1) Jon Corzine counts his School Funding Reform Act as a major accomplishment for his Administration. It channels money on a per pupil basis to poor students for extra services that have historically been limited to 31 Abbott districts. However, the economic downturn has forced him to only partially fund mandates like full day preschools in non-Abbott districts. Unless SFRA is fully funded, the State Courts may overturn it and go back to Abbott funding, long known for corruption and waste. How will you solve this problem?
2) Annual teacher salary increases in N.J. continue to trend at about 4% – 4.5%, even though the cap for school budgets is 4%. Thus, school districts must cut non-personnel items every year just to stay within cap. Since payroll counts for over 80% of a district’s expenditures, there’s not much left to cut. Shared services, much touted as a revenue-saving device, only go so far. What are your plans to rein in teacher salary increases?
3) School district consolidation is a valuable way to increase school efficiency. State regulations give new powers to our Executive County Superintendents, including a mandate to offer consolidation proposals this Spring. However, there’s little support for these proposals because any consolidation will raise someone’s taxes and the legislation is set up so that one town has veto power. Also, the individual towns must pay for feasibility studies. Is this an exercise in futility? Is there a better use of the time of ECS’s? Or should the legislation be toughened up?
P.S. Non-operating districts, i.e., school districts without actual schools, don’t count. And even some of those are suing for reinstatement.
4) The plight of poor New Jersey schoolchildren is that they are often trapped in failing school systems. Local governance keeps them from crossing municipal borders to more successful districts. What are your thoughts on turning over perpetually failing districts – Trenton, Camden, Willingboro – to a successful charter operation?
5) The Obama Administration’s Race To The Top program awards money to states that foster charter school growth and tie student performance to teachers’ compensation. We have 11,000 children on waiting lists for charter schools and NJEA is rigidly opposed to merit pay. What do you think of our prospects for RTTT money?