Archive for the ‘Regional Schools’ Category

In the mid-90’s there was an “independent film” ( I put that in quotation marks because this was around the time America was obsessed with movies that were well – you know, ‘independent’ ) called “Kicking and Screaming” about a bunch of college friends who graduate school, but can’t really let it go. So, instead of  moving back home and trying their luck in the real world, they return to school to attend freshman parties and live in a big house together off-campus. Anyway, you can imagine where this goes from here…a buncha over-educated and under-skilled dudes who make pithy comments and wry observations about college life when in fact, they are the losers who have failed to move on.

I feel like there is a bit of a stubborn reluctance amongst the Democrats to take up the tool kit. The Assembly has passed no bills, and while the Senate has passed one, they haven’t tackled any of the tough stuff even in committees. In fairness, the Senate Budget Committee has been holding hearings through the Summer. And Monday they passed new limits for public workers on unused sick time. But even the Senate Budge hasn’t taken on the sacred cows such as arbitration and civil service reform.

Chairman Paul Sarlo told reporters today that the “civil service opt-out provision is off the table.” Sarlo said Sweeney was the one who said that already, but I don’t recall him being so definitive. Anyway, the larger issue here appears to be in the Assembly.

Republican Assemblymen Vince Polistina and Domenick DiCicco issued statements criticizing the Democrats for convening committees Monday but failing yet again to take on the tool kit items. That prompted a sharply worded response from Dem Communications Director Tom Hester Jr.

The point here is that some of the tool kit will pass, and some will not. Democrats wouldn’t be Democrats if they passed all the bills as they currently are…But one might humbly suggest that they at least get to work figuring out what in those bills will work, and sifting out those ideas that won’t.

Speaker Oliver told us in an interview last month for NJN’s On The Record that she agrees the tool kit is just as important as the 2% cap. That is how the local communities will be able to comply with cap come January. So, let’s get to work.

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We hear an awful lot about why people are leaving New Jersey – taxes too high, cost of living is unaffordable, not enough private sector work. Lost in those valid arguments is a solid exploration of why people move here. That is the other side of the coin and it is an equally important discussion to be having.

People like their individual towns. They move here and stay here because they like that quaint hometown feeling. They like having their own town hall. They like their own police force, and they like that the schools are good. People enjoy the Penny-Lane romanticization of riding down main street with a fireman washing his truck, waving and calling your son by name. It’s not a fantasy. For some it is real life. But guess what? Those things cost money. The town hall requires maintenance and upkeep, the Police Chief probably makes $125,000 and those schools are “good” because they have nice grassy fields, smart committed teachers and a lunchroom that won’t make you gag.

So, when you start cutting money from those things people get nervous. They are not nervous yet, because right now there is this anti-property tax fever that has led to what some have argued is an arbitrary and perhaps hasty 2% cap.

The counter argument to supporting a cap above all other considerations is this: people might be even more inclined to leave the state if all those things that made it so appealing in their chosen town start to falter. Suddenly, that once cute town hall needs a coat of paint and looks shabby and rundown since the local Public Works Department laid off half it’s staff. That Police Chief is gone, along with a handful of those nice cops who you once played football with in High School. And finally, the school no longer holds a competitive advantage because young, qualified teachers don’t wanna relocate there…the pay is too low.

Another point to consider – we are living in a unique period of history. The economy really is as bad as it has been in several generations. But it will turn around. These things are cyclical. And if there is one thing we have learned about a crisis it’s that it doesn’t always lend itself to rational policy making. Particularly when the decisions that will greatly impact communities are made under duress over a holiday weekend.

I mean, look what happened with TARP. In 2008, the economy was in a full meltdown. Congress rushed in to pass the nearly $700 billion bank bailout. They attached no requirement that the banks then use that money to lend. And they put no stipulations on how it should be spent. I am not an economist so I don’t know whether that bailout was even necessary. My thought is that you let the guys who gambled with other people’s money go down. Nothing would have prevented a repeat performance more than letting the Capitanes of Industry go down with their respective ships. But regardless of what the right response was or should have been, it’s probably safe to say the legislation could have been a little less “we trust you’ll do the right thing” and a little more “this will guarantee you do the right thing.”

