Tilting at WindmillsNovember 21, 2008
Rumor Has it…November 24, 2008
New Jersey School Boards Association had their Delegate Assembly on Saturday, including a panel discussion called “The Challenges, Opportunities, and Future of School District Regionalization.” The moderator, Michael Aron of NJN News, did his best to protect DOE Assistant Commissioner Dr. Gerald Vernotica from the two hundred or so outraged school board members in the audience. No need to belabor the obvious – mandated regionalization and consolidation is unfunded, poorly conceived, doomed to Nowheresville – but here’s a few samplings:
From one of the panelists, Assemblyman Scott Rumana, who had a fine time playing to the bleachers:
“I believe in local government.”
“I don’t believe the State should be directing you how to run yours.”
“I’m firmly committed to what we do being in the hands of local communities…Small government is the most efficient arrangement.”
Mandated consolidation is the “ultimate unfunded mandate.”
From Vito Gagliardi, a school board attorney:
“Since 1966 there has been 3 instances of consolidation. The law as it exists will never allow for savings.”
Question from Aron: “Is the consensus that short of forced regionalization there will be no regionalization?”
Michael Vrancik, NJSBA Director, Government Relations: “There will be no forced regionalization
“New Jersey has been a home rule state forever.”
Here’s a fun one: DOE sacrificial lamb Vernotica is asked if the government is committed to compensating a district during a consolidation when it loses money due to having to pay more taxes or higher salaries:
DOE S.L. :”Yes, (we are committed to the compensation) absent the dollars.”
So what exactly is going on here? The State can only force regionalization or consolidation on districts after each district votes in favor of such a measure (the 23 non-operating districts don’t get a vote) and there is neither political will nor fiscal logic to force the issue. The DOE’s endless eruption of regulatory minutiae on consolidation (178 pages just this past week) seems doomed to rot in the Dead Regulation Office.
So, why is the DOE putting its energies into a pointless exercise? Is it a back-end run around the Abbott district funding, which sinks the State deeper and deeper into financial debt and bad press? Is the point to create a new educational structure that overturns home rule and excises Abbott districts from running the show?
Corzine originally intended to consolidate our 600+ school districts into 21 county districts. He’s given that up. At best, these new initiatives will rid New Jersey of the 23 non-ops, and there was even opposition to that on Saturday morning. What could account for the DOE’s investment of time, political capital, and printer ink? Any ideas?