GLEN ROCK PUBLIC SCHOOLS

David C. Verducci, Ph.D. Superintendent of Schools 620 Harristown Road Glen Rock, NJ 07452-2398 (201) 445-7700 Ext. 8950 Fax (201) 389-5019 e-mail: dcverducci@glenrocknj.org

Honorable Chris Christie Governor of New Jersey Post Office Box 001 Trenton, NJ 08625 609-292-6000 Dear Governor Christie: As you know, the oversight function of the New Jersey Department of Education relies heavily on the cooperation of local superintendents of schools who regularly must sign what are known as "Statements of Assurance." These documents carry the weight of sworn testimony and indicate that the school district has met its obligations under law. One of the most important of these relates to the preparation of annual school budgets, which requires that the Chief School Administrator aver that the local school budget meets the State Constitution's requirement that public schools provide, at a minimum, a "Thorough and Efficient" education to all students.

It is with regret that I must inform you that while the Glen Rock Public Schools will, somehow, meet this obligation, it must be understood that we consider "T. & E." to be only a baseline threshold and does not in any way represent our goals and aspirations. A 100% reduction in our state school aid means that the district will be forced to eliminate many of the very programs and support services which enable our students to achieve at such conSistently high levels. When such drastic -and some are using the word "Draconian"- budgetary cuts are unilaterally imposed, especially in a time frame of days in a months-long budget process, a dramatiC loss of educational quality is simply inevitable.
In the school year 2009-2010, Glen Rock received state school aid (i.e., categorical aid and "extraordinary costs" special education aid) in the amount of $2,039,957. Based on your own statements, Governor, we anticipated a "tightening of belts" and spent months building a responsible school budget. Again, using your own public statements as a guideline, our financial planning proceeded on the basis of an expected 15% reduction in state school aid equaling $262,516, or approximately the cost of four first year teachers (salaries and benefits). What happened instead was the elimination of ALL of our regular school aid and a $204,437 reduction in previously "state-guaranteed" debt service payments for our referendum project. Combined with the $568,000 of promised state aid that will now not be received in the current school year (Le., 2009-2010 Appropriated Surplus) we begin the new budgetary cycle with lost

GLEN ROCK

Is

AN EQUAL OPPORTUNITY EMPLOYER

Governor Chris Christie

Impact of2010-2011 Cuts in State School Aid
March 29, 2010 page 2 of 7 revenue totaling $2,812,394 or the equivalent of 44.6 faculty members! Even with cutting non­ salary expenditures to the bone, there is no way that a top-flight district like Glen Rock can maintain its current standard of quality with the number of faculty cuts that are necessary to balance the budget and give our community a minimal tax increase. Included in a list of what we are looking at in the 2010-2011 school budget are deep personnel cuts (in the neighborhood of 36 administrators, teachers, support staff, and custodial & maintenance staff) as well as stiff reductions in elementary guidance programs, library/media services, World Language classes, athletics and extra-curricular activities, new textbooks and other media necessary to meet the demands of updated curricula, technology, supplies and materials, routine preventative maintenance of our physical plant and facilities, and much, much more! Governor Christie, most people in New Jersey, myself included, agree that the State's financial situation is dire, that the funding process for public schools is broken and needs to be fixed, that pension reform is critical, and that the time to begin addressing these issues is not tomorrow, but now. But where we disagree comes to the fore with regard to how this all came about and how we/should go about fixing it. What follows, then, are concrete suggestions for remedying this crisis situation without decimating our public schools. These ideas are designed to form the basis of a larger plan to place the state on firmer fiscal ground. Simultaneously, the implementation of the roadmap outlined below is also intended to build up our weakest schools withoutdriving our very best public school districts -institutions which could serve as models of "how to do it righf'- into an inevitable downward spiral.