Finally, there is the Reform New Jersey Now element. This organization has been running ads urging action on the cap. Democrats have called on the Governor to disclose the donor list. Mike DuHaime, the Governor’s campaign strategist has said they will do so by the end of the year. The group’s tax status is such that they do not have to reveal that donor list. However, is it strange that this unknown group of people are driving the policy agenda in New Jersey? Not only driving it, but making sure lawmakers agree to a cap deal over July 4th weekend, and that it gets voted on within a week. Does that make good policy? Maybe. We’ll see.

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It’s that time of the year again. The New Jersey Press Association presents the Legislative Correspondent’s Club annual show.

Basically, the state’s  ( now dwindling ) press corps performs a series of skits and songs that mock the political and media elite of the Garden State. It is often quite funny replete with costumes, wigs and other flamboyant accessories that would make even Elton John blush.

As for my role…well, I am El Presidente this year. That means I don’t actually have to sing ( which is not my strong suit ). I have to deliver the introductory speech which is supposed to be funny and slightly mean spirited. Well, I don’t know how funny it shall be, although I’m working on it. It will most certainly be biting, and of course familiar.

Then of course, after the show is over, people get to stand around and hang out in a cocktail party-type atmosphere which is even more fun. And the whole evening is off the record. So, if you are remotely interested, I urge you to purchase tickets. Proceeds go to charity.

Contact Peg Stephan 609-406-0600 ext. 14. or pastephan@njpa.org

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It was one of those surreal moments I had…finding myself rhetorically asking the question ‘so, what took so long???’

The Governor was in Haddonfield to sign legislation eliminating non-operating school districts. That’s another one of those State House-jargon phrases which basically means districts that have no schools. Apparently there are 26 of them throughout New Jersey. In some cases, those districts have only one student who they send to a nearby district which is equipped with an elementary, middle and in some cases even a high school.

But the non-operating district may still have a school board, may still have a part-time Business Ddministrator and more than likely someone there needs to file annual reports. In other words: a layer of bureacracy.

Well, with a  sweep of his pen the Governor eliminated those districts and presumably the overhead that goes along with them. 13 will be dissolved this year and another 13 next fiscal year. So good riddance.

New Jersey has 566 municipalities and 616 school districts. How is that possible you ask??? Good question. I have no answer for you. And New Jerseyans wonder why their property taxes are high. Well, layers of local government, particulary school administration, make costs go up and stay up.

But here is the flip side…so that I can also show myself to be the unbiased reporter that I am. Every time New Jersey tried to get rid of some of these districts ( going back to 1969 ) there was pushback. Yes, part of that is due to people trying to preserve their jobs but there is more to it than that. And here is the crux of the complicated dichotomy between home rule, and protecting state taxpayers.

New Jersey has good schools. Great schools, actually. Test scores and graduation rates reflect that, particularly in the suburbs. And people move here for a nice environment to raise their kids. Not only are good schools key to that lure, but people also like their nice towns with their own police forces and small city halls. You don’t wanna mess with that too much. Bceause once you take away what is appealing about moving the fam out to the garden State suburbs…people could stop doing it. Then there wouldn’t be any tax dollars to argue about.

Just something to think about, although eliminating districts with no schools is probably tough to argue with.

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Children with special needs have, well, special needs.

for 30 years the state has had a seperate school system for the severely disabled and other children with behavioral issues.

Known as Regional Schools, they currently fall under the purview of the Department of Children and Families. And that, my friends, brings me to this blogpost because Kimberly Ricketts from DCF testified before the Assembly Budget Committee yesterday.

The issue of these regional schools dominated the hearing, which was ostensibly about next year’s budget.

As it turns out, there are 560 students in these 18 regional schools. They are all are scheduled to close just in time for the next school year forcing these students into the care of the local school districts.

Parents of these children are furious. They say the state is doing this hastily without a proper plan. They say school budgets have already been approved, and thses new students are going to cost additional money.

The state counters that it will save $4 million ( which by the way, is not whole heck of a lot in a $30 billion budget ).

Ricketts claims this plan has been in the works for more than ten years, and obviously they will not allow children to slip through the cracks. Everyone will have a place to go.

But it does raise questions about how prepared local districts are to handle an influx of new students who have previously needed a special kind of care.

Let’s hope someone has a plan because if there is one, the parents say “we haven’t heard it.”

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