The state of New Jersey is trying to determine whether it makes sense to reorganize our public school districts.
Donna Simon (R-Flemington), “We’re looking at
possibly decreasing redundancies, increasing efficiencies and potentially
realizing cost savings by combining resources.” She referenced the recent successful
merger of four districts in Hunterdon County as the model.
surface, reorganization does seem to deliver in cost savings. But in further
investigation, you might be surprised at the barriers that eradicate any
potential benefits. Recently, NJASA Director of Governmental Relations Melanie
Schulz testified before the Joint Committee on the Public
Regarding Regionalization to share the perspective of the state’s Chief
there is no shortage of information on regionalization, or consolidation, of
school districts. We’ve been studying the issue for decades—both governmental
agencies and private sector organizations. Some Chief Education Officers also
have completed feasibility studies in their districts to determine the benefits
and costs of regionalization. We have found
regionalization to be both complex and debatable.
there can be benefits derived from consolidating districts, such as articulation
across curriculum and increasing the number of course offerings, these may be
overshadowed by increased transportation costs, increased tax levies across the
affected municipalities, and increased costs related to negotiated labor
agreements. In addition, if a school district brings significant debt service
to the alliance there may be no savings and there may be new debt where none
existed. Importantly, there may not be a cost savings in merging districts.
September 2008 and June 2009, the New Jersey Association of School
conducted hearings in Mays Landing, Toms River, Freehold and Branchburg. We
invited residents to listen to a panel of experts on school district
consolidation, and included the perspective of legislators from Trenton. Surprisingly
or not, the conclusions of these sessions did not vary from the multitudes of
hearings and studies that have been conducted since the 1960’s.
· In general, regionalization or consolidation of school districts will not result in a net savings to taxpayers.
· Where tax savings would occur by regionalization, it almost always results in a tax increase to other districts entering the relationship.
· The districts that have been successful at regionalization—like the recent districts in Hunterdon—have been the exception, not the rule.
How New Jersey
Schools Are Cutting Costs
Importantly, regionalization is not the only way to cut costs. As a Chief Education Officer, I’m proud to say that New Jersey ranks 5th lowest in the Nation for school district administrative costs according to annual rankings by the National Center for Education Statistics. Here are some of the ways our members are reducing costs while not affecting any interruption to quality programs.:
Regional High School
shares a curriculum supervisor with their two sending districts.
· Collingswood Public Schools shares services with the Oaklyn Public Schools, including a child study team, custodial maintenance, technology and middle school athletics (the latter of which is also shared with the Woodlynne Public Schools).· The Oldmans Board of Education shares a business administrator and office secretary with the Greenwich Twp. and Stow Creek Twp. Boards of Education. Oldmans and Greenwich Twp. also share custodial services. There are many more shared service arrangements in Oldmans; these are just highlights.
In fact, all over the
state, school districts have joined with other districts and/or their
municipalities to purchase unleaded gasoline, diesel fuel and heating oil. Some districts have joined together to form
insurance pools. Everything from the
purchase of copy paper to the services of occupational and physical therapists,
speech therapists, psychologists, social workers, payroll services and grant
writers is being shared throughout New Jersey. This is just a small snapshot of
continuous efforts by NJASA members to look for ways in which school districts
can spend taxpayer money wisely.
Until such a time as
money for feasibility studies (estimated cost range is $25,000 to $75,000)
becomes available to school districts, we continue to encourage sharing
services and internal administrative efficiencies that reduce costs among
school districts and/or municipalities. Perhaps it’s also time to convene a
state-wide consortium at which the DOE, legislators, policy makers, school
districts, educational organizations and municipalities could talk about how
best to come together to implement services, and discuss the challenges and
solutions to any barriers that exist.
The 1998 final report of
the NJ Regionalization Advisory Panel (created under the CEIFA Act) said it
“It is the panel’s view that regionalization and increased use of shared services will improve educational opportunity, both by improving efficiency and by making better use of facilities and professional resources available to both local districts. Neither regionalization nor shared services is a panacea, however. They will not substitute for adequate funding of education. The most efficiently run school district will still incur considerable costs, including teachers’ salaries, maintenance of the physical plant, and investment in textbooks and technology."
From school budget and funding pressures, to shared services and school
security, and changes in teacher and principal assessments, chief education
officers are helping to shape policy, leading change and troubleshooting
challenges. If you live in New Jersey, whether you have children in the schools
or not, here are the items to watch for the 2014-2015 school year that have the
potential to impact your local district budgets, students and curriculum.
Are New Jersey school budgets set in stone?
While the state budget has already been set through
fiscal year through June 30, 2015, resolutions to several issues and court
cases could reallocate funds mid-stream during the year.
For example, 20 mostly southern rural districts, called
Bacon districts, that are educating a large population of students in poverty,
are fighting for the same equitable funding that has been afforded the Abbott
districts in Bacon
v. N.J. Department of Education. The funding was promised in a 2008
successful lawsuit. To date, the resources have never been provided. The
Education Law Center has recently filed a notice with the state requiring that
the funds be allocated. We’re awaiting the decision. If it’s approved, that
will potentially impact state aid to schools.
