Redesigning High School RedesignFebruary 19, 2009
Sunday LeftoversFebruary 22, 2009
This month’s “School Leader,” NJSBA’s bimonthly magazine, mostly comprises a special section called “Regionalization: New Jersey Takes Another Look at Combining Districts.” First, Commissioner Lucille Davy makes the case for moving ahead with the consolidation of school districts. And then, wham: most of the leadership of NJSBA submits her to a slapfest.
Well, it’s not so much an assault as a polite and politic undermining of every argument she makes in favor of regionalization, from whether or not it saves money, to whether or not communities will approve merges, to whether or not it has educational advantages, to how the unions will react. But somehow you can’t help imagining the skinny nerd with the taped-together glasses getting shoved into a locker by the top jocks in the cool clique.
There’s also a partial transcript from the NJSBA November Delegate Assembly, which included a panel discussion on school district regionalization. See our post here regarding that raucous event.
Here’s a few highlights:
Davy’s earnest defense for consolidating school district includes a dab of valium: settle down, guys, she counsels: the list of objections to Corzine and the DOE’s plans are just “myths and misperceptions.” It’s better to regionalize because it facilities curricular consistency, expands options for small districts, and centralizes administration but not facilities.
Then Frank Belluscio, head spokesman for NJSBA, lands the first punch, walking us through the failed history of attempted consolidation in New Jersey since 1969:
In fact, with the possible exception of the Kean Administration (1982-1989), every governor since Brendan Byrne (1974-1981) has promoted some type of regionalization initiative. In the end though, these state-produced recommendations, which usually contained an element of forced regionalization, went nowhere—as have most locally initiated regionalization discussions.
He takes another jab with an extended explanation of how NJ’s education costs are really very low (uh, really? We’re the second highest nationwide – maybe he doubled up on his valium) and how consolidation would actually raise costs. In large part this would happen because NJ Administrative Code mandates that in the event of a consolidation the larger collective bargaining unit’s contract would prevail and the assumption is that the salaries are higher in a larger group.
Curt Wary, Directors of NJSBA Labor Relations, takes over and goes into more detail about higher teacher costs:
If seniority entitlements result in a regional district having a more senior work force, this may present both financial and labor relations complications. For example, a new regional district could incur a greater overall salary cost, as a result of more advanced placement of senior staff on the salary guide, and possible entitlement to longevity payments. Boards may also find that a senior staff is more resistant to changes in terms and conditions of employment, such as managed health care plans, professional development requirements, salary guide restructuring, and limitations on payment for unused sick leave.
(Hmmm. We’re not talking about lowering class size, so we won’t necessarily decrease the number of teachers. Oof! Just got sucker-punched.)
Then Michael Kaaelber, NJSBA’s Director of Legal and Policy Services, jumps in, discussing the apportionment of board seats on a regionalized board and, more importantly, cost apportionment among districts. He concludes pessimistically,
It would appear that for the immediate future, the executive county superintendents will continue to encourage school districts to explore regionalization. Given the impediments of cost allocation with winners and losers, the political power of seat apportionment on the regional board of education and New Jersey’s long standing tradition of home rule, the prospect of voluntary regionalization on a large scale is unlikely.
Now you have to step back and size up this scene: under the pretense of politeness, comity, and shared purpose, the trade group representing the officials of the to-be-consolidated districts destroys the State’s argument for its most reform-minded initiative. New Jersey’s history of failing over and over again to create economies of scale in schools is daunting enough. And while Corzine and the DOE have found a few allies among the Legislature (Shirley Turner comes to mind), their failure/carelessness to bring the major lobbying groups on board for a reform that depends on community approval seems, well, a bit masochistic.
Logic dictates that the only way to create a more equitable school system is to standardize curricula and get our municipal madness down to a sane size. For the former, the DOE’s made a valiant effort but is already forfeiting major points by pushing too hard and too fast. (See post directly below this one.) For the latter, it’s looking pretty dim, at least according to the New Jersey School Boards Association.