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3-20-13 GSCS on State Budget for Fiscal Year 2013-2014 before Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee

Excerpts - GSCS 3-20-13Testimony before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee

Also presented to the Committee along with GSCS FY 2013-2014 State Budget testimony: see files immediately below for Data Analyses attached to GSCS Testimony re: Increases in SDA Fees Assessed on 493 districts for school construction costs, including districts that received grants, as well as statewide Special Education Aid data listings.

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Fees Assessed to 493 Districts for School Construction: Percentage Increases from FY 2012-2013 to FY 2013-2014 (pdf)

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Compare Special Education Aid FY'14 to SDA Assessement Fees FY'14 (pdf)

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State Special Education Aid to districts: Compare FY 2012-2013 to FY2013-2014 (pdf)

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Given hearing time constraints, today GSCS will note some of the particular issues that concern its members.

SDA Assessment Fees on School Construction Projects, comparing increases FY’12-13 to FY ‘13-14

Per GSCS Testimony for FY ’11, these fees were originally instituted in FY 2011-2012: “…An additional surprise was the 15% cut to debt service aid, as well as an unprecedented assessment against school construction grants’ principal and interest charges. Grants are only permitted by public referenda. Will the public lose confidence in this revenue system when Trenton voids it ten years after the law that called for a public vote to approve local school construction; where the amount of a grant must be printed on the ballot and labeled ‘state share’?”

These SDA fees continue to be assessed on grant districts, as well as debt service districts, but for FY ’14 the fees assessed have increased at minimum by 50%. While the fees are not part of state formula aid, which has been held at no less than flat for districts, the fees nonetheless reduce a school district’s budget and the high increase was another bad surprise. And the issues of assessing a type of debt service fee on a grant remain a public policy thorn. As for straight debt service districts, this quote illustrates the pressure placed on school budgets after debt service was cut overall in 2010:

“Also, since 2010, [our district] has suffered an annual 15% reduction on our promised Debt Service Aid that was tied to our 2005 referendum. This loss of approximately $100,000 a year also needs to be covered by our taxpayers with no promise or even mention of restoration. This cost will exceed $2 million dollars over the life of the bonds.” (GSCS member)

 (Please Note: Attached here is a data printout regarding specific fees assessed, the increased percentage of those fees, and the list citing each district so impacted.)

Special Education Aid Comparisons FY ‘12-13 to FY ’13-14

 

Special education funding is a great concern to school districts across the state, as the funds to support required programs continues to increase, causing a tug of war with regular education instructional programs. While special education base aid is increased by $400 per pupil for FY ’14 that increase can be offset by other effects, such as changes in regional cost differences. Another example that impacts this year’s special education aid increase for many is that 233 districts for FY ’14 will have SDA fees that exceed their increase in special education aid.

 

An excerpt of a letter from a GSCS board member demonstrates the complexity – competing funding needs – that sometimes arise in special education policy: A few years back, the state legislated that the burden of proof in special education disputes rests with the school district. This is the only law in America (to my knowledge) where the defendant must prove innocence rather than the other way around.The end result of that legislation is an incredible increase in unilateral placements by parents/advocates. After a year or so, the district is served a claim to pay for that out of district tuition and related expenses. When the argument is presented to the ALJ, the fact that the student is doing well, is acclimated, and that moving the student into the home district would cause undue stress, etc. The result is always "go agree to a compromise cash settlement" or a ruling strongly against the school district… We have just approved and submitted our 13/14 budget and are pending final resolution on Mar 26th. As of this week, we have exceeded $100k in additional cases such as these. There is no end in sight… This must be controlled better.”

While the amount of Extraordinary Aid held even for FY’14, GSCS will be closely watching the effect of changing the funding parameters of Extraordinary Aid which increased the per pupil baselines by $5000 before a district qualifies for such aid.

Please Note: See attached data printout regarding specific aid increases/decreases as well as the list citing each district so impacted.

 

Education Reform Initiatives: Timing, Time and Money

 

Implementing the teacher, and principal, evaluations process is currently seen as a mixed blessing. Many appreciate the nature of the reform and the positive and increased productive dialogues it is producing between and among teachers and administrators. But timing, and, time and money, as well as issues such as methodology, are a worry. Soft costs and the shifting of administrative priorities to accommodate the time devoted to the new evaluations requirements are of real concern.

 

Similarly, the implementation of PAARC assessment testing requires a great bump in technology at the local level, one estimate we have received from a member noted a $400,000 initial year price tag.

CAPs: The 2% cap is more complex than it sounds:

“Coupled with the stringent 2% tax levy cap, next year's small increase in State Aid will at least allow us to maintain our current programming and staffing and buy a little breathing room. It will not, however, allow us to rescind the parental Activity Fee we were forced to institute two years ago or to make any further restorations of programs or staff that have been cut over the last two years… While we are thankful that there is at least discussion of changing the status quo, it is not happening fast enough for our students or our residents… We can barely maintain the programs we have let alone pay for anything new and now they want to take away our ability to subcontract which saves us huge sums of money and allows us to keep our increasingly limited resources in the classroom. We have done all the 'right' things, with the constant cooperation of our amazing staff. They agreed to increases below 2% for the last three years and moved to the state health benefits plan. Our rate increase in the plan is 16% for next year, completely eroding our allowed new money under the 2% tax levy cap. We are at the end of our rope and if something does not change soon we will be unable to sustain the quality of education our students deserve and parents expect…” (GSCS member)

The vicissitudes in health care costs, combined with new requirement add-ons such as special education and education reform, obviate an objective need to revisit the flat caps to determine if some flexibility can be offered to schools where program and learning are clearly being impacted.

 It is time to take a look.

 


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



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