Lucille Davy: Who is she protecting, the school districts, or the taxpayers?

Great quote: It is wrong for people to use those diploma mill degrees to increase their salaries,” Education Commissioner Lucille Davy told the Asbury Park Press. “But I don’t have the authority to stop them.”

Huh??

From our friends at Inthelobby:

If this story weren’t so sad, and so emblematic of what is wrong with New Jersey, this would actually be quite funny.

The case involves Breyer State University, an unaccredited, online school that used to be based in Alabama until that state investigated, called it a diploma-mill and then kicked the school out of their state.

At Breyer State, you could literally buy your degree for a minimal amount of work.

Now why should we care about this in New Jersey, you ask?

Because some of our enterprising school administrators got advanced degrees at Breyer State, according to the Asbury Park Press.  And those advanced degrees usually translated into big raises for school administrators.

And those big raises meant bigger pensions.

Pensions that we ultimately pay for.

And what does our state plan to do about this?

Nothing.

“It is wrong for people to use those diploma mill degrees to increase their salaries,” Education Commissioner Lucille Davy told the Asbury Park Press. “But I don’t have the authority to stop them.”

She doesn’t have the authority to stop them?

Oh please.

With the 19 gazillion regulations that our state pumps out on a daily basis, we never created a regulation that says school administrators must get degrees from accredited universities in order to have that degree recognized by the state, or to have it result in salary boosts from boards of education?

That’s like saying the state would have no choice but to accept teaching degrees from matchbook cover schools.

But, if amazingly, the state of New Jersey somehow never required that administrators gets degrees from accredited universities, what’s to stop Davy from requiring it now?

She can seek an executive order.  She can issue an administrative edict. Or, if need be, she can champion legislation.

But not our education commissioner. She apparently believes in talk, rather than action.

The issue arose in recent weeks from the case of Freehold Regional School District Superintendent H. James Wasser, and two other administrators at the school district, who got advanced degrees from Breyer State University.  When the Asbury Park Press reported that Alabama found Breyer State was a “diploma mill,” the state investigated.

And instead of issuing strict new guidelines, or tough standards, Davy and company punted, and offered “suggestions” to the school district. And, even more outrageously, let Wasser’s bonus – and tuition reimbursement — from his dubious degree stand.
If the school district was competent enough to act on suggestions alone, it wouldn’t’ have granted Wasser a $2,500 raise for his degree from his make-believe school. Or reimbursed him for the tuition.
But it did. Because, as we too often learn, this is New Jersey, where common sense – and good government — goes to die.

The Asbury Park Press had two experts from Boston College and Harvard Law School review Wasser’s doctoral thesis. Their conclusion: It didn’t meet their minimum standards for academic work, and would not pass at an accredited, doctorate-granting institution.

And here’s the thing.  You know this isn’t isolated with just Wasser and the Freehold Regional School District. You know that there are more cases of this throughout the state of New Jersey – and that it’s costing taxpayers money that they shouldn’t have to spend.
The irony, of course, is that the state of New Jersey has one of the highest per pupil spending ratios in the country.  We spend billions of dollars a year on education, and Gov. Corzine just pushed a bill through the Legislature authorizing us to spend hundreds of millions more.
Yet, with all this money, somehow our state has no problem with the fact that school districts are spending part of their tax dollars on raises and salary reimbursements for advanced degrees at unaccredited schools.  It’s perfectly fine with the fact that we the overtaxed citizens of New Jersey are paying for tuition reimbursements and salary increases based on dubious degrees from unaccredited schools.
And yet we wonder where the money goes.
How many other school administrators and/or teachers have received advanced degrees from unaccredited schools? How much money is that costing the state – and taxpayers — annually in salary increases and tuition reimbursements? Where is the statewide review of all school districts?  Where are the standards? Where is the outrage?

And how does any of this help the children?

We don’t know, because all Davy is willing to do is cluck that it’s wrong, but take no action.
Who is she protecting, the school districts, or the taxpayers?
As if we had to ask.
“I feel sorry for New Jersey. Here they had an opportunity to step up to the plate, and they opted not to,” former FBI agent Allen Ezell, who investigated diploma mill fraud for 11 years, told the Asbury Park Press. “I would have thought New Jersey would have had a little more brass than that.”

Yes, Agent Ezell, New Jersey has tons of brass. As long as they using it against the taxpayer.  When it comes to upsetting the bureaucracy, not so much.

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Censorship in schools is teaching a wrong lesson about our democracy

Interesting read by CHARLES C. HAYNES from APP.com

After 12 years of censorship and regimentation, many high school students will graduate this spring with little or no idea about what it means to be a free, active and engaged citizen in a democracy.

When they march across the stage to get their diploma, let’s hope someone slips them a copy of the First Amendment — with instructions on how to use it.

Far too many public school officials are afraid of freedom and avoid anything that looks like democracy. Under the heading of “safety and discipline,” administrators censor student religious and political speech, shut down student newspapers and limit student government to discussions about decorations at the prom.