1. Make us -ALL of the stakeholders here- a partner in the process. This first item is the most important of all. Please stop talking ill us! Talk to us! We are not the enemy! Make
us a partner in the endeavor to fix New Jersey. From the superintendent of schools to the part-time cafeteria worker, the overwhelming majority of us who spend our professional lives in the public schools are hard-working people who want to see children succeed. Building a coalition with the educational community for the betterment of the common good will not happen if you simply continue to dictate the terms of change. We have a lot of good ideas. We can help you accomplish your goals. We also want things to be different, but true systemic change will not take root if the only tools you use are blunt instruments that punish instead of encourage. We are people of intellect who want to be treated as such, not like the victims of a school-yard bully. Governor, I think you will find a very receptive audience among educational professionals and the citizens-at-Iarge if you simply approach the whole situation differently. Leaders don't just demand or dictate. They build consensus through persuasion and reason. Change this dynamic and you have a chance to change things even beyond your own greatest aspirations.

Every child. Every chance. Every day.

Governor Chris Christie Impact of2010-2011 Cuts in State School Aid March 29, 2010 page 3 of 7

2. New Jersey's fiscal problems did not occur overnight and should be fixed over a period of time. Consider the case of an individual who doesn't use credit responsibly and
gets into financial trouble. Should the person be required to pay back his or her debt at such a rate (i.e., in time and amount) that he or she could no longer afford food & shelter? Doesn't it make much more economic good sense to phase in controls that will get the system onto the right track -and then keep it there- over a period of time? Sustained change needs time. It is not accomplished overnight, or in our case, one or two budget years. As it stands now, all that is happening is that districts, in an effort to avoid the dismemberment of their school districts, are in many cases just shifting the burden. In Glen Rock, we are very sensitive to the financial condition of our residents. Since we won't burden them with a school tax rate any higher than it absolutely must be, my only choice is to make drastic cuts in staff programs. No matter how you slice it, no matter how it is portrayed politically, kids WILL be hurt by what you are doing and how you are doing it. Students know this, and Governor, please give kids a bit more credit. Our students, like those who staged a walk-out recently in Cliffside Park, are not "pawns" of teachers or administrators, no matter how much more palatable it might be to believe. Our kids are Vibrant, intelligent people who think for themselves, see what is really happening, interpret their own experiences, see things clearly, and, il1 short, are seething with anger over the cuts that THEY will be forced to endure. 3. Stop demonizing public school teachers and administrators! I have been a professional educator for almost thirty years and along the way teachers somehow stopped being thought of as a noble breed. What is fascinating to me is that this transformation over time roughly corresponds to the timeframe of professional educators actually beginning to earn a livable wage. In the early 1970s, my first teaching job paid $5,000 with no benefits! For years teaching salaries were so bad that in 1985 Governor Kean had to sign the Teacher Quality Employment Act into law, guaranteeing teachers a minimum salary of $18,500! At the time, more than 80% of New Jersey's teachers made less than that amoul1t. Benefits and a decent pension were the only inducements available to encourage good teachers to stay in the profession over the long term. Look at tenure for superintendents, abolished in 1992. Despite the warnings of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, this created a system of "free agency," forcing up salaries for a position that requires decades of training and experience in a wide range of fields. The long and short of it is when salaries began to rise to a level approaching something like a "livable wage," and the true cost of a quality educational product became more widely known and understood, things changed. These days, many of those who are now demanding teacher salary cuts conveniently forget that in boon times we were not the ones who received huge cash end-of-the-year bonuses. Further, our teachers and administrators are "giving back." Glen Rock's union contracts alreadv have an employee pay component for health benefits. Tuition reimbursement programs and the like are alreadv tightly regulated. We do not get paid overtime. We do not fly to work in helicopters or chauffeur-driven cars. Teachers and administrators are not in the top one percent of wage earners (and this even includes well-paid superintendents!) who make over $400,0001 While

Every child. Every chance. Every day.

Governor Chris Christie

Impact of2010-2011 Cuts in State School Aid
March 29, 2010 page 4 of 7 deserving the merit of full and fair consideration, pay freezes are not a panacea. Ultimately, what it will serve to do is to drive the "best and brightese' out of the education field completely. Where will our schools be then? Incidentally, Governor, do you pay for your own health benefits or do benefits for you and your family come as a perk of being a state­ employee, albeit an elected one? If this is the case, why has no one heard you speak of your own voluntary pay-back? I think everyone would certainly love to see some of your leadership by example.

