the restoration, there remain 63 districts that have lost 75 percent to 80 percent of their aid from two years ago.

Among the highlights, the biggest percentage cuts over two years:

· Carlstadt (Bergen) -80% (-$354,640)

· Secaucus (Hudson) -80% (-1,315,805)

· Paramus (Bergen) -80% (-$2,836,519)

· Mendham Township -80% (-$612,233)

· Hanover Park Regional (Morris) -80% (-$1,152,406)

· Deal (Monmouth) -80% (-$109,169)

· Rumson (Monmouth) -80% (-$530,115)

The biggest dollar amounts cut over two years:

· Newark: -$115,897,291 (-15%)

· Jersey City: -$75,922 (-16%)

· Paterson: -$64,596,069 (-15%)

· Elizabeth: -$59,196,687 (-18%)

· Trenton: -$36,624,909 (-14%)

· Camden: -$36,498,325 (-12%)

The smallest percentage cuts over two years:

· Folsom (Atlantic) -5% (-$261,560)

· Cumberland Regional (Cumberland) -6% (-$755,772)

· Salem County Vocational 7% (-$298,752)

· Woodlynne (Camden) -7% (-$455,158)

· Mount Holly (Burlington) -7% (-$712,370)

· Lakehurst (Ocean) -7% (-$437,112)

· Lindenwold (Camden) -7% (-$1,713,563)

· Manchester Regional (Passaic) -7% (-$385,680)

· Hi Nella (Camden) -7% (-$58,982)

Attached:

Chart 1: Statewide Data – Regular Education Instructional Spending compared to Special Education Instructional Spending (8 years spread)

Chart 2: GSCS Member Data - Regular Education Instructional Spending compared to Special Education Instructional Spending (8 year spread)

Chart 3: Charter School Costs: Amount of funds transferred from local district budgets to support Charter Schools (10 year spread/$85M to $317)

Also attached: Payout to support Charter School funding requirement per local district (Includes all local districts that have residents going to charter schools/10 year spread)