I have no opinion about the way New Jersey wants to spend their money. The question is, "how much money?" Here is the "money" quote,
------------------ And any serious plan to try to control property taxes in New Jersey--- which at an average $6,000 annually are the highest in the nation---must focus on the state's schools, since public education accounts for about a third of the state budget and two-thirds of the property taxes collected. ------------------
And if the NJ state budget looks anything like the New York City budget, spending on any other line item does not even come close to spending on education. (Recall that in NYC, spending on education is several multiples the size of the SUM of police, fire, and sanitation.)
As a democratic society, it is entirely up to us how much money we spend, and how we spend it, but only rank ignorance can support the proposition that American schools are "vastly underfunded".
Haim Je me souviens
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/15/nyregion/15school.html?ref=nyregion November 15, 2006 School Districts With Officials but No Schools? New Jersey Has Them By WINNIE HU TETERBORO, N.J., Nov. 12 ? The tiny borough here elects three school board members to keep records and divvy up its $261,887 budget. Yet Teterboro has no schools and only 10 students, who are sent to neighboring districts.
?I was going to go back to school to help boost the population,? said James E. Hall, 88, one of the school board members, who also happens to be the borough?s tax assessor and secretary of the Board of Health.
If New Jersey?s 615 school districts seem a lot for a small state (New York has 697 and Connecticut 169), nowhere is that more evident than in Teterboro and the 22 other ?nonoperating districts.? Essentially, they exist in name only, yet have staffs to schedule board meetings, record the minutes and collect tax dollars to pay tuition and transportation costs for their students.
But with four legislative committees in New Jersey poised to release plans on Wednesday aimed at easing the state?s property tax burden ? two of them examining changes in the school financing formula and consolidation of services ? a growing number of lawmakers and educators are calling for the elimination of these districts without schools. Although they serve only 2,172 children, a tiny fraction of the state?s 1.4 million students, they cost local taxpayers a total of more than $800,000 a year in administrative expenses, including salaries and office supplies.
And any serious plan to try to control property taxes in New Jersey ? which at an average $6,000 annually are the highest in the nation ? must focus on the state?s schools, since public education accounts for about a third of the state budget and two-thirds of the property taxes collected.
For now, one notion of consolidating all 615 districts into 21 countywide systems seems unlikely, though lawmakers say they are continuing to examine ways to change the financing formula and perhaps foster the streamlining of the districts.
?It just shows how crazy our patchwork quilt of school districts is,? said State Senator Bob Smith, a Democrat from Middlesex County, referring to the sheer number of districts. ?If you sat down to develop the most inefficient and wasteful education system, you couldn?t do any better.?
These districts with bureaucracies but relatively few students range from the wealthy seaside resort of Mantoloking, where residents live in lavish houses looking out at the ocean, to a tiny enclave in South Jersey where employees of the famed Pine Valley golf course live. Each has a school board that is required to hold regular meetings ? even in years when there are no students ? leading some members to question the existence of their own districts.
?It?s kind of weird,? said Barbara Christian, a board member in Pine Valley, which has five students living in the district, three of whom attend parochial schools. ?Once in a while we have to sign some papers, but we really don?t meet.?
Still, many residents in these districts want to remain separate so they can have some say in how their children are educated and preserve the distinct identity of their communities.
In many cases, the arrangement also keeps their property taxes lowbecause the school district does not incur such costs of operating schools as building maintenance and teacher salaries.
In Mantoloking, for instance, the Borough Council adopted a resolution in August to oppose consolidation of its five-student district. The Mantoloking students attend Point Pleasant Beach schools, at a cost of $10,500 a student, and an additional $11,000 for busing for them. Mantoloking is not, however, officially joined with the Point Pleasant school district.
?We have a very excellent deal going on, and we?ve had it for 50 years,? said William K. Dunbar, the mayor of Mantoloking. ?We don?t want to join with any other town because our costs would go skyrocketing.?
The latest push to focus on districts without schools reflects the larger struggle to streamline New Jersey?s sprawling public school system, which is often viewed as an outgrowth of the state?s past penchant for subdividing government. Indeed, its 566 municipalities once inspired a former Assembly speaker, Alan J. Karcher, to write a book in 1999 titled ?New Jersey?s Multiple Municipal Madness.?
As recently as 2004, Gov. James E. McGreevey said he would rid the state of nonoperating school districts that ?oversee nothing but their own existence.? But he backed down after the districts protested and neighboring schools objected to taking on additional administrative responsibilities.
?It was symbolic of all of the problems connected to changing these kinds of relationships,? said William L. Librera, the education commissioner at that time. ?If you can?t even consolidate nonoperating school districts, which exist just for clerical reasons, how are you ever going to bring larger places together??
But Frank Belluscio, a spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association, said that smaller districts, including those without schools, would be more willing to join together for such educational benefits as more elective courses, if there were not financial obstacles. For instance, Mr. Belluscio said that any savings realized by eliminating some administrative positions would probably be offset by the increased costs of a larger school system.
In cases where districts have merged to create regional school systems, financing has been a contentious issue because affluent communities often pay far more in property taxes than neighboring towns in the same school system. The Beach Haven school district contends that it pays an average of $38,210 for each of its 90 students to attend Southern Regional High School in Ocean County, while Stafford Township paid $3,649 for each of its 2,000 students to go to the same school.
?It?s just absurd,? said Deb Whitcraft, a longtime Beach Haven resident and former mayor. ?It?s not just unfair, but we also have no say in how the money is spent. People are furious all over the island.?
Senator John H. Adler, a Democrat from Camden County, said on Tuesday that one proposal under consideration would give wealthier districts an incentive to merge with poorer counterparts by eliminating what some see as a penalty. As it is, he said, ?wealthier districts merging would get hit with a tax spike, so they just wouldn?t do it.?
But while few will openly admit it, some residents in well-off school districts whose children attend local schools also balk at the idea of sending their children to school with those from poor families.
?The quality of the school is supposed to have to do with the quality of the education delivered,? said William Firestone, a professor of education policy at Rutgers. ?But in fact, real or perceived, a lot of it has to do with the neighborhoods and the kids who go there.?
In Teterboro, whose land consists mostly of Teterboro Airport and which has a total of only 45 residents, school district records are stored in a single filing cabinet in the municipal building across Route 46 from the airport. Mr. Hall, the school board member, keeps track of the district?s annual budget in an old-fashioned ledger. It is filled with cross-outs because a single family moving in, or out, changes the entire school budget, such as it is.
While Mr. Hall said there would certainly be advantages to joining another school district, he remained divided over whether the borough should do so. ?We?re doing well the way we are,? he said. ?I like it because it?s working.?