Subcommittee Meeting

of

JOINT COMMITTEE ON THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS

ABBOTT SUBCOMMITTEE

"Recommendations for the Designation of Abbott Districts"

LOCATION:

Committee Room 1  State House Annex Trenton, New Jersey

DATE:

August 5, 2003
9:30 a.m.

 

MEMBERS OF SUBCOMMITTEE PRESENT:

Assemblyman Donald Tucker, Co-Chair

Assemblywoman Rose Marie Heck, Co-Chair

Senator Ronald L. Rice

Senator Martha W. Bark

Assemblyman Patrick J. Diegnan Jr.

 

 

ALSO PRESENT:
 

Melanie M. Schulz
Executive Director
Joint Committee on the Public Schools


                                                     

Meeting Recorded and Transcribed by
T
he Office of Legislative Services, Public Information Office,
Hearing Unit, State House Annex, PO 068, Trenton, New Jersey


 

ASSEMBLYWOMAN ROSE MARIE HECK (Co-Chair): Good

morning, everyone.

Commissioner, welcome.

C O M M I S S I O N E R W I L L I A M L. L I B R E R A: Good

morning, and welcome to you.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: We had a wonderful meeting with

you the last time, so Iím looking forward to today -- and some new information,

I hope.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: I think so, and itís always good to

be here. Itís always good to have the opportunity to present to you what work

weíre doing, to talk with you about the basis of that work, and then to continue

to discuss how we are going to proceed, and why, and what the policy

implications of all of this are.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: We appreciate that.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: I look forward to the dialogue that

weíre going to have today.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: And I know Senator Rice is very

happy to see you here, as is Assemblyman Diegnan, and other assembly and

senators may come as youíre speaking, but I think we should begin.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Fine.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Okay.

How would you like to proceed? Would you like me to make an

opening statement?

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ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: I would like you to make an

opening statement, please.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Okay. Iíll be pleased to do that.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: Because you did mention some kind

of a report that you were putting together and thatís -- weíre interested.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Sure.

As you know, the 1997, I believe, facilities legislation required the

commissioner to prepare and recommend criteria to the Legislature every five

years on Abbott designation. That is, not only the designation of Abbott school

districts, but a process by which school districts might become Abbotts and the

process by which school districts who no longer fit the criteria may change. And

this was due March of 2002. Now, that was approximately 30 days after I

arrived, so we were not in the position to complete that report. It took us some

time to do that, and we did do that, and it was sent, as you can see from the

date on the letter of the copy that each of you has, in April of last year. That

was sent to all legislators in response to that requirement.

The last time the Abbott designation was reviewed or considered,

that is, the last time this process of applying criteria against school districts for

purposes of having the Abbott designation be established, was 1978. So,

essentially, it was done once, in 1978. The Legislature, in their wisdom,

certainly saw that things changed significantly in periods of time, so there was

a need to put a process together, and thatís what we have done.

And to what you have in front of you (referring to statement), is the

April of 2003 correspondence from the Department, specifically from me, to all

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legislators. Now, knowing how much paper you receive, I thought it would be

best to bring you that same correspondence--

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: Youíre absolutely correct.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: --on the slight chance that you were

not able to put your hands on it.

What you see in that, and by way of review, is an explanation of

how this was done. The way we did it was -- go back through all of the Abbott

decisions so that the criteria would not be the result, simply, of the Department

developing new criteria, but instead, taking language that we find repeatedly in

the Abbott decisions, because thatís the only way which I believe this will remain

true to the intent of all the Abbott decisions. And you know, there are many.

That was done with a host of people, because thereís a voluminous record on

the Abbott decisions.

But what we find is that there are three themes in the Abbott

decisions. Number one, the Abbott decisions repeatedly refer to poor urban

districts. And those poor urban districts are exclusively K-12 districts. Now,

there is nothing in the record that would say others may not be considered, but

the fact of the matter is thatís the language -- poor urban districts.

The second thing which we think is much more definitive is that

Abbott designation rests on two criteria; one, educational adequacy, and

economic adequacy -- those two. And thatís identified, as you can see (referring

to statement), on Page 1 of the Criteria and Process. The economic adequacy

specifically deals with concentrations of poverty. And if you look through all

of the decisions, youíll see the repeated reference to poor urban, and then you

will see high concentrations of poverty.

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The third theme in this is extracted word for word, and that is "the

Abbott designation is a remedy, not a reward," which means that within reason

there will be times when the remedies, if you will, the additional support,

provides us a level of progress where a district may no longer meet the

educational inadequacy part of this. And since there have been many efforts

and many in the way of resources that have been brought to Abbott school

districts, and we have seen significant progress, thatís an area that must be

considered as we deal with this.

Of the two-part test for Abbott, which is economic (sic) adequacy

and concentrations of poverty, thereís another part of this of which we must

take note, and that is, the dominant one of the two is concentrations of poverty.

There is clearly language and the spirit of these decisions that says even if a

school district were to be progressing in very significant ways -- if concentrations

of poverty are so high in a school district as to make it not possible for the

community to be able to provide continued support, then they must remain as

an Abbott. So thatís an important piece of this, because you do have

communities in the State of New Jersey who have above 75 percent of their

children on free and reduced lunch. Now that is a huge proportion of

concentrations of poverty.

Now, the range among Abbott school districts now goes anywhere

from about 30 percent to about 80 percent. So thereís a huge range in there.

So itís important that we have those two-part criteria, that you understand that

the economic -- that is, the concentrations of poverty component in here is

dominant, and that when there is high concentrations of poverty those districts

shall remain as Abbott regardless of how well they achieve.

