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1-9-07 Countywide School Dist. Pilot Program & County 'Super' Superintendent bills held again yesterday, Jan 22 next probable vote date scheduled for these bills

PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER - Posted on Tue, Jan. 09, 2007 Gloucester may be county school district test Under a pilot cost-cutting program, one N.J. county would do away with local school administrations. By Elisa Ung and Jan Hefler Inquirer Staff Writers

TRENTON - Gloucester County's schools are in the running to become a test case in a major government-consolidation initiative, lawmakers said yesterday. A property-tax bill under consideration would create a pilot county school district in one New Jersey county, aimed at cutting administrative costs. In that county, a single administrator and school board would replace all district superintendents and local boards for 10 years.

It is meant as a test of whether a county district system could slash costs statewide, therefore reducing the highest property taxes in the country. Proponents cite Maryland as one example of a successful county educational system. If the New Jersey bill passes, Gloucester and 10 other districts would qualify to host the pilot program. Yesterday, Gloucester school union officials said they believed their county was being targeted, and spent the day furiously lobbying against the bill.

The Gloucester County freeholders would have to nominate the county for the program. Freeholder Director Stephen Sweeney said yesterday that was "something that I would very much be interested in." Sweeney, who is also a Democratic state senator involved in discussions over the legislation, said the program could save millions of dollars that could either be put back into reducing the tax burden, or into increasing school services. He said local boards would still continue to guide education in their schools, but without the burden of high administrative costs.

School officials in Gloucester County, however, said that ceding local control of districts could compromise educational quality and might not save money. Marie Blistan, a Washington Township special-education teacher who heads the Gloucester County Education Association, said she worried that lawmakers were making "political decisions on kids' backs." She was relieved when they delayed a scheduled vote on the measure yesterday. Sweeney said that merging the county's special services and vocational services saved $1 million, though Blistan said state statistics showed the special-services district had a higher percentage of administrative costs than any other in Gloucester.

The bill says that any county, except the most populous and those with more than one Abbott district, could host the program. That would qualify Gloucester as well as Atlantic, Cape May, Hunterdon, Mercer, Morris, Ocean, Salem, Somerset, Sussex and Warren Counties. The state commissioner of education would then choose among the interested counties.

One of the bill's sponsors, Sen. Bob Smith (D., Middlesex), said he thought the test would be most successful in a rural, "relatively uncomplex" county. Smith said Gloucester would fit that criteria, but so would Salem, Cape May or Sussex Counties. The Senate would vote on the bill Jan. 22, Smith said. In the meantime, it would be changed in three ways: to bolster county input in choosing the chief school administrator, to require public hearings - but not a vote - before the pilot would begin, and to specify an exit strategy if the experiment was deemed a failure, according to Smith and Senate President Richard J. Codey (D., Essex). The Assembly, which approved an earlier version of the legislation, would have to sign off on the changes.

Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D., Camden) said he had heard interest from several counties; he said they in turn would have to build local support. Under the bill, district boards of education could choose to exist in an advisory role or dissolve themselves. A county school board would be formed by the freeholders. A single administrator would replace one county superintendent and an array of district superintendents. Gloucester, for example, has 28 district superintendents who make $63,600 to $187,500, as well as a county superintendent, according to 2005 data.

Deptford Superintendent Joseph F. Canataro sharply criticized the concept. "My primary fear is that neighborhoods would lose control of neighborhood schools," Canataro said. "We have a system in place in New Jersey where neighborhoods are in control and the concept works." Deptford school board President Bill Elenbark agreed. "If you have one super superintendent, you'll end up with a vanilla education."

State Sen. Fred Madden (D., Gloucester) said he thought the program would be worth pursuing in Gloucester County if officials determined they could save money without compromising education - and the public backed the idea. A separate property-tax overhaul bill would grant all of the state's county school superintendents expansive powers. It has been passed by the Assembly, but no action has been taken in the Senate.

Contact staff writer Elisa Ung at 609-989-9016 or eung@phillynews.com. Inquirer staff writer Jennifer Moroz contributed to this article.

Gloucester County School Districts New Jersey legislators are considering a bill that would replace Gloucester County’s local school boards and administrators. In their place would be one countywide board with one administrator.

School District Enrollment Total cost of administration Salary of superintendent Clayton 1,290 $1,594,278 $115,983 Clearview 2,288 2,512,114 135,000 Delsea 1,831 2,226,729 133,444 Deptford 4,285 4,855,896 187,500 East Greenwich 714 889,536 106,778 Elk 365 533,878 63,600* Franklin 1,469 1,518,229 113,300 Gateway 1,042 1,209,626 128,500 Glassboro 2,409 3,194,330 127,094 Gloucester Special Services 636 2,799,240 67,680 Gloucester County Vocational 740 1,491,135 80,000 Greenwich 526 812,656 123,270 Harrison 1,465 1,313,083 131,114 Kingsway 1,896 2,335,803 150,465 Logan 930 1,162,114 113,875 Mantua 1,560 1,599,052 128,518 Monroe 5,736 6,366,128 137,458 National Park 315 350,873 97,655 Paulsboro 1,422 2,032,363 124,200 Pitman 1,574 2,157,054 127,000 South Harrison 288 393,938 107,100 Swedesboro-Woolwich 1,240 1,364,734 117,600 Washington 9,276 11,461,871 145,000 Wenonah 243 287,300 101,600 West Deptford 3,285 4,117,051 128,500 Westville 358 504,132 98,000 Woodbury 1,509 2,084,533 129,000 Woodbury Heights 240 329,874 99,600 Totals 48,932 $61,497,550 $3,318,834 SOURCES: N.J. Department of Education, 2005 data, latest available; N.J. Education Association * Elk Township’s superintendent’s salary is based on a 10-month work year. -------------------------------------------

 Legislative Action

In the Assembly Lawmakers voted 59-18 to create a state comptroller's job, but the measure has an uncertain future in the Senate. Gov. Corzine has demanded the Legislature create the position in exchange for his approval of lawmakers' plans to cut property taxes by 20 percent for most homeowners.

A measure to ban the sale of junk foods in middle and elementary school was approved 64-11. The bill passed the Senate earlier. Foods with limited nutritional value or those listing sugar as the first ingredient would be banned, along with candy. Elementary schools would limit beverages to milk, water and 100 percent fruit and vegetable juices. In middle schools, those drinks would have to account for at least 60 percent of beverages.

In the Senate On a 36-0 vote, lawmakers passed an Assembly-approved bill that would change local school spending policies, including regulating travel and expense reimbursements for school board members and district employees.

Convicted sex offenders in New Jersey would be prohibited from working in organizations that provide activities for young people under a bill approved 38-0. The bill has not yet passed the Assembly.

Gov. Corzine's choice for state Corrections Department commissioner was confirmed. George Hayman has been acting commissioner since last January, overseeing a department with 9,500 employees, 14 facilities and 27,000 inmates.

Senate President Richard J. Codey introduced a resolution to remove language from the state Constitution describing those with mental illness as "idiots" or "insane." He called the language, dating back to 1844, outdated and offensive. The measure would have to be approved by both houses of the Legislature and by voters in November.

Corzine Speech - Gov. Corzine is scheduled to deliver his State of the State address at noon today at the Trenton War Memorial. NJN will carry the speech live on television, radio and the Internet (www.njn.net).

Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608