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ELC CALLS ON COMMISSIONER TO ENSURE TIMELY BUDGET DECISIONS

ELC is urging the NJ Department of Education to issue final and complete decisions on Abbott district budgets for 04-05 by the May 28th deadline set by the NJ Supreme Court. ELC is also calling for compliance with currently adopted regulations requiring NJDOE to include in the decisions "identification of any and all expenditures not approved by the Department, with specific reasons for denying the program or expenditure."

Last year, the NJDOE sent out "preliminary" budget notices, cutting district requests for supplemental programs, with no specification or reasons for the cuts. The lack of complete, detailed decisions from the State contributed to extensive delays in the appeals process. Districts’ 03-04 budgets and supplemental programs were not finalized until March 2004, when almost two-thirds of the school year was over.

"We are asking Commissioner Librera to pledge that NJDOE will promptly resolve Abbott district budgets this year," said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. Sciarra added: "We are hopeful that the Department will work collaboratively with the districts to approve all needed programs for Abbott children." After last year’s unfortunate delays, Sciarra also asked the Commissioner to commit to completing all budget appeals this year by the end of August, so the all budgeted programs, services and positions can be in place in the early part of the school year.

The Court has imposed a strict schedule for NJDOE decisions and appeals, starting with final decisions by the NJDOE on May 28th. Districts then have until June 4th to file an administrative appeal; the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) must issue a decision on the appeal no later than July 26th; and the Education Commissioner then must issue his decision no later than August 20th.

Unlike last year, there is no "maintenance" cap on district budgets or requests for supplemental programs and funds for 04-05. Under a mediation agreement between the NJDOE and ELC, adopted by the Supreme Court in June 2003, the districts again have the right under the landmark Abbott V (1998) ruling to request additional supplemental programs, based on demonstrated need. Under Abbott V, the Commissioner must "provide or secure" funding for all demonstrably needed programs.

The proposed FY05 State Budget allocates only $200 million for Abbott supplemental programs, even though Abbott districts are implementing $415 million in approved supplemental programs this year, including full day kindergarten, early literacy efforts, dropout prevention and school safety programs.