New Jersey Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts’ CORE
“Without changes in the way governments consolidate services, Roberts said, "there can be no property tax relief."Roberts has dubbed the series of bills CORE – “Clearing hurdles to shared services, Overriding waste in schools, Reining in pension abuses and Empowering citizens”.
The first thing you should know about CORE is that it does not address the high cost of government in New Jersey’s large towns and cities where the truly big bucks are spent. The program is actually aimed at the smaller, more fiscally conservative municipalities. Here’s what CORE would do:
- Give new broad authority to county school superintendents to get involved in local school budgets and other decisions
- Eliminate the state's 23 non-operating school districts within a year
- Authorize county referendums that would create new K-12 school districts
- Reform the state's school funding formula
- Eliminate public voting on school budgets that are within state guidelines
- End public employee pension padding and boosting practices
- Move school board and fire district elections to November
- Require all municipalities to post annual budgets and details of employment contracts on a website
Our Take on CORE
New authority for County school superintendents: Rather than give County school superintendents broad new authority in local school budgets and other matters, why not save taxpayers money by eliminating the position. County school superintendent jobs are redundant, duplicating work by the New Jersey department of education in Trenton.
Roberts said the time to change the county school superintendents' job is now because 15 of the 21 superintendents are up for reappointment at the end of the year. It is the time, he said, to replace those positions with new "super" county superintendents who would be appointed by the governor. Roberts said Governor Corzine supports this plan.
Should this measure pass, look for the "super" county superintendents to receive “super” compensation packages to go along with their broad new authority. Don’t look for any cost saving with this measure. County school districts here we come.
Eliminating non-operating school districts: Not much in the way cost savings to be found here, but it does give the appearance that politicians are “doing something” to reduce government costs. As Paul Mulshine points out “these districts are a model not of waste, but of efficiency. They have unpaid school boards whose sole job is to send a check to a neighboring district, which educates the kids. The only way to save on this arrangement would be not to educate the kids at all.”
Authorize county referendums that would create new K-12 school districts: File this under the theory entitled “bigger government is better government”. Roberts hasn’t explained how these referendums would work nor how larger school districts would save taxpayers money.
A look at the cost per student in the larger school districts in New Jersey should dispel the notion bigger is cheaper. Unless there are schools that could be closed and others currently existing with enough unused classrooms to accommodate a merger, where’s the savings in this idea? Fewer teachers, more students per classroom? Not likely.
What is likely is cost shifting through school district mergers. Total education costs may be the same, but some homeowners will pay more in property taxes so others can pay less. A municipality with higher property tax ratables would carry a larger share of the school tax burden and the one(s) with lower ratables would see a decrease in their property taxes. This would be a real boon to towns with a greater population (voters and school age children) and lower ratables.
Reform the state's school funding formula: Roberts is proposing a task force be set up to develop a new “public school funding formula that reflects a community's ability to pay for its schools.” However, Abbott school funding would not be included in the mission of the state task force nor would school construction aid.
Currently the 31 Abbott districts receive more than 56% of all state funding for education and have received 70% of all state aid for school construction. The Abbott school districts comprise just 21 percent of New Jersey’s public school students.
In the past five years, state aid to local school districts has increased 30% and as the Governor stated in his 2007 budget proposal, almost all of the increases in state aid have gone to the Abbott districts. As a result, Abbott districts now represent 12 of the state's 15 highest spending per student districts in the state. Further, per pupil spending in the Abbott districts is 30-35% greater than a non-Abbott school counterpart in the same county.
An equitable state aid funding formula for New Jersey’s school districts can not be developed without including the Abbott districts in the discussion. The task force would do nothing to reduce costs across the board or bring spending under control in the Abbott school districts. At best, the task force could come up with a formula that would increase state aid for some non-Abbott districts by eliminating or reducing it in others.
Eliminate public voting on school budgets that are within state guidelines: Because state spending guidelines and school budget caps are not set constitutionally, this change would give Trenton total control over annual school budget increases for local districts. Spending caps, like taxes, have a way of going up and never coming down. The state’s teachers union would effectively control the establishment of education spending guidelines and budget caps for the entire state.
Local officials and the state currently have the authority to override the wishes of voters on school spending issues. As far as we can tell this loss of control by voters has not brought about lower education costs or property taxes. It’s doubtful that total loss of control would bring about more fiscally prudent school budgets.
End public employee pension padding and boosting practices: Consider this move as political window dressing to give the appearance that something is being done about the financial crisis caused by overly generous public employee benefits.
The end of these practices is long overdue, but will not begin to address the far larger financial consequences pulic worker benefits have on the cost of government. Last year Governor Codey said state pensions, benefits are "strangling" New Jersey taxpayers. Without major reform, public worker benefits will continue to gobble up a larger share of the state’s budget and will relentlessly drive up local property taxes.
Move school board and fire district elections to November – Minor savings to be achieved with this move, but destined to politicize these offices if enacted. Should school budget voting be eliminated the reason for holding school board elections other than in November will cease making sense.
Require all municipalities to post annual budgets and details of employment contracts on a website: This is the “empowering citizens” aspect of CORE. While definitely a positive step, don’t look for a reduction in your property tax bill should this requirement become law.
The closer voters are to those spending their money, the better the chances for holding down government costs. CORE is a major move away from local control and offers little in the way of reducing the size or the cost of government in New Jersey.
Paul Mulshine summed up Roberts’ CORE scheme perfectly is his piece No big savings in little towns and he also revealed what “CORE” actually stands for - "Confiscate Our Remaining Earnings".