Wednesday, July 22, 2015


In discussions about the upcoming school year, the Board of Education on Monday began to consider withdrawing from the Garden State Coaltion on Schools, which advocates in Trenton for local districts, and perhaps hiring its own lobbyist to pressure the state for more funding.

The Board, which spends about $2,500 annually as a Coalition member, has been frustrated with the continued lack of state funding for the district. This past year, our state aid, $4.2 million, represented a tiny percentage of the $123 million total budget.

"At this point if we are going to make a dent in Trenton ... we should seriously consider lobbying in Trenton as a real reality. We really should consider maybe bringing in a big gun," said Board Member Madhu Pai. "Going the route of the Garden State Coalition of Schools or a legislator who's not going to want to favor one school district over others is just not going to work. We need to at this point forge it alone, and I think we need to forge it, we need to do what we need to do to forge it."

Board Member Jeffrey Bennett raised the issue of changing tactics during Monday's meeting after leading the charge to try uniting other districts in an effort to demand changes to the state funding formula. But he said seeking such an approach has not been successful.

"I've emailed like 60 other districts about state aid, but only about 15 of them have emailed this back," Bennett said. "A lot of them do not want to make this a priority. I'm not really sure why. I think we should not be a member of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, I do not think they fight for us very well right now. I think we should save $2,500 bucks."

Board members cited other districts, such as Montclair, who have seen success in increasing their aid with lobbying efforts.

But Board Member Elizabeth Baker disagreed, stressing the need to focus on legislation.

"I do respect Mr. Bennett's view that the current state funding situation is intolerable for our district and is driving a series of cuts that are beyond the bone at this point," she said. "I don't think we should be discussing withdrawing from the Garden State Coalition without having consulted with Ms. Daugherty."

She referred to Board Member Beth Daugherty, who is the board's representative to the Coalition and who was absent Monday night.

"The bottom line is nothing is going to happen in Trenton unless we are part of the solution to make it happen," Baker said. "We don't get anything done in Trenton without votes and without allies. What we really need to do is come up with a strategic plan both to win allies, create a movement, whether its exerting more force within the Garden State Coalition of Schools and other coalitions ... working with our legislative leaders."

When acting Superintendent James Memoli asked for direction on renewing membership in the Coalition, the board deferred with Daugherty absent until next month's meeting.

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