10-5-06 Conversation on school funding, consolidation continues
Excerpts from Governor Jon Corzine’s speech 10-4-06 before New Jersey Leadership Council: “…As you know, the Legislature has been in special session since the summer, working on four separate but connected aspects of this issue.

10-5-06 Star-Ledger: Corzine- County districts could diversify schools...Governor links property tax relief to less segregation

Gannett 10-5: Details start to emerge on property tax plans The rough outlines of some of the plans intended to chip away at New Jersey's property tax burden became clearer Wednesday as lawmakers discussed bills that would promote merging towns and consolidating government.

School-funding panel looks to contain special-education costs - Courier Post 10-4-06 -

Proposals from the state panel on school-funding reform will focus on reducing the number of special-education students sent to expensive private schools, said committee co-chairman Sen. John Adler, D-Cherry Hill.

Excerpts from Governor Jon Corzine’s speech yesterday before New Jersey Leadership Council:


“…As you know, the Legislature has been in special session since the summer, working on four separate but connected aspects  of this issue.


This is a massive undertaking, because it is a massive, complex problem.


I’m sure some of you are all too familiar with it, but let me explain again why we are in this mess.


First, we have an over-reliance on this regressive property tax to disproportionately fund government and school costs.


Second, we have failed to control spending at all levels of government or to give the public a meaningful voice in budget decisions.


Third, we have far too many layers of government delivering too many similar services.


And fourth, the fragile foundation of state finances has prevented the state from increasing aid to local school districts and governments.


The property tax provides 46% of all tax revenues in New Jersey.  The national average is roughly 30%.


As I said in July, I’ve never in my life wanted so much to be average.


The dual goals of the property tax overhaul are relief and reform. Relief is what we can do quickly.


And I have proposed a plan that takes $350 million of the dedicated sales tax revenue and combines it with the existing funding for property tax rebates. 


 This will create a credit program of more than $1.6 billion to lower tax bills for senior citizens and middle-class families and to potentially double the credit for tenants.


 The reform piece is harder to forge, more politically sensitive, but has the potential to benefit citizens of the state for generations to come.


 This is what the legislative committees are working on diligently.


When the legislative special session ends on November 15, I expect to have in hand four sets of recommendations for long-term property tax reform that make sense and can be implemented.


And I fully expect to have a property tax reform plan in hand by the end of 2006!


Although I can’t say things always come together they way we want in life, the themes I have touched on today all do.


You can’t have economic growth without property tax relief and reform.


 Why? Because without New Jersey being seen as undertaking serious reform of its most visible problem, businesses and employees will not want to relocate here and some already here could even consider going elsewhere.


Without a favorable business climate, the foundation on which our economic growth strategy is built will not stand.


And without credible, ethical people in leadership positions throughout the state government, all the well-intentioned tax reform and economic growth efforts in the world will be seen through a lens of suspicion.


 We have to do it all…….Simple as that. …..Even when it is far from simple.”


Corzine: County districts could diversify schools

Governor links property tax relief to less segregation

Thursday, October 05, 2006


Star-Ledger Staff

Consolidating New Jersey's 600-plus public school systems into fewer, larger districts to reduce costs could have the added effect of diversifying the state's schools.

Gov. Jon Corzine offered the insight during a question-and-answer session yesterday at the studios of New Jersey Network in Trenton as he addressed the Leadership New Jersey Graduate Organization. He was asked about segregation in New Jersey.


"The problem is real," Corzine said. "We have re-segregated our schools. I hope that people will recognize it and be willing to take steps to combat those problems."

Corzine said proposals to reduce property taxes could be part of the solution. He said consolidation to make government more efficient could produce "a more natural sharing of both responsibilities and mixing of our children."

By combining many small districts into fewer larger ones, "you end up having greater diversity in your school system," Corzine said. "If you went to a county system, you'd have a much broader, diverse community."

Corzine said he is not supporting local government or school district consolidation as a way to confront segregation in New Jersey schools, but he sees it as a side benefit of consolidation in the interest of property tax relief.

Asked later in the day if Corzine was hinting at moving students, Anthony Coley, a spokesman, said, "We feel that is not the Legislature's intent and we are okay with that."

A half-century after Brown vs. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court case that ended school segregation, New Jersey has predominantly black school districts and predominantly white school districts, mainly based on the ethnic character of the towns.

Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex) is co-chairman of the Joint Legislative Committee on Government Consolidation, one of four special panels examining ways to ease property taxes.

As Corzine spoke at NJN, Smith discussed two proposals that will be offered as key legislation to combat property taxes. One would reduce the number of New Jersey school districts from more than 600 to 21 countywide districts; the other would create a state commission to recommend the merger of towns or public services.

Told of Corzine's comments and asked if consolidating school districts could include shifting students, Smith said, "No, schools would maintain their identity. I see no children being moved, I see no principals being moved. The only thing that happens is that all administration goes under one county school board."


Under the two proposals, voters would have the final word on creating county-wide districts or merging local governments or services, such as police departments.   


"The principle here is that citizens should have the ability to tell the government what they are willing to pay for," Smith said. "Put the decision in the hands of the citizens and let them pull the trigger."


Corzine said it will be hard to persuade people to look beyond their own interest to the common good.


"We have taken 'all politics is local' to the point of fragmentation," he said. "We're all taxpayers. We're all people who have families. We all want the same things, but we have to do it as a 'we' rather than an 'I.'"


Smith said he also foresees his committee proposing functions like tax collection, property assessment, public health and animal control in the hands of county government. He said a proposal to move the election of officers and approval of budgets for New Jersey's 186 fire districts from February to the November general election can also be expected.


