New WHYY Post: Why Is Camden’s Turn-Around Plan Getting A Better Reception Than Newark’s?January 30, 2014
Sunday LeftoversFebruary 2, 2014
We’re awash in a new superstorm called Bridgegate whose land impact is TBD, but you can count on one thing in the next Legislative session: Steve Sweeney is going to be all over municipal reform. George Amick reports that the Senate President (and gubernatorial hopeful) has a mandatory shared services bill ready to go that goes by the moniker S1 to assure its primacy. Amick writes,
His objective in promoting service sharing, Sweeney has told the unions, is not to trim the ranks of ordinary municipal workers, but to eliminate surplus administrators — police chiefs, police captains, department directors — who draw the big salaries and benefits…
If all else fails, Sweeney said, he has another plan in reserve. He’ll push to lower the 2 percent cap on annual property tax increases to zero. Exceptions still would be allowed for emergencies. He regrets not taking that route when the Legislature and Christie enacted the 2 percent limit.
“How much quicker would we be seeing towns share services, if we had put the cap at zero,” he once told me. “They would have to conform. I thought at the time, ‘You have to be fair and reasonable,’ but now I see towns still refusing to share, or even to look.“I don’t have enough money to run my own government, let alone subsidize government that’s inefficient.”
I know I’m being edu-centric here, but Sweeney’s sentiments share a certain similarity with those of Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard. (Check out my column today at WHYY on what Newark could learn from Camden.)
Like Sweeney, Rouhanifard is focused on surplus administrators who drain disproportionate resources from the fiscally-strapped district. In the “Camden Commitment,” Rouhanifard’s proposal for restructuring the system, he remarks that the district’s “wasteful spending” is in large part a product of “underutilized schools, overstaffed schools, and disproportionate levels of administrative and support services.”
In other words, it’s not just municipalities with “surplus administrators” but also a few school districts.
The State DOE measures ratios of administrators to students. According to the most recent School Performance Reports (just out this week), there are 120 students to every Camden Public Schools administrator. For comparison’s sake, let’s look at Trenton, another Abbott district with a similar enrollment and number of school buildings (and its own set of problems). In Trenton there are 324 students for each administrator.
There are lots of variables in determining the necessary corps of principals, supervisors, directors, and other administrators within a district and, certainly, tenure rules play a part. But shouldn’t this be less arbitrary? Is it one kids per administrator? 300? Is Trenton understaffed? Is Camden overstaffed? There’s no formula but you’d think we could come up with some general guidelines.