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ABBOTT LEGISLATORS WANT OUTSIDE EXPERTS TO EVALUATE NJDOE

REJECT PROPOSAL FOR "SELF-EVALUATION" BY COMMISSIONER

Newark NJ – December 11, 2006

Legislators representing Abbott school districts want outside experts, not the Commissioner of Education, to conduct a thorough, independent review of the NJ Department of Education in order to fix longstanding deficiencies in the agency’s operations and performance.

Senator Joseph Doria and Assemblyman Brian Stack, members of the Joint Committee on School Funding Reform, led the push for an independent evaluation of NJDOE at a Joint Committee hearing yesterday in Trenton. They received support from Committee members Senator Gerald Cardinale and Assemblyman David Wolfe.

The debate over how to overhaul the NJDOE arose during a public hearing on a resolution, backed by Committee Co-Chair Senator John Adler, which would direct Education Commissioner Lucille Davy to evaluate the "ability" of her Department "to provide effective oversight of school districts," and present a "reorganization plan" for NJDOE to the Legislature by April 30, 2007.

In testimony to the Committee, ELC Executive Director David Sciarra expressed strong opposition to having the Commissioner evaluate her own Department’s performance. This type of "self-evaluation," Sciarra stated, "will not address the fundamental and longstanding problems" at NJDOE. It’s like asking an engineer to design a plane while flying it."

Instead, ELC urged the Legislature to authorize an independent evaluation of the "entire Department" to examine how the agency can improve its performance of critical functions, such as district and school monitoring; reviewing budgets; implementing new programs and reforms; analyzing data and conducting research; and providing help to struggling schools.

ELC recommended hiring a team of outside experts to conduct the evaluation and make recommendations, and that unspent Abbott management funds pay for the evaluation.

Assemblyman Stack of Union City endorsed this approach, citing the recurring failures of the NJDOE to fulfill its oversight responsibilities to Abbott districts, including the failure to comply with a 1998 order by the NJ Supreme Court to evaluate the effectiveness of the Abbott reforms. Senator Doria of Jersey City expressed his deep frustration with the continuing inability of the Department to effectively monitor district compliance with accountability laws passed by the Legislature.

Senator Adler and Committee Co-Chair Assemblyman Herb Conaway pledged to revise the resolution to address the demand for an independent evaluation made by the other members of the Committee.

The Joint Committee did not allow public comment on school funding, and no specific school funding proposals were presented. In releasing a report last week recommending a new funding formula, Senator Adler again called for an end to the programs and reforms ordered by the NJ Supreme Court to improve education for poor and disadvantaged students in Abbott districts. Assemblyman Stack expressed firm support for the landmark Abbott reforms, pledging to make sure Abbott is maintained and strengthened in any new funding law. Senator Doria also acknowleged the need to maintain a "special needs" designation for Abbott districts to prevent any erosion of support for disadvantaged urban students.

For more information, contact David Sciarra at dsciarra@edlawcenter.org, or 973-624-1815, ext. 16.

Education Law Center Press Contact:
David G. Sciarra
Executive Director
email: dsciarra@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x16