Are Romney and Obama’s Education Platforms Really So Similar?September 6, 2012
Another Case of Strange BedfellowsSeptember 7, 2012
Yesterday the Christie Administration released the long-awaited the Education Transformation Task Force report. As NJ Spotlight reports, the 239-page report “was a gargantuan effort, with teams of educators and lawyers poring over more than 3,000 pages of the state’s voluminous laws and administrative code over the past six months.” (Also see overview from Courier Post.) Or, as the Task Force puts it,
Through the superintendents’ survey and countless conversations with educators across New Jersey, the Department learned that the State over the course of many years saddled educators with rules on every subject imaginable. The result is an accretion of provisions in statutes and regulations that ties the hands of schools and districts and stymies innovation. This not only frustrates good people trying to help students learn, it also increases costs and, on occasion, even erects obstacles to student achievement.
Predictably, there’s something to offend everyone, from NJEA to NJ School Boards Association, to special education advocates, to home rule fanatics. Here’s some highlights:
- Pass the Opportunity Scholarship Act.
- Eliminate LIFO, or seniority-based lay-offs.
- Allow school boards to opt out of the civil service system “by the same manner in which they entered it – by ordinance or referendum signed by 15 percent of the voters. The civil service system imposes on school districts a Byzantine set of rules that impedes their efforts to innovate and improve student performance. “
- Reinstate the old (and effective) ability of school boards to impose “last, best offer” when negotiations between districts and bargaining units break down. “As proposed by the Governor as part of his property tax reform toolkit, eliminating this ban would help school districts save taxpayer funds.”
- Allow the Commissioner to take control of persistently failing school districts: “This new policy would reinforce the Department’s focus on schools, rather than on districts, as the primary agents of change. It also addresses a shameful reality the Task Force feels compelled to highlight. For too many generations of children, we as a State have gnashed our teeth, wrung our hands and then essentially ignored a group of more than 100 schools that utterly fail to educate thousands of the State’s deserving students. The time has come to declare unambiguously that our patience is exhausted and that we will no longer tolerate the existence of what U.S Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has termed “dropout factories” and other schools where a majority of students can neither read nor do basic math.”
- Harshly edit the State’s method of monitoring each of NJ school districts, which is called QSAC, or the Quality Single Accountability Consortium. (New verb heard among beleaguered school board members and administrators: “We’re being QSAC’d.”)
- Push the Legislature to amend the law that restricts school board member training to NJSBA in order to “expand the market of providers to ensure high standards are met and board members are well trained. Other providers may also be able to provide effective training at a lower cost, possibly through technology.”
- Facilitate district mergers by passing a new law that would not require districts to adhere to the collective bargaining agreement of the larger district, which would “remove a key impediment to consolidation.”
- Change the law that sets a 33.5% cap on annual increases in dues to NJSBA and set the cap at 2%. Make a portion of the dues optional and “require the NJSBA to operate more under a fee-for-service structure, where board members pay for specific services that they deem valuable.”
- Have the Legislature change the law that requires districts to provide school employees 10 days per year of sick leave per year and let the matter be settled through collective bargaining. “Additionally, the effect of the law has been to set a negotiation “floor” that districts often substantially exceed. Many districts far exceed the minimum, routinely offering 15 days of sick leave and some offering up to 25 days – five full weeks – for some teachers. “
- Make paid leave for NJEA conferences – teachers must currently be granted two days of paid leave each year – subject to collective bargaining.
- “Current law allows districts to enter into contracts with vendors to provide student transportation for up to four years with annual cost increases of up to 7.5 percent.” Make the cap 2%.
- Streamline the implementation of the Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying Act.
- The DOE can’t keep up with the work involved in auditing tuition at private schools for students with disabilities (PSSD’s). Legislation aimed at controlling tuition costs doesn’t work, “as the rates for PSSD tuition have increased substantially since the inception of this regulation.”
Taxpayers are suspicious that PSSDs are deliberately and artificially increasing their costs; PSSDs are suspicious that they have been targeted for extreme scrutiny and have been given an automatic presumption of dishonesty; and school districts are made party to a payment system over which they have little control and that almost always results in districts ultimately having to pay large amounts to PSSDs for underpayment of tuition.
To prove this point, the report cites a regulation that says that “no PSSD administrator may be paid more than the highest paid public school employee in the State with the same administrative job title.” Then there’s a chart (see page 141) that lists salaries at PSSD’s that exceed public school employees.