It’s an old saw that there are two different Jerseys: the inner cities of Paterson and Newark and Camden, and the upscale small towns of Short Hills and Mahwah and Bedminster. Today two newspaper articles depict the stark split.
First, the Trenton Times investigates a massive lay-off in the Trenton public schools, where more than 400 employees are getting pink-slipped despite the fact that some consultants just recommended that more teachers should be hired to teach electives in applied engineering, home economics, and computer applications. Why? Simple: not enough money from the State or, rather, the same amount of state aid as last year, which means that the budget needs to be slashed to accommodate contracted increases in salaries and benefits. Said Board President L. Diane Campbell,
They’re[the D.O.E.] saying we have too many teachers and too many students in classes and we have to right-size in order to keep the money going forward.
According to the DOE School Report Card, Trenton does have too many kids per classroom: 24.3 kids per class in Trenton Central High versus the state average of 18.9. (This despite a per pupil total cost of $16,120, the typical price per kid in Abbott districts.) On the other hand, the DOE also counts the number of kids per teacher across the district, and here there are no crowds: while the state average is 11.1 kids per teacher (this includes support staff, nurses, social workers, guidance counselors), in Trenton it’s 10.1.
What are the teachers doing during the day when they’re not staffing classrooms? No doubt all sorts of legitimate activities, but the last thing this district needs is another hit. Is there a case to be made here for turning the whole place over to KIPP?
On the other side of the rainbow, look at Fred Snowflack’s piece in the Daily Record, which recounts how the Board of Education in ritzy Mountain Lakes just awarded Superintendent John Kazmark a 13% raise by 2012 to bring his annual salary to about $248,000. Says Snowflack,
One can defend his contract as rewarding excellence, but to the layperson, paying a man almost a quarter of a million dollars a year to run a relatively small K-12 district is astonishing. It is such practices that over time mushroom into anger — anger that prompts well-meaning people to clap when they hear “getting rid of the public school system.”
According to Board members, the increase – which one resident pointed out would bring his salary to $170 per child – was prompted by Kazmark’s hints at looming retirement. In other words, they bribed him to stay. Then again, he probably didn’t sweat it too much in the land of Mountain Lakes with an average of 16.9 kids a classroom.