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The New Jersey School Boards Association is in the process of reviewing the proposals made in “Path to Progress,” the recently released New Jersey Economic & Fiscal Policy Workgroup recommendation paper. (The full text of the report, as well as additional information, is available at the website, www.pathtoprogressnj.org.)

The proposals, which were made by a panel of more than two dozen legislators; and financial and policy experts, include measures that address pension and benefit reform; education at the administrative level; county and municipal government reform and shared services; and state and local government tax structure. The paper was released on Aug. 9 at a news conference at the State House held by Senate President Steve Sweeney.

The education proposals include a plan to merge all school districts in the state into K-12 regional districts; to establish two countywide school district pilot programs; to shift funding and administration of extraordinary special education to the state level; to establish a state-level group to address students for whom a residential program is being considered; to establish a special education study commission to review the current special education funding formula; and to appoint Office of Administrative Law judges whose sole focus would be special education cases.

On the topic of regionalization and the two countywide school district pilot programs, NJSBA’s existing policy is clear.  “NJSBA encourages discussion of school district regionalization,” said Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, NJSBA executive director. “NJSBA also believes that the voters in the affected communities must have the final say on the matter, and only after a study of the economic and educational impact of a merger.”

On the topic of the special education proposals, NJSBA supports efforts to alleviate the budgetary difficulties that local school districts face in meeting the needs of New Jersey’s special education students.

The working group has also made several recommendations that would rein in the cost of providing health care coverage to active and retired public employees. Included among the various proposals is one that would shift all state and local government employees from “platinum” level to “gold” level coverage.  The Association strongly supports any efforts to curb rising healthcare costs, which will help local boards of education direct limited resources into educational programming and services, while maintaining a level of benefits necessary to recruit high-quality staff.

“We look forward to discussing these proposals further with New Jersey’s lawmakers as the plan receives a full hearing by the Legislature,” said Dr. Feinsod. “We will be providing information and additional analysis regarding the recommendations in the proposal.”