Fortunately, a growing number of brave students defy the odds and take seriously what they hear about free speech in civics class.

Earlier this month, Heather Gillman won her fight when a federal judge ruled that her Florida high school violated the First Amendment by prohibiting students from displaying any symbol of support for gay rights, including rainbow stickers.

And last month, Alexander Nuxoll won the right to express the opposite viewpoint when the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that his suburban Chicago school must allow him to wear a “Be Happy, Not Gay” T-shirt while his civil rights case proceeds.

Of course, students don’t always win in court. In fact, they often lose. On May 12, Kimberly Jacobs lost her battle to wear a religious message on her shirt when a 9th Circuit panel upheld a Nevada school district’s dress code prohibiting messages, including political or religious expression, on student uniforms.

But win or lose, students shouldn’t need to call a lawyer in the first place. Public schools are supposed to be places that teach and model what it means to be a citizen in a democracy, especially what it means to use the basic freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Instead, many school officials are convinced that keeping order means ordering students to leave their religious and political convictions at the schoolhouse door.

Yes, schools have an important interest in maintaining safety and discipline. Schools can and should prohibit speech that is obscene or defamatory or promotes illegal activity. And schools may draw the line at student speech that can be shown to cause a substantial disruption in the school.

But the widespread practice of censoring the political and religious views of students simply because their speech might offend someone or might be controversial contradicts everything schools are supposed to teach about freedom of expression.

Students have become canaries in the free-speech coal mine: We can predict the future health of freedom of speech in America by looking at how public schools live up to — or fail to live up to — the First Amendment.

Right now, there are a lot of sick canaries out there. It’s no mystery why so many young people tune out public-policy debates, stay home from the polls and become cynical about their government.

Not all school officials make the false choice between security and freedom. In a small number of schools across the nation, students are given a real voice in the life of the school. Federal Hocking High School in Ohio and Fairview Elementary School in California are two stellar examples.

The challenge is for schools to promote freedom through lessons in civic responsibility. This includes, among other things, involving students in decision-making, teaching peer mediation of conflicts, encouraging a free student press, offering instruction in the ethical use of the Internet and integrating lessons in civic character across the curriculum.

Here’s a concept: Freedom works. Freedom and democracy, not censorship and repression, create safer schools for students — and ensure a more secure society for us all.

Freedom also takes work. Many school officials complain that in this era of high-stakes testing they don’t have time for such “extras” as supporting meaningful student government, promoting student journalism or creating opportunities for student engagement in public policy and service.

But if we can send young people to fight and die in the name of freedom and democracy abroad, surely we can take time to practice freedom and democracy at home.

Charles C. Haynes is senior scholar at the First Amendment Center, Arlington, Va.

Gov. Corzine pushes Legislation to borrow yet more… $2.5B for school construction. (I guess losing $6B is not enough)

NJ101.5 Radio – Millenium Radio

Governor Jon Corzine insists that requiring voter approval prior to State borrowing is crucial if New Jersey wants to right its fiscal ship. The concept was even one part of Corzine’s doomed four-part toll hike plan, but the Governor is still adamant about the borrowing aspect. This has some wondering why Corzine wants to borrow $2.5 billion for school construction without first asking the voters.

Yesterday in Newark, Corzine pushed legislation to let the state borrow $2.5 billion to restart school construction (the reason that the $6 billion School Construction Corp was created). The move is being questioned by Democrats and Republicans. The program stems from a state Supreme Court order directing that new schools be built in some of the state’s poorest districts. The Governor has informed the high court he would push lawmakers to approve an additional $2.5 billion by June 30 to restart the program, but legislators have yet to schedule action on any bills.

“The program sets aside funding from the (State) income tax to support the bonds,” says Corzine. “Not to just issue bonds with no means of paying for them.” He warns the voters could turn down the borrowing plan, “and then it will either be a choice of whether you raise taxes or crowd out something else in the budget.”

In a March budget hearing, State Senator Gerry Cardinale asked acting State Treasurer Dave Rousseau, “How do you justify what seems to be a split personality with respect to this issue in that it’s bad, but we’re going to do it once more?”

“We were under a court mandate to go back to the court in January with a plan to come up with $2.5 billion worth of money for school construction,” answered Rousseau. “What the Governor has said is for that $2.5 billion that he has talked about that he will pledge to dedicate a portion of the (State) income tax which is already used for property tax relief, to help pay those bonds.”

Cardinale says, “I think it might be wise in this instance to ignore the court throwing us into a position where we are either going to bankrupt the State or we’re going to bankrupt our residents.”

The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee has already unanimously approved legislation that would expand State voter approval requirements for issuing public debt. The resolution would place a question on this November’s ballot that would amend the State Constitution to prohibit the State Legislature from enacting any law that authorizes any State agency or independent authority to borrow money that will be paid back with an annual appropriation unless that borrowing is approved by the voters. The full Senate has yet to act on the proposal.

