Tag Archive: funding

Cory Booker on Meet the Press: Infrastructure

Yesterday was a packed day, with President Obama in New Jersey. And today, I’m stuck at the car dealership. So I wanted to go back and pick up Sen. Cory Booker’s appearance on Meet the Press Sunday. Chuck Todd pitches him the Republican claim that Democrats are trying to politicize Amtrak’s Philadelphia derailment. Booker calls that a distraction, and he’s right. Republicans over the last decade, and particularly since GOP control of Congress, have governed by failing to govern, refusing to invest, refusing to spend and looking to blame somebody else for the consequences of that. But starving Amtrak and infrastructure investment is more than just a Republican mistake; both parties bear responsibility, and both will now be required to prevent the next Amtrak disaster, or bridge failure, or airport or road disaster. Infrastructure is the backbone of well-functioning economies. As a nation, we have to decide if that’s what we want to be. Booker:

As China invests about 9% of their GDP in infrastructure, Japan 6%, Europe 5%, America is only doing 1.5%. By withholding this investment in what America used to dominate the globe in – the number 1 infrastructure globally – now out of the top 10, depending who you look at, number 12 or 18th, we are losing economic competitiveness, we are losing out on jobs, we are missing out on growth.

Watch – on the jump page.

@NJSBA and PARCC: Going Along to Get Along?

Cross-posted from Jersey Jazzman.

The resistance to the PARCC — the new, standardized, computerized tests being administered in New Jersey beginning this month — continues to grow. Parents, teachers, and students are rightly concerned that these tests are taking too much time, are unnecessarily complex and confusing, disadvantage students with less access to technology, and narrow the curriculum.

In response to the grassroots movement to opt students out of the PARCC, a coalition has formed, consisting of various education stakeholder groups across the state. We Raise New Jersey includes the NJPTA, the Principals and Supervisors Association, the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, the New Jersey Council of County Colleges, JerseyCAN, and the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA).

I find this list to be very interesting. As my blogging bud Darcie Cimarusti points out, the national PTA has received millions of dollars in funding over the years from the Gates Foundation, the principal driver of the Common Core standards to which the PARCC is aligned. JerseyCan also gets funds from Gates, among other reformy groups.

But it’s the NJSBA that really caught my attention. This is a group that is supposed to serve school boards across the state. And yet the PARCC is clearly an unfunded mandate from the state on local school districts, draining resources away from operations and toward the administration of tests. This is especially onerous for local school districts who have had to upgrade their computer networks, yet received no additional funding from the state.

I would think the NJSBA would have lobbied against the PARCC; at least, they should have insisted that their member school boards receive funds from the state to help defray the costs of this mandate. Instead, they’re supporting a testing regime that will hurt the bottom lines of their member school boards’ budgets. Why are they going along with this?

Perhaps because the NJSBA itself is an unfunded mandate. Let’s go back to 1997, when the funding of the NJSBA was a source of contention:

For more than 80 years, state law has required every school district in the state to be a dues-paying member of the New Jersey School Boards Association. But that could change with the passage of a bill pending in the state legislature that proposes making membership in the statewide organization voluntary.

The suggested change has stirred some controversy over which setup would better serve the state’s 1.2 million public-school students. And some school board members are accusing lawmakers of trying to weaken the school boards association as payback for the organization’s vocal opposition earlier this year to new education funding laws.

The school boards association provision is only one of several dozen state mandates that would be abolished under the legislation, which is scheduled to face the Assembly and Senate appropriations committees today. The school boards association and its supporters are calling for legislators to amend the bill to keep association membership mandatory.


Districts pay an average of $11,700 in annual dues to fund the association’s $8.9 million budget. Association advocates say it would cost far more for districts to replicate the services their dues provide. Belluscio said association lobbying efforts have led to legislative changes that have saved school districts hundreds of millions of dollars.

But legislators who support the change say that lifting mandatory membership would force the association to be more efficient and more accountable to its constituents.

They also point to neighboring Pennsylvania, where 500 of the state’s 501 school districts voluntarily participate in the school boards association. In fact, New Jersey and Washington are the only states that mandate district membership in school boards associations.

If membership were made voluntary, Belluscio said, the school boards association would have to shift resources away from direct services to marketing itself.

But observers say that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For the Pennsylvania association, that has meant tailoring services to constituents.

“We’ve had virtually 100 percent membership over the years,” said spokesman Thomas Gentzel.” We like to think it’s because we provide a good array of services for our members and we have to be responsive to them.”

And then there’s the issue of the possible political motivation behind New Jersey’s proposed legislation.

“There has been some talk that this is kind of a payback move,” said Lindenwold school board member Jim Dougherty.” There is some discussion that the legislature and the governor are more than a little ticked off because of the position the association took in the funding situation.” [emphasis mine]

The NJSBA, it seems, has a history of walking on thin ice: piss off the wrong people, and its unusual source of mandatory funding could be put in jeopardy.

