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Rice-Pou Introduce Measure To End State Takeover Of Local Schools After Five Years

Senator Ronald L. Rice (D-Essex)

Measure Would Cap Time Period for State Intervention under QSAC

TRENTON – Earlier this week, Senators Ronald L. Rice and Nellie Pou introduced a measure which would cap the amount of time that the State could intervene in a local school district to five years before governing authority would be returned to the local board of education.

“When an outside entity comes in and takes over control for two decades, that’s not intervention – that’s occupation,” said Senator Rice, D-Essex. “After twenty years of occupation from State regulators, school districts in Newark, Paterson and Jersey City have seen little progress and few results, and students are facing many of the same challenges today that they faced when the State first came in and took over these districts. It’s time for the State to admit that prolonged takeover of a local school district is a failed experiment, and it’s time to return the school districts that have languished under State control back to the people in those school districts.”

“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,” said Senator Pou, D-Passaic and Bergen. “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, 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 Senator 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.

“This is about giving a voice to the people in Newark, Paterson and Jersey City who’ve been denied a say in their school district for the last twenty years,” said Senator Rice. “It’s also about ensuring that the disenfranchisement and taxation without representation that’s taken place in these three districts cannot be exported to other districts throughout the State. When a school district is struggling to make the grade, it usually needs temporary assistance, not an indefinite hostile takeover, and this bill would ensure that any State intervention comes with a clearly defined end date.”

The bill will be referred to the Senate Education Committee for review.

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