Tuesday, January 31, 2012

129 NJ School Boards Move to November Elections

That's the latest tally from New Jersey School Boards Association, about 25% of all school boards. The deadline for passing a resolution is Feb. 17th, lots of time yet. Apparently the carrot of bypassing budget votes overwhelms the stick of board elections in November.

Harassment, Intimidation, Bullying Law Update

On Friday NJ’s Council on Local Mandates ruled that our new Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying legislation is, at least in part, an unfunded mandate. Under New Jersey law those sections which require district expenditures are nullified.

NJ Spotlight cites bill sponsor Valerie Huttle, who said that she wants to find funding for the bill rather than rewrite it. The original bill’s language mandated that school districts spend no money implementing the legislation, an impossible feat given the need for school-wide training, additional staff time, paperwork, etc. Allamuchy Township, which brought suit against the State, estimated its costs at $20,000. According to Spotlight, “extrapolating Allamuchy's staffing costs comes to $10 million to $15 million, but a staff analysis by the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services a year ago said it could not put a price tag on the law, since each district would handle the responsibilities differently.”

Stay tuned.

Speaking of New Jersey civil rights history,

the Press of Atlantic City examines the segregation of poor minority students into Abbott districts and finds that “[w]hile racial segregation was banned more than a half-century ago, many local schools are still segregated across socioeconomic lines, and those lines often mirror the old racial ones.”

Explains Education Law Center David Sciarra,

A small number of school districts serve very high concentrations of poor students and students of color. By and large, that describes the New Jersey public school system in 1970, and that’s the system we have today.

At Atlantic City High School, according to the Press, less than 8% of kids are white. Eleven miles away in Linwood (Mainland Regional High School) 78% are white.

"Direct Democracy Could Sometimes Crush the Interests of a Minority in Society"

What’s wrong with a public referendum for a charter school? It’s “democratic,” right? Why not subject each aspiring charter to a public vote, as proposed in Assembly Bill 1877?

From today’s New York Times (regarding a Federal lawsuit in Colorado):
One professor of constitutional law, Wilson R. Huhn at the University of Akron School of Law in Ohio, said that recent scholarly research supported the Madisonian notion that direct democracy could sometimes crush the interests of a minority in society — in votes, for example, to ban same-sex marriage.
Sometimes it takes leadership from legislators, which is why Gov. Christie’s suggestion that NJ hold a public referendum on same-sex marriage has elicited scorn from civil rights heroes like John Lewis. Here’s Representative Lewis’s remarks:
"Apparently the governor of the state has not read his recent history books. We would never have won (civil rights for African-Americans with a referendum). The actions of Congress and executive orders brought down those signs that said 'colored only' and 'whites only. If two women or two men want to get married, that is a question of human dignity and of human rights," Lewis said. "The day will come when people look back at this and say 'we were just silly.'"
Congressman Rush Holt added, "For the governor to say a referendum should replace courage - that shows he doesn't understand history.”

For the sponsors of A 1877 to advocate public approval for a new charter shows that they don't understand history.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Is SOS-NJ Consulting for Gov, Christie:?

When I wrote in my Spotlight editorial on Friday that the existence of charter schools provokes a disproportional response from charter detractors, I was right. 52 comments now append the piece, a NJ Spotlight record! (Hmmm…perhaps I should get paid by the comment.)

One additional thought. A majority of the commenters seems to share the belief that the State Legislature shouldn't have the right to pass laws that delegate the charter school authorization process to some combination of the DOE and other authorizing agencies. Instead, any aspiring charter school should be subjected to a community-wide referendum.

Stay with me here. This past Tuesday Gov. Christie responded to a move by the NJ State Legislature to consider a bill allowing same-sex marriage with this bon mot: “The fact of the matter is, I think people would have been happy to have a referendum on civil rights rather than fighting and dying in the streets in the South," Christie said during a press conference on Tuesday.

Civil rights on the ballot? Now there’s a lame-brained idea. Reaction was fierce.

Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver: “Governor, people were fighting and dying in the streets of the South because the majority refused to grant minorities equal rights by any method. It took legislative action to bring justice to all Americans, just as legislative action is the right way to bring marriage equality to all New Jerseyans.”

Newark Mayor Cory Booker: “Dear God, we should not be putting civil rights issues to a popular vote, to be subject to the sentiments, the passions of the day. No minority should have their rights subject to the passions and the sentiments of the majority. This is the fundamental bedrock of what our nation stands for.” Booker added that Jackie Robinson would never have broken baseball’s color barrier if the matter had been put to a vote. (Great video here.)

Steven Goldstein,
head of Garden State Equality: “There would be no civil rights in this country — certainly nowhere near what we have — if it were determined by referendum.” Goldstein added, “a public vote on the issue would not really reflect the will of the people. A referendum reflects which side can corrupt the political system with more money.”

Let’s unpack this. Gov. Christie wants to quash any possibility that NJ would grant civil rights to the gay community. His best avenue towards such a result is to call for a public referendum. He gets to genuflect towards democracy (what’s more democratic than a vote?) while secure in the knowledge that such a referendum wouldn’t pass because it affects a minority of the community.

Great strategy, although everyone seems to be on to him. Maybe he owe SOS-NJ a consulting fee. After all, it’s the same tactic: cloak oneself with the flag and bypass the State Legislature's authority to protect the (educational/civil) rights of a minority community.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sunday Leftovers

Allamuchy Township Public Schools filed a complaint with the state Council on Local Mandates regarding the new Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying legislation, arguing that it’s an unfunded mandate. (Duh.) The Council just ruled that Allamuchy is right, and that the State Legislature blew it when it approved the law and provided no funds to meet the necessary professional development and increased staffing. (Star-Ledger; press release from Assembly Democrats here.)

Either the legislation will need to be recrafted to streamline the plethora of paperwork and manpower necessary for compliance or the State will need to fund it. Stay tuned.

From the Wall Street Journal: unlike more affluent districts, "New Jersey's poorest school districts were hit hard by the recession and changes in state funding, a one-two punch that led to steep cuts that reached into the classroom, according to a study by Federal Reserve Bank of New York economists."

Check our NJ Future for a discussion of a proposal in Hunterdon County to regionalize its 30 school districts. More here from Star-Ledger.

Some highly-paid NJ school superintendents, now faced with State-issued salary caps, are moving to greener pastures in New York. (NJ Spotlight)

The Courier-Post examines NJ's recent grade on the way we train, evaluate, and award tenure public school teachers (a D-) from the National Center on Teacher Quality.

There's a new advocacy group, Lakewood Unite, with a mission to “monitor inequities and irregularities in the Lakewood School District’s budgeting and procurement process” and “to address the inequities in the Lakewood School District Special Education Program.” (Some back story here.)

The deadline for NJ school boards to move elections to November (and bypass the budget vote on budgets below the 2% cap) is Feb. 17th.