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Senate Education Committee Approves Pair Of Bills Streamlining Commissioner’s Powers

TRENTON – The Senate Education Committee approved two pieces of legislation today sponsored by Senator Shirley K. Turner aimed at strengthening and streamlining the ability of the Department of Education to develop and apply the rules governing local schools and holding school districts accountable.

“Between the obscene payout promised to Keansburg’s retiring Superintendent and the inappropriate use of substitute teachers at Joyce Kilmer Elementary in Trenton this year, it has become clear that we need to go further in holding local school districts accountable for the financial and administrative choices they make,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer and Chair of the Committee.

The Senator’s first bill, S-1911, would grant the Commissioner of Education rule-making authority in several areas related to fiscal accountability, efficiency and budgeting procedures. Specifically, the bill would allow the Commissioner to issue emergency regulations in relation to several recently enacted laws: the School District Accountability Act, the property tax levy cap law, the CORE law, and the School District Fiscal Accountability Act.

Senator Turner explained, “We have taken the necessary steps legislatively over the past few years to put into place strong checks against fiscal waste in all New Jersey school districts. Now it is time to put teeth behind those laws and hold districts accountable for their actions.”

The bill passed the committee by a vote of 3-0.

Senator Turner’s second bill, S-1912, would eliminate the role of the State Board of Education in the appeal of decisions made by the Commissioner of Education in 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. These decisions may then be appealed to the State Board of Education, whose decision may subsequently be appealed to New Jersey’s Appellate Courts.

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%.

“Given that the State Board of Education agrees with the Commissioner in the overwhelming majority of cases, it seems like a waste of time and money to continue to have the State Board handle appeals. 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.

The bill passed the committee by a vote of 3-2.

Both bills now head to the full Senate for consideration.

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