Daily Archives: October 4, 2010

>NJPP Monday Minute 10/4/10: ‘Friending’ schools in Newark

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There are those in New Jersey, among them Governor Christie, who argue that the state spends too much money on too many things – including its public schools. But in order to have an honest, informed debate about that public investment, it’s important to compare the rhetoric with the actual numbers to see if they match up.

Sometimes they don’t.

Take for example state spending on Newark’s public schools. Compare the numbers discussed publicly in recent weeks and the actual numbers reported by the state. And then contrast those figures with the pledge of $100 million of Facebook stock to the Newark schools that was announced September 24.

A day before Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made his announcement, alongside Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Governor Christie, on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” the governor decried the deplorable and wasteful state of education in Newark, telling the Star-Ledger that New Jersey spends a whopping $24,000 per student in the Newark school system.

That figure is incorrect, according to data from the governor’s own administration. The New Jersey Department of Education’s Office of Fiscal Policy and Planning puts per student spending in Newark at $16,911 in the 2009-2010 school year budget (down from $19,756 the previous year.) The 2009-2010 state average for per student spending is $13,860, according to DOE.

The Education Law Center, a non-profit legal advocacy group that focuses on public school finance, says even that overstates the true cost per student, which varies widely by district. ELC argues a “weighted” calculation is a more accurate measure than simply dividing the total school budget by the number of students because it factors in the higher cost of educating students who might be impoverished or have special learning needs or limited English proficiency. The ELC’s weighted calculations from its March 2010 analysis, which is based on state figures, puts spending per student in Newark at $10,517 for 2009-2010.

Both the Department of Education’s and the Education Law Center’s figures are substantially lower than the figure cited by Governor Christie. The Governor’s Office of Communications referred a question for clarification to the DOE’s Office of Communications. A DOE spokesman said Newark’s per student cost of $23,600 – rounded up to $24,000 by the governor – covers all expenses in Newark, including transportation and “other” costs. The spokesman did not respond to a follow-up inquiry about what “other costs” are included in that more expansive calculation.

Per student spending is one thing, but how much does New Jersey spend in total on Newark’s public schools?

“For context, we spend $900 million plus or minus in the City of Newark school system right now in state funds,” Governor Christie told reporters at a news conference in Newark the day after the Oprah announcement.

The actual figure is $815 million — $85 million less than the figure given by the governor, according to state Department of Education documents. The Education Law Center also cites the $815 million total as the state’s contribution to Newark.

To give the governor his due, he did say $900 million “plus or minus,” but rounding up from $815 million amounts to almost all of Zuckerberg’s donation. It’s unlikely the governor would want to equate the Facebook CEO’s gift with a rounding error. A Department of Education spokesman did not respond to inquiries about the difference.

The state has cut total state aid to all school districts by $1.2 billion since January (which amounts to 10 percent of the yearly total in a state that already ranks near the bottom in state spending on schools). In Newark, to date, the Christie administration has cut $56.3 million in public school aid — $13.7 million in mid-year FY2010 cuts and $42.6 million in FY2011, according to both DOE and ELC.

That lost aid makes Zuckerberg’s $100 million matching grant very important to Newark. Zuckerberg’s grant even dwarfs the $23.7 million that Newark received from the federal legislation signed by President Obama in August to help school districts rehire laid off teachers.

While Zuckerberg’s largesse might be welcome, it raises complicated issues.

The money is focused entirely on one city, to the exclusion of neighboring Irvington or other urban cities like Camden or Trenton. That raises questions of fairness and favoritism in a public school system established on the ideal of equal education for all students.

It is also an unprecedented injection of corporate money into a public school system, which raises questions of governance and democracy. Decisions in the public schools are supposed to be driven by the local voters through the school board and state Department of Education – not 26-year-old fledgling billionaires. In the words of ELC founder and Rutgers Law School Professor Paul Tractenberg to the Star-Ledger’s Bob Braun, “This is a very dangerous moment for public education. Instead of facing up to our responsibilities to support the schools, we are tearing them apart. We are destroying the very values that created the public school system.”

The least we could do, then, is get the numbers right.

