Years ago, when I served as a school superintendent, a mother came into my office and told me, “My daughter has been blind from birth. I want her to attend school in a regular school setting.” There was just one problem: Our Child Study Team told me there simply was no way that could happen. I sided with the mother; it was one of the few times I overruled a Child Study Team. But twelve years later, I stood on the stage of our high school during graduation ceremonies – and I handed a diploma to that blind girl.
Throughout my four decades in education, my heart has always been with children with disabilities. I guess I always felt like I was fighting for the underdog. It was that way when I began my career as a special education teacher, and it is today as executive director of the New Jersey School Boards Association.
Over the past 40 years, I’ve also discovered that funding special education is one of the most vexing problems facing our schools. No state pays more per student for special education than New Jersey. And our current funding system pits the needs of traditional-education students against the needs of special-education students. We cannot continue with this unacceptable situation.
So when I recently announced that NJSBA will embark on a study to explore the cost of special education in New Jersey, no one – no one – questioned my commitment to special education. We don’t want shortcuts, and we don’t want to take from one source of funding to pay for another. We want to improve the system for all students.
I established the NJSBA Special Education Task Force with the charge of reviewing the state’s current process for funding special education; studying other state’s systems of providing special education; exploring alternative funding methods; and identifying cost-efficient strategies to fund and deliver special education services.
It will be chaired by Dr. Gerald Vernotica, associate professor at Montclair State University. Dr. Vernotica has been a powerful voice in education, having formerly served as assistant state commissioner of education, school superintendent, principal, teacher, and director of special services.
Also serving on the committee are eight dynamic board members and administrators, who are sincerely dedicated to quality education for all students: Lynne E. Crawford of the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education; Sheli Dansky of the River Edge school board; Carol Grossi, superintendent of Hanover Park Regional; Dr. Leon B. Kaplan of the Lawrence Township school board; Michael Lee of the Tabernacle school board; Irene LeFebvre of the Boonton Town school board; Charles T. Miller of the East Amwell school board; and Valerie Wilson, business administrator for the Newark School District. NJSBA President John Bulina will serve as an ex-officio member of the committee. We hope to see their recommendations by the end of June.
They’re taking on a complex issue, one without any easy solutions. But I feel confident that we can bring about meaningful change that will improve special-education funding, without diminishing services. If we do it right, this will benefit all students.
At NJSBA, that’s our commitment to education.
These are my Reflections. I look forward to hearing yours. Contact me at [email protected].