4. Amend the proposals to repair the State's Pension System so that the "fixes" are Governor Christie, as teachers and as more equitable to everyone concerned. administrators, we have paid our share of pension costs for all of these years; we simply did not have a choice as it was deducted automatically from our paychecks. It was the State which did not. Not only didn't Trenton pay its share but it raided the pension system for cash and then promptly "took a bath" as the markets tanked and the huge fund of cash -OUR MONEY, PAID FOR BY OUR HARD WORK!- was lost in the markets through highly dubious investments such as the financial instruments known commonly as derivatives. Teachers and administrators were not responsible for this investment fiasco. Neither did we have any say when Trenton unilaterally raised our contributions from 5°1o to S1J2°/0 to make up, in part, for its own shortfall and poor decisions. We don't "double-dip" into the pension system. We never asked for the formula change a few years back which increased pension costs. Most importantly, why are legislators who take advantage of double-dipping (as well as lawmakers who serve on a part-time basis) and in the pension systems grandfathered when public school employees with 25+ years ofservice are not? What ever happened to what is "good for the goose is good for the gander?" To paraphrase George Orwell (a writer whose work I first explored in a public high school English class, by the way), it seems that when it comes to New Jersey lawmakers, some animals are, in fact "more equal than others." This is fair, how? S. Enhance the size of the State's fiscal pie through increased revenues and eliminate the many absurdly wasteful and expensive subsidies that Trenton doles out. For starters, reinstate the "Millionaires Tax" on the top one percent of wage earners. I
thought we were in a crisis. Most of us would probably agree that if an individual is in this top 1%, you are probably not in a bad way financially despite how it might personally feel to you. This would solve the 2010-2011 state aid problem in one fell swoop. Second, get rid of subsidies and "tax-incentives'! (read giveaways) to rich business owners who are making or stand to make multi-millions of dollars off the backs of school children. Xanadu. The Prudential Center. AtlantiC City Casinos. These three areas alone have cost New Jersey, literally, hundreds upon hundreds of millions.

6. Dramatically scale back the N.l.A.S.K. I H.S.P.A. standardized testing program
and do so immediately. Want to give me, as a superintendent of schools, tools that I could
use (and would be happy to do so!) to Significantly reduce the local tax burden? Here is an

Every child. Every chance. Every day.

Governor Chris Christie

Impact of2010-2011 Cuts in State School Aid
March 29, 2010 page 5 of 7 important example. Specifically, immediately drop four of the seven years of state testing that are now required of all public schools, but particularly for those districts designated as "high­ achieving" by your own Department of Education. Students who can score an 85% passing rate year-over-year do not need to have instructional time wasted with over-testing. The solution is elegantly simple: return to the former system of testing in grades four, eight, and eleven. It is educationally valid, statistically reliable as a measure of student progress (assuming a sound standardized instrument), and millions upon millions upon millions of dollars cheaper! I assure you, sir, that Pearson Corporation, the State's test publisher, doesnt

need the money anywhere near half as much as we do!
7. Cut overMburdensome unfunded mandates NOW! While the goals of these mandates are, in many cases, laudable, they are expensive to administer and require very substantial amounts of tax-payer dollars, running into the tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars when taken en toto. Just a few examples include bilingual education, "Right to Know" laws, bio-hazard training, radon testing, overboard anti-bullying and anti-violence & vandalism program and reporting requirements, "Pest Management" (i.e., bugs), school security over­ regulation, standardized testing, and many, many, many more. The elimination of the regulatory requirements of just the programs mentioned have the potential to plug a very large part of our budget defiCit.

8. Reduce the rate of health care increases in the State Health Benefits programs.
Reign in Horizon Blue Cross/Blue Shield's 20%-35% annual increases and your financial worries for New Jersey will be well on their way to being solved forever. How can we possibly be expected to stay within a spending cap of 2.5% in 2011-2012 and not destroy our school systems unless there are cost-containment efforts that are external to the individual school districts. 9. Place schools in New Jersey on a level playing field. For one, stop subsidizing the per-pupil costs of the students attending the Bergen Academies. The audited per-pupil expenditure is well over $20,000 per student per annum. Who even knows what the true costs are? Most public schools are somewhere in the neighborhood of half that amount. Secondly, stop the approval of charter schools in communities with high-achieving schools; save these approvals for failing school districts that need it. There is absolutely no reason to believe, for example, that a recent Charter School application filed from Bergen County will provide greater educational opportunities than its public counterparts, when the proposed school would almost exclusively from Fair Lawn, Paramus, Glen Rock, and Ridgewood. Schools in communities such as these do nothing, in the end, but siphon off public funds from these local school districts (which we should not forget is paid by the local taxpayer) and simply subsidizes private, and often religiously-based, schools. As I read recently, "Charter schools are, in most cases, for­ profit operations that do not always make the right decisions for cl-lildren based on education standards. They make decisions that affect their bottom line and in so doing the quality of

Every child. Every chance. Every day.