Fast forward to 2010, when the NJSBA once again found its mandatory dues questioned:

The publicly financed lobby for New Jersey’s school boards is spending millions to renovate its headquarters, even as local districts face massive state aid cuts, defeated budgets and construction proposals, and pending teacher layoffs.

The New Jersey School Boards Association collects more than $7 million a year from 588 member districts, which are legally required to join. It has socked away so much in dues and conference fees – $12.3 million, an amount greater than the group’s annual operating budget – that it is paying cash for the improvements.

It also paid $1.6 million in cash for 10 suburban acres where it had hoped to build an $18 million conference center. But the board abandoned that plan and put the land back on the market.

The most recent projected cost for the headquarter’s renovations was $6.3 million. But that figure could grow an additional $600,000 to $1 million, as the contractor decides whether to fix or replace the building’s walls of glass windows, officials said. In the meantime, its 70 employees – including five lobbyists paid to influence legislation – are working in leased office space. [emphasis mine]

Remember, this was back in 2010, when local school budgets were being decimated. In those lean times, the practices of NJSBA were not siting well with taxpayers or legislators:

The School Boards Association has come under some criticism in recent months, after The Record reported that its staff is enrolled in the state-run health and pension systems, even though they are not government employees. Workers at two other Trenton lobbying groups – the Association of Counties and the League of Municipalities – also are in the programs, as a result of 1950s legislation that declared they were acting in the public interest.  

In all, New Jerseyans will fund retirement payouts and lifetime health benefits for 107 non-government employees with combined pensionable salaries of $7 million. Right now, taxpayers are giving $1.3 million a year to 62 retirees of the groups. Gov. Chris Christie has said the benefits arrangement must end.

Given all this, the NJSBA found, once again, that its funding was under scrutiny:

Last year, New Jersey districts paid $7.6 million in dues – a 73 percent increase from the $4.4 million paid in 1999, according to the association’s financial reports. In 2009, it also had revenue of $2.7 million from conference fees, ad sales and services.

This year, dues will be 5 percent lower, said Frank Belluscio, a spokesman for the association. Each district will receive a $2,000 credit to apply toward services. As a result of the law Corzine signed, the group also has replaced its annual three-day Atlantic City workshop with a shorter program in Central Jersey, which shortens the drive for most participants and eliminates the need to stay overnight at school board expense.  

Belluscio also pointed out that many districts get back their dues and then some because of their affiliation with the association’s energy cooperative.  

The give-backs to the districts pleased Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester), who in December had proposed making association membership voluntary rather than compulsory. Last week, he said he is withdrawing the bill.

“It seems to me that the service they’re providing is very helpful, especially as we’re going through this transition between potential consolidations, upheavals in school districts and things of that nature,” Burzichelli said. “I applaud them for taking the steps they’re taking.”

See how it works? Don’t make waves, keep legislators happy… and nobody messes with your source of revenue. Win-win. Want another example?

Plug “NJSBA” and “SFRA” into Google. SFRA is the School Funding Reform Act, the state’s school aid formula, which has not been fully funded since Chris Christie came into office and is now $6 billion behind what the law dictates. You would think the group that represents local school boards would be apoplectic over the state’s repeated refusal to come up with the money its member districts are due.

But the best I could find from NJSBA in the last few years on school underfunding — a period where inequality between high and low-spending districts has increased rapidly — was this, from 2011:

“The New Jersey School Boards Association believes in fair and equitable distribution of state aid,” said Raymond R. Wiss, president of the New Jersey School Boards Association via release.  “In 2008, NJSBA supported the principles of the School Funding Reform Act, based on the act’s recognition that at-risk students attend schools in communities throughout New Jersey, not just in 31 communities.  The 2008 funding law also attempted to help those middle- and moderate-income communities, which suffer from high property tax burdens and still have been unable to fund their education programs at levels considered adequate by the state.

“Today’s court decision does not resolve these matters,” Wiss concluded.

That is some weak, lukewarm tea — probably because it’s several years old. In fact, some of NJSBA publications on the underfunding of SFRA read, to me, more like apologies for the Christie administration than indictments. And if they’ve had anything to say lately about the Bacon lawsuit, which seeks to remedy the underfunding of rural New Jersey school districts, I haven’t been able to find it.

Now, the NJSBA might make the case that lobbying for the full funding of SFRA isn’t part of their mandate. OK… then why dive into the debate about PARCC? Why actively lobby and dispense pro-PARCC propaganda with groups like the NJPTA and JerseyCAN? Why take a stand on this issue at all if NJSBA won’t even take a strong stand on getting their member districts funding the state itself says they are due under SFRA?

It looks like NJSBA has learned its lesson: if you want to get along, go along. They should embroider it on the pillows in their new offices…


ADDING: The New York State School Boards Association is a plaintiff against the state in a lawsuit for equitable funding. I guess the NJSBA is too busy redecorating to get involved in that fight around here…

Does New Jersey have the Political Will to Help Camden?

