From Our In-Coming Big Cheese

Here’s Governor-Elect Christie (courtesy of the Asbury Park Press) on how to cut school costs, the main driver of N.J.’s crippling property taxes:

1) Eliminate loopholes that allow both school districts and municipalities to bypass our soft 4% cap on annual increases. Christie: “[We’ll enact reforms] that will make it a hard cap. Right now we have a Swiss cheese cap.
2) Stop the “teacher contracts that increase salaries by 4 to 5 percent and then, on top of it, layer onto it health benefit increases and pension expenses increases.”
3) Review “mid-level management jobs at schools” because “we no longer can have that plethora of mid-management…that are not necessarily bringing quality to the classroom.
4) Control school spending at the state level. However, "if all you do is cut aid and you don't do the downstream capping of expenditures at the local level, history tells us that school boards will just raise spending at the municipal level and pass that on to the taxpayer."

Give him two years, says Christie. If he doesn’t succeed by then, he’ll call for a constitutional convention.

Will it work? The devil’s in the details. He can try to legislate a Parmigiano Reggiano cap, but it’s unclear how he’ll lower contractual salary increases without repairing our non-binding arbitration system. Many schools lack the plethora of middle managers already – in fact, state accountability standards already penalize schools that creep over the student/administrator ratio. The bulge is in our poor urban districts, however. Example: the average ratio on students to administrators in N.J. is 1/178.8. However, in Newark’s Central High (more on that tomorrow), the student/administrator ratio is 1/71.5 (which may in part account for the Newark’s comparative cost per pupil: $18,580).

Christie utters nary a word about consolidation and shared services, Corzine’s efficiency hobbyhorse. Christie may be correct to disregard a lost cause since voters seem likely to veto any proposed consolidation of school districts. Question: each of our 21 counties has employed for the past two years an Executive County Superintendent whose job description is focused on offering plans for consolidation by March 2010. Each has about a $200K salary and benefits package, about $4 million in total. Does that count as middle management?

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