In addition, public employees are challenging
the Governor’s budget decision to withhold the required $2.25
billion dollars in funding of the state pension system. Governor Christie
recently cut a state payment to the New Jersey Pension Fund from $1.58 billion
to $696 million, due to an unanticipated shortfall in state revenue. If the
court decides the payment will be made, adjustments need to come from
Also, costs for providing for special education students
are rising at a faster rate than those for regular education. Districts are
challenged to support increasing costs for special education students within
the 2 percent cap to the tax levy. This creates another need for budget shifts.
Another factor to keep an eye on is the lawsuit seeking
to provide the cost
of living adjustments to public retirees. A favorable ruling will
require the state to provide a substantially larger portion of future state
budgets to meet growing pension payments.
All of these items have the potential to reduce needed
funding to local school districts.
Is it easy for New Jersey schools to share services or
A cost-saving trend in publicly funded services such as
police forces and schools is to examine ways save money by sharing services. Other
districts share purchase acquisitions on supplies, equipment and more. Many opportunities do exist, and each
situation is unique.
But there’s another trend to merge districts. This is
more than sharing services. In a merger, districts come together under one
umbrella of administration to save costs. Hunterdon County has just merged four
like-minded school districts. It works because the districts are similar in
demographics and approach. But what happens when a wealthy district tries to
merge with a poor one? It may turn out that shared service agreements will work
more seamlessly than mergers as districts try to sort out budgets.
|Do armed guards belong at school? |
While many schools are more secure than ever before,
school leaders are vigilant in their unwavering dedication to providing student
safety and security. There are ongoing conversations about whether armed guards
belong in schools and other ways to protect our students.
Phase-in of PARCC assessment implications is a good idea.
Governor Christie has decided to phase in the impact on
teacher and principal evaluations of the new online testing called PARCC,
the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. That’s a
prudent move as it will be the first year that all students take the
assessment. A gradual implementation gives us time to navigate the bumps and
challenges of an online assessment of higher standards. Over time, we’ll also
have to examine how the PARCC assessments will impact graduation requirements.
Educator evaluation in New Jersey will go forward with
proposed changes to the weights of student test scores. The AchieveNJ
will give teachers a chance
to get used to the new common core curriculum standards being rolled out this
year, and a new generation of standardized tests coming in 2014-15.
Should the State be in our districts?
Newark, Paterson and Jersey City have been under state
control for up to 20 years, but students in those districts still struggle to
pass state assessments. Camden became the fourth district under state control
in 2013. It doesn’t make sense to have the state in classrooms for decades,
without significant results. Perhaps a new model is needed.
NJASA offers professional development opportunities for school leaders.
New Jersey’s Chief Education Officers are working hard to
confront these challenges and others—always with the goal of the best interest
of our students. NJASA has several professional development options
for school administrators to learn and network so together they can guide New
Jersey schools to be the best they can be. NJASA programs include One Day
Seminars, New Superintendents’ Academy, and Superintendents’ Academy…Continued. Our Guide to NJASA Professional
Development for New Jersey School Leaders video has more information on our training programs.
Stay tuned to the New Jersey Association of School
Administrators website at www.njasa.net, this
blog and our Facebook page for continuing up-to-date
information on these critical issues and our professional programs. Our goal is
to help New Jersey students get the best possible education
and keep administrative costs down.
# # #
New Rules for Social Media in New Jersey’s Public Schools
By Dr. Richard Bozza
Recently, the Philadelphia Inquirer approached me for comment on a critical issue: responsible use of social media in schools. It’s a national conversation that’s coming to a head in New Jersey because of recent legislation.
The legislation attempts to regulate good digital citizenship, a key issue not only for chief education officers and other administrators but for teachers and parents. Social media is increasingly pervasive in society—and schools, which are microcosms of our society, are no exception. Yet with young people, the ramifications of social media misuse can be dangerous and devastatingly life changing. Here’s how chief education officers can manage the discussion and take the lead on policy decisions to protect our staff and students.
New Jersey Lawmakers Enter the National Conversation on Social Media
First, it’s important to understand how lawmakers are framing the discussion. The first bill (A3292) requires public school districts to teach our middle school students about the responsible use of social media, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The bill’s goal is to reduce cyber bullying. It will take effect in the 2014-15 school year.
The second bill (S441), signed into law on April 24, 2014, requires districts to adopt policies concerning electronic communications between employees and students. This includes e-mail, texting and Internet-based social media. For example, teachers would not be allowed to “friend” their students on Facebook or to text them—cutting off the potential for an inappropriate relationship.
Why Legislation Like This Is Needed
The New Jersey Association of School Administrators and the New Jersey School Boards Association support both bills. School district policies and curricula have to respond to the new reality—that we’re functioning in a digital world. At issue is the safety of our students and staff.
Consider the repercussions when something goes horribly wrong in that digital world. It can range from humiliation to shunning to lawsuits to paying the ultimate price—tragically, suicide. Cyberbullying is inherent in this anonymous medium. Watch our video on cyberbullying to review some of the issues faced by teachers, parents and students.