Governor Chris Christie Impact of2010-2011 Cuts in State School Aid March 29, 2010 page 6 of 7 education suffers." Governor, give public schools a fair chance. Either take away the unfunded mandates outlined above and/or require charter schools to operate in the same regulatory environment that we do. Now that would be fair. 10. Use positive incentives not negative inducements to promote change. This costs so very little -in some cases nothing- and has the potential to profoundly change the system. Go back to our example of the individual who over-used his or her credit cards. Doesn't it make more sense to set up tighter controls (on both future credit and repayments) on the individual instead of everyone? Is it fair for the credit-card issuer to place punitive credit controls on individuals who are responsible and meet their financial obligations? Do the same for public school districts. Provide some regulatory relief to those of us who consistently demonstrate that we play by the rules and get the job done well. For once try rewards instead of punishments. From the standpoint of school districts that are doing well, all we ask is that Trenton and the Department of Education leave us be in order that we can continue to do well. Let us just do our jobs. Concentrate your scarce resources on those places that need it. That would certainlysave everyone time, energy, and most of all, money! 11. Stop Trenton's practice of "Edict by Single Example." Take for example the case of the Keansburg superintendent who thought it was acceptable to collect over a half million dollars in severance, sick, and vacation pay when she left the district. Most superintendents I know 100% agree with the general public that this was simply outrageous; we were (and still are) quite angry over how the whole situation besmirched our collective professional reputation. But the reaction of the Legislature was equally unconscionable. The issuance of the, again, Draconian rules that were promulgated as a result of this inCident (and the very few like it) were simply wrong, politically expedient, and in the long run likely to have a hoard of unintended consequences (go back to the discussion of superintendent tenure and free agency for a good illustration of this pOint.) Finally, Governor Christie, let me reiterate that, in terms of your stated goal of getting the state's financial house in order, we really are with you. There are simply better ways of doing it and I hope you will see that the intent of this letter isn't just to re-state any tired, political party-line but, rather, to offer concrete and positive suggestions to help bring about true, systemic, and lasting change. As a gesture to demonstrate my sincerity here, allow me to extend an invitation to you to visit our school district in the very near future to give you an opportunity to see first-hand what will be lost if something doesn't change dramatically and soon. I am not interested in a "sound­ bite tour" or a "photo-op" but, instead, offer you a personal visit to our district and some private, small-group conversations with district personnel so that you might be able to gain additional insights into the complex nature of the Circumstances in which we find ourselves. We truly want to help and Sincerely hope that you will accept our gesture of good will in the

Every child. Every chance. Every day.

Governor Chris Christie Impact of2010-2011 Cuts in State School Aid March 29, 2010 page 7 of 7 same spirit in which it is offered. Perhaps spending a day with us in this manner will help shift your perception of public school teachers and administrators out of the "Part of the Problem" column into that labeled "Part of the Solution/I We need your leadership, Governor Christie, and we need it now. Please help us to save our district. For quality public schools such as ours -New Jersey/s "Lighthouse" districts- time is running out. Thank you very much for your time and consideration. Very truly yours,

David C. Verducci, Ph.D. Superintendent of Schools Glen Rock Public Schools
c: State Senator John A. Girgenti Assemblywoman Elease Evans Assemblywoman Nellie Pou Commissioner Bret Schundler Executive County Superintendent Aaron R. Graham New Jersey Association of School Administrators Bergen County Association of School Administrators Glen Rock Board of Education Glen Rock Education Association Glen Rock Administrators Association Glen Rock Federated Home School Association Glen Rock Mayor & Council

Every child. Every chance. Every day.