Wednesday, November 15, 2006

EduCracies WITH Money but WITHOUT Students

Incredible but true:
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.”
Read the whole thing.

This is the type of thing that just leaves us scratching our heads and gives those who are opposed to public funding of education additional ammunition
See our latest EduPosts here, this date's Extra Credit Reading there, and today's edition of The Carnival of Education over at her place.