Special Joint Meeting of the Assembly and Senate Education Committee Topic: School Security
Rutgers University-Newark, Paul Robeson Campus Center Monday, April 23, 2018
Testimony: Jorden Schiff, Ed.D., Superintendent of Schools, Hillsborough Township
Good afternoon, Chairwoman Ruiz, Chairwoman Lampitt and members of the committees. My name is Jorden Schiff, and I am the proud Superintendent of the Hillsborough Public Schools. I also serve as the President of the Garden State Coalition and the Chairman of the Legislative Committee for the New Jersey Association of School Administrators. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.
Since the Parkland tragedy, much has been said and written about school security. It is on the minds of every school administrator, not to mention school staff, board members, parents and students. All of us have the same goal—to keep our children safe from school violence.
When other public and private institutions fall apart, the schools remain. We are highly visible public institutions at the hearts of our communities. Our unique mission and high profile make us uniquely capable and uniquely vulnerable.
That vulnerability has led us, in the years since Columbine and Sandy Hook, to forge closer relationships with local law enforcement, seek expert advice from public and private security entities, and listen carefully to the concerns of our communities. Much of that effort was made at a time when educators in New Jersey have struggled to find the resources needed to maintain existing personnel and programs, let alone upgrade security.
Now we are called upon to increase school security once again. We will make every effort to do so, but we cannot do it alone. We appreciate Senator Sweeney’s proposed statewide bond issue that includes close to half a billion dollars of grant money for school security upgrades. If approved by the Assembly and signed by the Governor, it will be placed on the November ballot. If approved by the voters, it will most likely provide us help in FY ’20. However, those are big “ifs.” Public outcry, coupled with our own concerns for student safety, means that our districts need more immediate help. My suggestions are as follows:
- First, allow school districts to exceed the two percent tax levy cap for school security upgrades. This provision allows local boards of education to prioritize security spending according to the specific circumstances of their districts and the concerns of their communities.
- Second, student mental health services are integral to school security. Funding provisions for security, whether in the form of cap waivers or additional aid, should include mental health services as allowable expenditures. Investments in mental health ARE investments in school security.
I want to stress this second recommendation. Our students face unprecedented levels of stress. Educators and mental health professionals across the nation have seen increases in depression, anxiety, and suicide in the last decade. School districts should not have to choose between a teacher or a mental health professional, or between a teacher or a police officer. These times require us to do it all. I sincerely appreciate your time and attention. Thank you