NJ Fisticuffs

Senator Dick Codey narrowly averted a boxing match between Senator Mike Doherty and Senator Ray Lesniak when he thrust himself between them as they inveighed against each other’s stance on the School Funding Reform Act. Doherty, described as a “global warming skeptic, anti-abortion activist and stalwart of the state’s conservative movement,” was complaining loudly that SFRA unfairly benefits urban districts, and Lesniak, that hoary liberal and recent supporter of the voucher bill, pulled a Joe Wilson on him. (Senator Joe Wilson is the one who, during President Obama’s speech, piped up, “that’s a lie!”) Fun coverage in the Star-Ledger.

How frustrated are middle-class and high-end districts with SFRA? This frustrated: according to the Wall Street Journal (picking up on another Star-Ledger story), wealthy Glen Ridge School District, with a DFG of I, is devoting its annual board retreat to discussing whether or not the district should convert to a charter school. When Gov. Christie cut all state school aid by 5% this past winter in a move calculated to not violate SFRA’s formula, Glen Ridge lost every penny, $1.2 million. The Journal quotes Lynn Strickland, director of the Garden State Coalition, which represents mostly suburban districts:
"The frustration is at a fever pitch," Among the 59 school districts in New Jersey that lost all of their state aid, a third are members of Ms. Strickland's organization. All together, her members lost over $300 million from the state for next year.
Meanwhile, in a sign of the growing divide between rich and poor districts, Education Law Center has filed suit in State Supreme Court alleging that Christie’s 5% state aid cut for all school districts violates SFRA. From ELC’s press release:
The current legal action is compelled by Governor Chris Christie's unprecedented $1.08 billion, or 13.6%, cut in State aid in 2010-11. The Governor's aid cut reduces State funding below the levels required by the SFRA formula in 2010-11, and far below the funding amounts actually provided under the SFRA formula in the current (2009-10) school year.
So suburban districts are considering secession from NJ’s public school system since there’s no money there, poor urban districts are bemoaning state aid cuts that violate SFRA (with probably more to come), and senators are brawling in the Statehouse aisles. What’s next: Civil War?

Not so funny. Our municipal madness, which extends to school districts, may be great for town pride but it sucks away any sense of shared mission. Glen Ridge, after all, is in the same county as Newark (and, to bring us full circle, the hometown of Senator Doherty), but they might as well be in separate countries. Easy enough for a rich district to give the State the finger. Who needs the tsuris? Really hard to look at Newark’s children as equally entitled to a school system where all the teachers are strong and good-looking, and all the children are above-average.

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