June 8, 2010
Whats in the Tool Kit for your District?
By: Jessica L. Cardone, Esq.
Governor Christie recently presented to the Legislature a 33-bill package of reforms, which the Governor calls his legislative "Tool Kit". The legislative package seeks to provide school districts with the tools necessary to, as Commissioner of Education Bret Schundler has testified, moderate the growth pace of school district salary and benefit costs. The centerpiece of this legislative package is "Cap 2.5," a constitutional amendment creating a 2.5% cap on the increase in the property tax levy by municipal, school and county governments. The amendment would also place a 2.5% cap on state spending, excluding increases in state aid to school districts. In addition to Cap 2.5, the Educational Tool Kit focuses upon the following areas:
Election Reform: Governor Christie proposes to move school board elections to November with the intent to increase voter participation and achieve cost savings without a stand alone election in April.
Shared Services: If the legislation is passed as anticipated, executive county superintendents will require collaboration among districts to evaluate the options of expanding shared services. Further, executive county superintendents may require a district to enter into shared services agreements with other units of local government if the arrangement will result in cost savings to either entity. Recognizing the increasing financial burdens of the districts in New Jersey, interest in shared services will continue to grow.
Labor Law Reform: The legislation intends to restore a districts ability to impose a last best offer contract after negotiations are fully exhausted; an option previously provided to school boards until 2003. Although a tool rarely used in the past, the last best offer contract may afford boards just the amount of power needed at the bargaining table to better control increasing costs.
The New Jersey School Boards Association supports this reform noting that [t]he administration understands the strength this proposal would give local school boards in keeping negotiations on track and result in contracts that balance the educational needs of students and the communitys financial interests, said Marie S. Bilik, Executive Director of the New Jersey School Boards Association.
Executive Superintendent County Review: The Governor proposes to give the executive county superintendents the responsibility to review all union and superintendent contracts and not approve contracts that:
- Have salary/benefit increases exceeding the 2.5% cap;
- Do not require pupil contact time per day as set by regulation;
- Do not require a minimum number of work days as set by regulation; or
- Prohibit contracting out auxiliary/ancillary services.
Lastly, the Governor recommends a number of key reforms to assist higher education institutions in New Jersey to lower costs, economize, and manage their budgets more effectively.
All in all Governor Christies package of reform legislation is designed to enable school districts to better manage their budgets and, by extension, hold down property taxes for New Jersey families. New Jersey League of Municipalities, The Christie Reform Agenda: Enacting Reform Now to Protect Education and New Jerseys Children (May 10, 2010).
Our firm will continue to closely monitor the progress of this legislation, its implementation, and the effect the final product will have on school boards across New Jersey.