You Know That Business About Consolidating School Districts?

Never mind. That’s the report from New Jersey School Boards Association based on remarks from Bret Schundler regarding “the centerpiece of 2007 legislation,” reducing the number of school districts in NJ. At 591, we win the prize for inefficiency, yet our lust for home rule makes any concession unpalatable, at least to the tens of thousands of politicians (yes, including school board members) whose egos are quenched by this quintessential Jersey fever.

So in 2007 former Gov. Corzine appointed an Executive County Superintendent to each of our 21 counties, with the explicit mandate to come up with consolidation plans by March 2010. Many devoted enormous amounts of time (and staff and money) to public meetings, analyses, and proposals, despite statutes that forbid consolidation if one district says no and consistent public skepticism towards the whole enterprise. Your taxes at work.

Schundler’s decision to put the whole initiative on hold is the right move (although see this piece from The Record on a kerfuffle between Schundler and Senator Bob Smith, and the Courier-Post’s coverage of non-operating school district Chesilhurst’s battle to maintain its board). The only way consolidation could possibly work would be for the State to pony up for expensive and required feasibility studies, in addition to forking up the compensatory aid for the fraction of town that would see inevitably see increases in school taxes. We’re broke, so that won’t work.

(Also, any consolidation would mandate that the highest salary guide for staff would rule the roost, increasing payroll costs for more frugal/aggressive school boards.)

One has to wonder (at least this one does) at Corzine’s decision to appropriate funds to a doomed proposal. Sure hindsight is golden, but this one was as predictable as yesterday’s weather.

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