State Senator Leonard Lance is one of the sponsors. He says, “The reason we’re in the fiscal mess we’re in in New Jersey is that for the last ten years we have borrowed unconscionably billions and billions of dollars without voter approval and we have to cut it out……We have dug a tremendous hole in New Jersey by borrowing without voter approval and the way to get out of that hole is to stop digging.”

“Unchecked state borrowing is what has gotten us into our financial crisis in the first place,” says co-sponsor, State Senator Ray Lesniak. “We’ve relied far too much on budget gimmicks and pushed off our financial obligations to future generations. Loopholes that allow State agencies to borrow without voter approval need to be closed if we are going to move forward.”

State Senator Barbara Buono, a Democrat like Corzine is another co-sponsor. She says, “This is an essential step in restoring New Jersey’s long-term financial health……It’s time to cut up the credit cards and borrow only for those projects that have broad public support.” Bouno says she’s “bewildered” by Corzine’s Wednesday event, “It seems violative of the spirit and the intent of the
proposed change.”

Under the resolution, voter approval would not be required if the debt is undertaken by an independent non-State agency and repaid by a third party or if the source of revenue used to repay the debt is required to be appropriated by the State Constitution.

The State Supreme Court has ruled the State must fund the building of schools in the so-called Abbott districts. The Governor says, “I think that we potentially have a constitutional conflict coming that could delay this process an extraordinarily long period of time.”

“The Supreme Court has permitted in the past borrowing without voter approval for school construction, but it certainly has never required that we fund new schools that way,” says Lance. He adds, “We could have a pay-as-you-go system, several hundred million dollars a year for a decade or so. That is preferable to me than borrowing and certainly borrowing without voter approval.”

Oroho: Abbott Audits Highlight Need to Revisit School Funding Formula

Senator Steve Oroho, a member of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, issued the following statement regarding published reports that waste, fraud and abuse are rampant in the 31 Special Needs districts:

“I am dismayed by the most-recent reports in the Star-Ledger and Trenton Times that draw attention to wasteful spending in Abbott districts. It is disturbing that some districts cited for waste and abuse will receive increases of as much as 16 percent increase in their state funding under the new formula that was rammed through a lame-duck session of the Legislature.

“These revelations make it clear the Legislature should revisit the school funding formula immediately. A proper formula would be equitable. State funding would always follow the child and be based on the individual child’s needs, not be assigned based on outdated analysis of which districts are most needy. That has only led to out-of-control spending and a lack of accountability that has produced predictably poor results.

“Schools must be held accountable. Aid must get to the classroom. Too often, it’s diverted to the wasteful uses highlighted in the auditor’s report. That will never be acceptable. It’s past time to adopt a fair school funding formula, with safeguards against waste and abuse.

“It is also imperative that we immediately revisit the way we fund our schools because education is a huge component of our state budget. If we are serious about getting our fiscal house in order, the Governor should put school funding back on the table as part of this year’s budget deliberations.”

Taxpayers with little choice: Superintendent salaries hover around $ Quarter Mil a year

A perfect example why these school budgets keep going up. It’s not to educate our children – it’s to pay these guys..

Epps’ pay would climb to $275G in 3 years

Jersey City Superintendent of Schools Charles T. Epps Jr. is expected to ink a new three-year deal this week that will pay him $252,000 a year starting July 1, bump him up to $260,000 next year, and pay $275,000 the third year, according to persons familiar with the negotiations.

The agreement represents a roughly 4 percent hike for the 63-year-old schools chief who’s been hauling down nearly $242,000 a year, including his $1,000 a month housing allowance, for running the state’s second-largest school system.

“I think that’s kind of a lot of money, while teachers go underpaid,” School 11 parent Frank Ramos said about Epps’s anticipated pay raise. adding: “I didn’t even know he was the superintendent.”

No school official would confirm the new salary figures, and through his spokesman, Epps would only say, “There is no finalized contract as yet.”

A public hearing on the new pact is scheduled for Thursday, 5 p.m. at School 11, 886 Bergen Ave., when the attorney who negotiated the deal on behalf of the school board is expected to make a presentation.

Even before the anticipated raise, Epps was one of the highest-paid public officials in Hudson County, out-earning both Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy ($118,000) and Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise ($133,000).

But compared to other superintendents, Epps’s deal represents the going rate. For example, the superintendent of Newark – Marion A. Bolden – makes $270,000 a year.

And West New York’s schools chief Robert Van Zanten is paid $231,000 a year to run a 7,000-student district that is less than a quarter of the size of the Jersey City school district, which has 30,000 students. Union City’s schools boss Stanley Sanger is paid $202,000 a year in a district with 11,000 students. North Bergen Superintendent Robert Dandorph earns $198,000 a year for running a 8,000-student system.

“This is one position throughout the nation that has been able to command these kind of salaries,” said Mike Yaple, spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association, which is also a headhunter for school bosses.

“Around 1990, the typical support search yielded 100 applications,” Yaple said. “Now if we get one or two dozen, you are doing well.”

As teacher salaries rise, administrative and superintendent jobs become less attractive, he said.

Besides, Yaple added, superintendents don’t get summers off.