Smith said he expects the committee, which held its sixth hearing on property tax reduction yesterday, to propose that the state Public Employee Relations Commission play a role in settling personnel disputes that emerge during efforts to merge local governments or public safety operations.


The Consolidation and Shared Services panel is one of four special committees attempting to come up with methods to ease the New Jersey property tax burden. They have until Nov. 15 to offer proposals to legislative leaders and Corzine.


Smith said he expects the countywide school district proposal to be a hot topic when leaders of New Jersey's teachers union, the school boards, school administrators and principals' organizations appear before the Consolidation and Shared Services Committee on Oct. 18.


"That's when the real fireworks will begin," he said.


Details start to emerge on property tax plans

Gannett State


The rough outlines of some of the plans intended to chip away at New Jersey's property tax burden became clearer Wednesday as lawmakers discussed bills that would promote merging towns and consolidating government.

Much of the focus remained on a proposal being pushed by Sen. Joseph Kyrillos Jr., R-Middletown, Monmouth County, to create a special commission that would recommend municipal mergers, but a key lawmaker called for a tweak that could alter the bill's impact.

Sen. Robert G. "Bob" Smith, D-Piscataway, the co-chairman of a committee examining government consolidation, endorsed the plan but said any mergers should come up for a public vote. Kyrillos' original plan mandated the mergers, if they were approved by the Legislature in an up-or-down vote, no changes allowed.

Kyrillos' plan and several others that came up for debate Wednesday are the first concrete proposals to emerge from the four committees that have been examining property tax reform for the past two months.

Many people blame New Jersey's 566 municipalities for creating layers of bureaucracy that inflate the cost of government.

"We have got to do what the American private sector and everybody, all our constituents know intuitively when they go into a Costco on weekends to shop with their families, that there are efficiencies and economies of scale when we merge together," Kyrillos said.

Representatives for the local governments, however, said bigger municipalities don't always mean better government.

"I don't what he thinks the impact of that's going to be. I don't know what is going to be the quality of services. I don't know what the cost savings is going to be," said William Dressel Jr., executive director of the State League of Municipalities.

The thinking behind Kyrillos' plan is that an independent panel, free from emotional or political ties to certain towns, would be more likely to take a hard, unbiased look at the best way to run local government. The federal government uses a similar commission to try to remove politics from decisions on which military bases to close.

Smith said voters, not the commission, should make the final decision on whether or not mergers make sense.

"The guiding principle should be that New Jersey citizens should have the government that they want and that they are willing to pay for," Smith said.

Kyrillos said he would prefer leaving the decisions to the commission and Legislature but said he understood the desire for public input.

"I hope people are not advocating (a public vote) as a way to defer tough decisions or a responsibility," Kyrillos said.

Other plans discussed Wednesday would:

Provide enhanced property tax rebates to homeowners in towns that merge or share services.

Put spending caps on fire districts, whose bills make up a piece of the property tax burden, and eliminate a public vote on fire district budgets.

Move fire district elections to coincide with the November general elections, when voter turnout is higher.

Put the state's 21 county governments in charge of tax assessing and collection, animal control and public health services, moving those duties away from local government.

Encourage government efficiency standards by providing state aid to towns based on performance measures instead of a formula.

Smith said the overriding goal is to reduce the layers of government.

It's unclear exactly how much each plan could save taxpayers. They are likely to be pieces of a larger proposal to address the state's property tax burden.

Senate President Richard J. Codey, D-West Orange, recently ruled out, however, talk of taxing businesses at a different rate than homes in order to shift the tax burden.

Reach Jonathan Tamari at jtamari@gannett.com
Published: October 05. 2006 3:10AM


School-funding panel looks to contain special-education costs

Courier-Post Staff


Proposals from the state panel on school-funding reform will focus on reducing the number of special-education students sent to expensive private schools, said committee co-chairman Sen. John Adler, D-Cherry Hill.

But containing special-education costs is so complex that Pennsylvania and several other states have decided there is no suitable way to figure it out, said Thomas Parrish of the Washington, D.C.-based American Institutes for Research.

They instead rely on other factors such as a district's size and poverty.

"I think it's probably the best alternative you should consider," said Parrish, though not deeming it the only one.

New Jersey spends $1 billion per year in state aid on special education and has the nation's highest percentage of students in out-of-district schools. The state has 175 private schools, with some students sent out of state.

Gerard Thiers, executive director of an association for private special-education schools, said there are hidden costs to educating students with disabilities in public schools. He contended that the average is similar, about $30,000 as of 2001-02.

"What these students have in common is that they are not able to be educated in public schools and their school districts have turned to us for help," he said.

Lindenwold school board President Cathy Moncrief testified that one borough student needs a one-on-one assistant, a one-on-one nurse and transportation, costing $200,000 annually.

"We need to realize that highly specialized intervention programs can present an enormous burden to the district," she said.

Adler said the panel will focus on forcing districts to devise early intervention programs so the number of students placed in special education will be reduced.

He also said the panel will address facilities funding, taking on the argument that districts lack class space for special education.

Diana Autin, executive co-director of the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network, said students benefit from being in regular classes, yet districts find it easier to segregate them in private schools.

Mark Finkelstein, superintendent of the Middlesex Regional Educational Services Commission, said his staff eventually will be able to train local districts to provide adequate programs.

The committee will hold a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday at the Collingswood Ballroom and Theater on the White Horse Pike.

Reach Larry Hanover at (856) 486-2470 or lhanover@courierpostonline.com