It is clear we need to prepare our students and staff to deal with these issues, effectively pre-empting them rather than reacting to them after the fact. Unfortunately, we don’t have the past to help inform our actions. We don’t have a single model on which to rely; even the gaming fad of the latter 20th century didn’t include many of the issues inherent in social media. We’re learning as we go, making educated decisions based on the kinds of problems that have surfaced. Importantly, our cyber policies will continue to morph as new situations arise or new technologies present opportunities for misuse.
NJ Schools Encourage Students to Bring Technology
USA Today picked up a story from the Asbury Park Press last September about New Jersey’s bring-your-own-device programs. Many of our schools are encouraging students to bring in their tablets, smart phones and laptops to save money on technology budgets.
I was quoted as saying, “Before, in schools we were worried that when phones became smartphones they'd be distractions and (students would) do things inappropriately, but we need to get over that and recognize the power kids have in their hands.”
It’s clear now that without the proper guidance, students could use that power inappropriately. That’s where responsible digital leadership comes in. We need to have programs in place that educate students, teachers and parents.
Kudos to Colleagues Who Are Taking the Lead
Legislation is mandating social media and digital communications policy, but many of New Jersey’s districts already are taking action. Here are just three examples:
· In Mount Laurel, Superintendent Antoinette Rath has had a written policy on social networking and electronic communities since 2009. The district also holds an annual cyber safety workshop for parents.
· The Haddonfield district requires sixth graders to take a course that teaches responsible Internet use.
· In Somerville, a policy in development prohibits teachers from “friending” students on social networking sites or sending text messages to students.
5 Tips to Promote Good Digital Citizenship in Your District
1. Look at the current state of your digital communications policies and where you would like to see them in the future. Then outline the steps that will take you there.
2. Research your options. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Learn what other districts are doing. Duplicate their successes, and weigh in on the conversation with your own successes and challenges.
3. Build consensus anytime you are launching new policies. Share the vision. Give each of your stakeholders—teachers, parents, students—a chance to ask questions and make suggestions.
4. Put your policy in writing. Post it online on your website. Email it to your teachers and school families. Review its tenets at Back to School Night and staff meetings. Make sure everyone is clearly aware of your district’s policies.
5. Teach students, teachers and parents how to build successful learning communities in a digital world. We can work together to harness the power of digital communications and avoid the dangers.
Now is Your Chance to ‘Weigh In’
We need you to be part of the conversation. How are you educating staff and students about social media in your district? We would like to spread the word about what Chief Education Officers are doing to help protect New Jersey’s students and staff. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your story.
There have been a lot of changes in New Jersey education over the last several years and it’s only going to continue to move in a more modern direction, fueled by technology. It’s important that New Jersey school districts continue to communicate and work together to make these transitions as smooth as possible, and share our experience for the betterment of New Jersey education. With so many issues facing New Jersey chief education officers in the coming year, how we can minimize stress and disruption in the classroom?
Below we discuss some of the major education issues facing New Jersey school districts, but we also discuss them at our professional development seminars where we are able to learn from each other’s experience and expertise. This is a very important time in New Jersey education and we are the chosen ones responsible for shaping what education looks like in the future.
Longer School Day And Year
Governor Chris Christie called for a major scheduling change during his 2014 State-of-the-State address. He wants longer school days and a longer school year. We recognize that a 180-day school year and a six-hour school day are both relics of the past. That’s why extending the school day and year has been part of the education dialogue for decades, but the challenge is in the implementation.
There is a cost—in staffing and facilities. According to nj.com1, an elementary school in Arizona added 132 hours to the school year at a cost of $290 per student, while a school in Massachusetts added 540 hours at a cost of $1,695 a student. When calculated as cost per hour per student, the additional expenses ranged from $2.20 to $5.23.
Who will pay for the additional time for schools to be open? Is the funding going to come from already strapped school budgets?
Common Core Implementation
Forty-five states, including New Jersey, have adopted the Common Core standards and are in the process of implementing new curriculum. The standards require an interactive approach to testing. We can no longer evaluate students in a classroom with paper and pencil tests. But some schools don’t have enough devices—and all districts are going to be challenged by budgeting for this expense.
Not only that, switching over to interactive testing is going to be cumbersome, at least initially. We’ll have to plan to minimize any disruption to the educational process.
Here are some tips to keep stress in the classroom low:
Teacher and principal assessment now requires multiple measures, which is good in theory. In reality, it’s challenging. There’s limited time for administrators to complete the increased number of classroom observations. But the stakes are high. After all, the results will determine whether teachers and principals keep their jobs.
New Jersey has long underfunded the state pension system. Now it’s trying to ‘catch up’ with a funding commitment over the next seven years. Again, that’s good in theory. In practice, however, that means less money for school budgets. These are budgets are already stretched to the limit. Yet the state continues to require districts to do more, with less.
New Jersey’s Chief Education Officers are working hard to confront these challenges and others.
We’re at an exciting time in New Jersey schools, at a crossroads of traditional methods and a futuristic focus. Our goal is to determine what a successful public education system will look like in 2020 and beyond.