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Filed under Cory Booker, Education Funding, Facebook, Gov. Chris Christie, Jeff Zuckerbg, New Jersey Policy Perspective, Newark NJ, public schools

>Video: Sean Byrnes on Planning for Budgets and Projects

>Middletown Township Committeeman Sean Byrnes discusses the Planning (or lack thereof) of Township budgets and projects that drive up the tax rate and cost local tax payers, at a Town Hall Meeting which took place at Panera Bread on September 27,2010

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Filed under bonding. Panera Bread, budget planning, Finance Committee, project planning, Sean F. Byrnes, tax increase, town hall meeting

>Letter: Middletown needs new leadership

>The following letter was written by Middletown Township resident Mary Mahoney, who just happens to be joining Sean Byrnes as a candidate for Township Committee. The letter appears in the Asbury Park Press:

During the last nine months, I have come to know Sean Byrnes as a member of the Middletown Township Committee. His ideas for improving Middletown are sound and affordable.

Unfortunately, the Republican majority on the committee — a majority the GOP has held for 30 years — has blocked most of his proposals. The budget problems we face now could have been avoided had his recommendations been approved. Being the only true fiscal conservative on the committee, he has never voted to increase taxes.

For many years, the needs of people in this town have been neglected. This must be stopped.

I am honored to be Byrnes’ running mate because I share his vision and commitment to build a better quality of life in Middletown, so that all people feel their government is responsive to their needs and concerns.

On Nov. 2, vote for Byrnes and Mahoney.

Mary Mahoney

MIDDLETOWN

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Filed under Asbury Park Press, Byrnes and Mahoney, Democratic Candidate, Middletown Township Committee

>Letter: Resident supports Mahoney for Township Committee

>This letter also appears in this weeks edition of the Independent:

I have known Mary Mahoney for over 25 years, both personally and professionally. Having worked together as buyers in the New York City garment industry, Mary impressed me with her ability to work well with people and her willingness to help everyone. She was well respected in our field, and set an example for honesty and integrity.

I also had the pleasure to do business with Mary when she opened and managed a New York City showroom, once again conducting herself with the utmost professionalism.

After Mary retired from the garment industry to raise her family, we reconnected when we discovered we both lived in Middletown. At that time, she had been running her own successful home-based business and was very active as a volunteer in her community.

In my current position as a director for Good Housekeeping magazine, I needed to fill a position and jumped at the chance to hire Mary. I knew I could trust her to succeed in this position because of her efficiency and dependability, and she proved me correct once again.

I believe Mary has the skills and capability to be a valuable asset on the Middletown Township Committee. She possesses a wealth of common sense and will work hard for the people of Middletown.

Kathleen Huddy

Middletown

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Filed under Democratic Candidate, letter to the editor, Mary Mahoney, Middletown Township Committee, the Independent

>Letter: Foresight could keep tax increases under control

>The following letter appears in this weeks edition of the Independent:

As township officials try to explain the reason for the latest round of tax increases, they refer to a few factors, one of which is the cost of snow removal during the winter of 2010. This explanation is disappointing and frustrating on several levels. The main responsibility of our budget planning committee is to have the foresight to plan for expenses that we know are going to vary from season to season. This means calculating an average budget target for yearly snow removal, which shields us from major shortfalls during the high swings. So, if snowfall in 2009 was light, and we hadn’t fully used the budgeted money for that line item, we could roll it over to 2010 and have some fiscal cushion when snowfall is heavier. Are we to assume if the winter of 2011 is mild, we’ll have a budget surplus and tax rates will decrease? I doubt it. Are we to assume that our budget planners simply approach snow removal in singleyear increments, rather than looking at well-known trends, and then hope for mild winters? It sounds like they do. While I can understand the reduction in state aid as a factor in the budget shortfall, I simply can’t buy into the rationale that property taxes are increasing 13 percent partly because we had a bad winter in 2010.

Township officials need to understand that the residents of Middletown are fearful about these soaring tax rates on two fronts. In the short term we’re wondering how much longer we can afford to live in a town where our monthly spending in property taxes is larger than our mortgage payments. That fact alone is stunning.

In the long term we’re wondering how we’ll ever find buyers for our homes that come with such staggering property tax rates. One of many things needed to get this mess under control is proper planning. I question how well that planning process is being executed when heavier than usual snowfall is cited in the list of factors for a double-digit tax increase.

Tim Geiselman

Middletown

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Filed under budget planning, letter to the editor, Middletown, tax increase, the Independent