Senators Propose End to State School Takeover
Saturday, October 20, 2012 • 10:05am
TRENTON, NJ - Senators Ronald Rice and Nellie Pou last week introduced a bill that would return the Paterson, Jersey City and Newark school districts to local control.
The measure would limit the amount of time the state education department could intervene in a local school district to five years and would provide for almost immediate return to local control for the three city districts that have been in the state’s hands for roughly two decades.
The Paterson school board vote to surrender control to the state 21 years ago amid problems with patronage and mismanagement in a district where students’ test scores were far lower than statewide averages.
But the state has been unable to transform the district, where low scores and high dropout rates remain a problem. Back in January, New Jersey Education commissioner Christopher Cerf acknowledged that the state had failed Paterson children during its intervention. He also promised to oversee changes that would bring transform the district.
Rice and Pou issued a press released on Friday announcing their proposal for limiting state control of local districts. It’s not clear how much support the measure, which directly affects the state’s three largest cities, has among other Senators from other parts of New Jersey. The press release did not say whether a similar bill is being drafted in the Assembly.
Also, Gov. Chris Christie has made it clear during the past several years that he does not have much confidence in local officials in Paterson and Newark. If the legislation were to pass, it would need Christie’s signature to take effect.
“While there may be legitimate reasons for the State to temporarily take over the functions of a local school district, such an agreement must come with an expiration date,” Pou said in the press release. “As we’ve seen with Paterson, Newark and Jersey City, while there has been progress during the takeover period, there has also been backsliding, and it’s to the point where the benefits of State intervention are really called into question.
“The point of the law that allows the State to take over local school districts is that the takeover period is finite,’’ Pou added, “and having a deadline by which State regulators have to withdraw puts added emphasis on the need to produce results.”
The bill, S-2283, would provide that, under the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC), the system designed to monitor local school districts based on objective criteria, a school district would not be placed under full or partial State control for more than five years. Upon the return of local control, the terms of any additional school board members appointed by the State Commissioner of Education would expire, all rights, powers and duties would be returned to the board of education, and the board would have the discretion to extend the contract of the superintendent of schools or State district superintendent, or could allow the contract to lapse. Under the bill, once a district is returned to local control, the State would not be able to intervene, in full or in part, for five years following the return of local control.
“The State needs to give struggling school districts the tools and assistance to manage their own affairs, not take over the functions of the school district from here into perpetuity,” said Pou. “This bill specifically prohibits the sort of long-term takeovers that we’ve seen in Paterson, Newark and Jersey City, and instead creates a definitive timetable for the return of local control. In the end, it’s a fairer way to balance the need to reform school districts and the need to allow school districts the right of self-determination.”
The bill creates a mechanism through which the State could extend its intervention an additional year, by seeking approval from the Superior Court and demonstrating to the court clear and convincing evidence that the district has failed to make sustained and substantial progress in one or more of the measures of school effectiveness under QSAC, and that an additional one-year period is likely to result in the district meeting quality performance indicators.
The bill also provides that the three school districts currently under some level of State intervention – Newark, Paterson and Jersey City – would be returned to local control and that the State would completely withdraw from intervention in the school district no later than one month following the effective date of the bill.