The political rhetoric is raging as the State Legislature approved more bills reining in the autonomy of local school districts. Interestingly enough, we’ve seen no return salvos from the other side (i.e., the NJ School Boards Association and the NJEA). In the last couple of days two bills have passed through the Senate that curtails local control and nary a whisper from the stalwarts of the status quo.
First, the Senate Education Committee approved Bill S2161, which legislates how many days a school district can use a substitute teacher to cover a class. The Senate also approved A-2975, which limits superintendent severance packages and various retirement perks.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Who could quibble with such commonsensical mandates? On the other hand, these are matters that have traditionally been left to local districts and the clear implication from the State is that local school boards are too dumb to manage these issues on their own. More interesting is the inflated language that has been produced by our senators and assembly members.
For instance, Senator Shirley Turner, Chair of the Education Committee and one of the sponsors of the bill regulating use of substitute teachers fumed,
When a school district ha a teacher shortage, it shouldn’t be masked by the overuse of substitute teachers. School district personnel have to get out from behind their desks and aggressively recruit the best teachers. It’s not good enough for school administrators to just sit in their offices while they wait around for prospective teachers to respond to want ads.
Turner seems to think that lazy district administrators loll around eating bonbons and wait for the phone to ring. Just a tad insulting. And regarding A-2975, the bill regulating superintendent buy-outs, sponsor Assemblyman Joseph Cryan emoted,
Some school superintendents have taken the mistaken view that money meant for the classroom would be better spent financing their personal diamond-encrusted, taxpayer-provided nest eggs. The residents of New Jersey are rightfully outraged at seeing their tax dollars used to provide departing superintendents with these offensive payouts.
The trend is clear. The State is on a trajectory to castrate local control, emitting more and more bills and regulations that cut off local mojo. And maybe in the end that’s better for the kids. (Who knows? We’ve never tried it.) But at the very least we ought to wonder how our enervated Department of Education will cope with this new scope of responsibility and whether or not the citizens of New Jersey, largely devoted to home rule, will support this tacit siege.