Promoted by Rosi. This is cross-posted from the Local Knowledge Blog:

A Camden High School student spoke at my class last semester. He told one particularly poignant story, of how he’d been evicted from his home and had spent a few months living out of a car. Each morning, at 5:45am, his mother would wake him so that he could be the first person to go into the local McDonalds. There, he would brush his teeth and get ready for school.

Among all the stories I’ve heard in Camden, I think this one may be the most important. It is about stability, and how hard it is for young people who lack it to succeed. This student talked about how he never had that stability, how he was constantly moving, until he joined the Junior ROTC program. The stability and structure of going to that program each day after school was what turned his life around.

This young man isn’t alone in his need for stability. Camden City as a whole desperately needs sustained commitment from the state of New Jersey. Because Camden runs a significant annual deficit, it is constantly in need of state support. The politics of giving that support can make or break the city.

TONIGHT in Princeton: A Conversation with Rush Holt

ACLU-NJ: Conversation with Rep. Rush Holt, Scientist & Civil Libertarian

When: Tonight 7pm

Where: Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Princeton

50 Cherry Hill Road in Princeton

Rush Holt is my old boss; I’m a vet of his campaign staff. We lost Holt as our representative when Hunterdon was redistricted into CD7 and Leonard Lance territory; a distinct step down. But he’s still my hero. Here are 3 things I find encouraging about him:

1) He was always more interested in the word “representative” than in the word “congressman.” That is, more compelled by his responsibilities to those he represented than any title referring to himself as a member of Congress. If that sounds pretty Boy Scout of him, then that’s exactly it. He has been a straight arrow as long as I’ve known him.

2) Rush is a good-government crusader in the best of ways. A leader in all kinds of civil rights and civil liberties issues, which include voting rights, protecting civil liberties in the face of NSA spying, and the First Amendment.

3) Brains. Straight up. I remember when we launched the My Congressman IS a rocket scientist bumper sticker, and started getting requests for them not only from District and Jersey, but from college campuses and other places where education and science are prized. I’ve seen those stickers – in Rush Holt green, black and white – in several states. But if anyone gets the idea that Holt’s smarts are highfalutin’ or ivory tower-removed, get over it. The guy’s a 5-time Jeopardy winner, and the only dude I know of ever to beat IBM’s Watson supercomputer. But he’s far less interested in his own intelligence than in other people’s educational opportunities, and in what science research can make available to the world.

My Congressman IS a Rocket Scientist


Quote of the Day comes from Rush Holt, writing at NJ350:

“In my office in West Windsor I display a small, glass-covered display box that a friend made and gave me. Inside is a doll-sized Albert Einstein, recognizable by his bushy moustache and the iconic fly-away white hair.  On the outside in all capital letters it reads: “BREAK GLASS IN CASE OF EMERGENCY.”  Everyone finds the curio amusing because all know Einstein has become the symbol for the universal wise man.  How did we come to view Einstein with such awe – as far more than an acclaimed physicist, even as someone who could solve any crisis, if only we would break the glass and set him free?


“If he were looking today, would Einstein move here?  Are we eagerly developing the new thinking that will take us into the future?  Some days I want to break the glass in the small display case in my office to see if Einstein’s attitude would flourish still in New Jersey and America.”

The above is just a snippet from a longer piece by Holt, about Albert Einstein and the claim on him by Princeton (in Holt’s CD12), and by New Jersey. For years, he was ours. What drew him here? Would New Jersey still draw him now? Read Holt on that.

Steve Sweeney: Zimmer allegations “disturbing.” Christie administration actions may be illegal.

Senate President Steve Sweeney issued the following statement in response to new allegations that Hurricane Sandy aid was held hostage to approval of the Rockefeller development project by top officials in the Christie Administration:

“The allegations made this morning by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer on Up with Steve Kornacki are extremely disturbing. We will pursue these assertions to determine if they are true and if they are connected in any way to the actions and practices behind the George Washington Bridge lane closings.

“The lane closings were an abuse of power. These new revelations suggest a pattern of behavior by the highest ranking members of this administration that is deeply offensive to the people of New Jersey. If true, they could be illegal. There is no place in public service

for actions like this or for the people who are responsible.”

Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer on UP with Steve Kornacki (video)

Zimmer, who brought her personal diary with her, says she is willing to testify under oath that what she’s reporting is true, and to take a lie detector test. She says she was pressured by the Christie administration – through encounters with LG Guadagno and DCA Commissioner Constable – to offer a windfall to a private developer favored by Christie, and to do it within a time frame he wanted. She says she had “no choice” but to come forward with this story. Statements were issued from the Christie administration via Michael Drewniak for Christie and Guadagno, and DCA with a statement representing Constable. Everything Zimmer says is denied. All the principles in the story were invited but declined to come and be interviewed by Kornacki.  

Kornacki who broke the story, writes a detailed narrative of the story here.

Below the fold, the Zimmer interview in two parts.