TRENTON – Senator Shirley K. Turner welcomed approval today by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee of the “School District Fiscal Accountability Act” which would set into place a process by which the State would provide loans to school districts like Willingboro, which are running deficits.
“Every child in the State of New Jersey deserves a quality education, and poor fiscal management by a local school board should not jeopardize that education,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer and Chair of the Senate Education Committee. “At the same time, it’s not fair to other school districts to simply bail out Willingboro. There must be oversight that comes with the additional aid, so the district will not repeat its mistakes.”
The bill, S-1469, would allow for advance State aid payments to districts that have a budget deficit during any given fiscal year. Under the bill, the State would also appoint an State monitor empowered to take action within the school district to reestablish financial stability in the district. The State monitor would be responsible for overseeing the fiscal management and expenditures of district funds, ensuring the development and implementation of a plan to address the circumstances which led to the State monitor, and oversee all district staffing.
“Sometimes school administrators and school board members make mistakes. Ignoring the problem will only harm students and local taxpayers . It’s critical that the State takes action in these cases to make sure that the finances of the district are quickly put back in order in a responsible manner,” explained Senator Turner.
Under the bill, the NJ Department of Education would create a “School Deficit Relief Account” to provide advance aid payments to the school district if the Commissioner of Education recommends such action. These advance aid payments would be repaid through automatic reductions in the State aid amounts provided to the district in future years. The term of repayment would not exceed ten years and interest may be charged to districts that qualify under the bill after the first 90 days following enactment.
“It’s important to note that this is a bill we hope to rarely use. We don’t want to create a precedent here for other districts,” added Senator Turner.
The bill would also require the Office of the State Auditor to conduct a forensic audit of the school district in certain situations. The State Auditor would submit this audit to the Commissioner of Education , the Governor, the Legislature and the local Board of Education upon completion. The would also be required to forward any findings of fraudulent activities to the appropriate law enforcement agency.
S-1469 now goes to the full Senate for their consideration.