TRENTON – Governor Jon S. Corzine signed two pieces of legislation today sponsored by Senator Shirley K. Turner that will strengthen and streamline the ability of the Department of Education to develop and apply rules aimed at governing local schools and holding districts accountable.
“New Jersey’s schools have been tarnished dealt by mistakes over the past few months that could have been avoided if there was better oversight of local schools,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer and Chair of the Senate Education Committee. “Now we are empowering the Department of Education to hold districts accountable so that we don’t have situations in the future like the obscene payout promised to Keansburg’s retiring Superintendent.”
The first law signed today, formerly bill S-1911, will grant the Commissioner of Education rule-making authority in several areas related to fiscal accountability, efficiency and budgeting procedures. The Commissioner can now issue emergency regulations in relation to several recently enacted laws – specifically the School District Accountability Act, the property tax levy cap law, the CORE law, and the School District Fiscal Accountability Act.
Senator Turner explained, “There are laws on the books that require the State to hold districts to a higher standard. Now we can take the necessary actions to enforce those standards and look out for the educational needs of every New Jersey community. We can’t afford to repeat the mistakes of the past.”
The second new law, previously bill S-1912, eliminates the role of the State Board of Education in the appeal of decisions made by the Commissioner of Education regarding disputes that arise under the State’s school laws. Under current law, the Commisioner of Education hears and decides controversies and disputes that arise from State school laws. Until today, these decisions could have then be appealed to the State Board of Education, whose decision could have subsequently be appealed to New Jersey’s Appellate Courts. Now all appeals will be made directly to the courts.
“It is a waste of time and money to continue to have the State Board handle appeals when so few decisions are overturned. It would serve the taxpayers and local schools better for them to appeal directly to the courts and skip the middle man,” added Senator Turner.
According to the Department of Education, 90 decisions made by the Commissioner in 2005 and 2006 were appealed to the State Board of Education. The State Board of Education overturned only eight of those decisions, a rate of about 9%.