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ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: Iím going to interrupt you--

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Sure.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: --because you say it goes from 30

to 80. Am I hearing that correctly?

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Yes.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: So what do we use as a dominant

poverty level? Do we say 40 percent, 50 percent, or over 50?

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Well, and thatís where the criteria

is in here, because itís not just concentrations of poverty. It has to do with tax

rate. It has to do with per capita income. But there needs to be triggers in this

that says when you are below, this is what we must look at.

Now, Iíll come back to that in a minute.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: Okay. And I also would like to, at

some point, look at the achievement levels over the years.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Sure.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Thatís what weíve been looking at

as well.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: I know that. I know that. Thank

you.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: The purpose of saying this is -- and

Iíll come back to it -- but the simplest illustration of this is, if you have greater

than 60 percent of the children in high concentrations of poverty -- and thatís

part of this language, greater than 60 percent -- there is clear language that

would suggest to us -- and naturally weíve imparted to you in the

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recommendation -- that Abbott designation stays, regardless of what the

achievement is, though we are paying attention to the achievement. But we

donít want to get into a situation in its most extreme form, where a community

-- and we have some -- are achieving at very high levels and yet have 75 percent

of their children who are on free and reduced lunch.

The achievement we ought to celebrate, but we ought to recognize

that there isnít the economic support basis for those programs to continue.

Thatís where Abbott, in its extreme form, needs to say concentrations of poverty

are dominant. Okay?

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: The questions that come into my

mind is: how do we correct the concentration of poverty that could exist ad

infinitum, unless we make some inroads to changing that poverty concentration

in assistance?

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Sure. Some of that is within our

control, the Department of Education. Some of it is not within our control.

But one of the things that weíve noticed, and I donít want to use specific school

districts now, because I think that gets in the way of our discussion-- Well, one

of the things that we have noticed in school districts where there are high

concentrations of poverty and the progress, the academic achievement in those

communities begins to increase in very dramatic ways, that becomes an

attractive community for people to make investment, and weíre seeing that.

Now it certainly helps if youíre approximate to New York City, and it certainly

helps if youíre approximate to other big cities and transportation. Schools alone

are not going to do that. But when school achievement is high, and we have

some incredibly high achievement in urban school districts -- and weíre very,

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very proud of that in some of them -- thatís what happens. It is a portion of

what attracts people. It is also something that usually reflects well on a

relationship between the governing body and the school. And it also usually is

associated with good planning. All of that brings private sector investments in,

and weíre seeing that. Okay.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Now, let me go a little bit further

here in terms of this report. The report, as presented to the Legislature, was

designed to give you as much detail as possible, while we still have another piece

of this, which is not finished. And that is the 10-year revision of district factor

group designation -- DFG. In the State of New Jersey, we have DFG categories

that go from DFG-A, which is the lowest classification based on the lowest

aggregate indices of wealth. So that if you were to identify the lowest income

communities in the State of New Jersey, theyíre known as District Factor A.

Because concentrations of poverty are such an important piece of

this, the district factor group designations become important to us. Abbott

schools now, and there are 30, are not all District Factor A. Most of them are,

not all of them are. Some are District Factor B. And presently, a couple of

them are neither A or B. They are C or C-D.

We believe that the way to understand this Abbott designation is

to have the updated version of the DFG so that you can see how all of the

criteria that weíve established fits. The district factor grouping in the State of

New Jersey relies exclusively on census data which is done every 10 years, but

it takes a while for census data to become available to the school district, to the

Department. We have spent some time working with people on the present

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DFG designation, and weíre improving that. We are also awaiting one final

report from the Census Bureau, which is due at the end of August. And once we

have that report, we will be able to complete our work as to: this is the district

factor group designation in the State of New Jersey that you may use in this

criteria to understand the impact of what it is that weíre recommending.

Right now, we are relatively certain as to what is going to constitute

district factor group components, with one exception. We are wrestling with --

do we make provisions or not for those few communities where the student

population in the school is very different than the community at large? There

are a few. That is, there are a few communities that are relatively wealthy, but

the school population is predominantly children of very low income.

How do we account for that? We donít have an answer just yet,

but I want you to understand that thatís a small number of places. Because, for

the most part, if the school population is predominantly children who come out

of high concentrations of poverty, itís usually because the community is so

identified. But we have some communities where that might have been true in

1978, but it isnít true now.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: Iím going to jump in with one

question.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Sure.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: When youíre looking at the DFG-A

and youíre factoring in new criteria, are you looking at nutrition programs

within the schools? Because we have received some data on children who have

breakfast in the schools, have lunch in the schools, and the manner in which

they improve in their workability. So I was wondering if you could look at that

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so that we might be able to see whether or not that is also a factor. Because itís

not just teaching, itís whether or not the child is geared to learn.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: We are looking at that because it

is not purely a matter of what happens from 8:00 to 3:00. Thereís a whole host

of other factors--

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: Okay. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: --particularly in communities where

children come from high concentrations of poverty. Itís not simply nutrition,

though that is not a small matter. There are a whole series of other issues about

support and support systems that need to be there.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: And I think thatís a major one. It

may seem simple, but it is major from my point of view.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: It is major, and it is clear.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: Good.

Thank you.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: It is clear.

Some other information of which you should be aware: When we

have 30 school districts in the State of New Jersey that have been designated as

Abbott school districts -- remember this is an outgrowth of a more than 30-year

court case -- and so, 28 out of the 30 are those districts that had original

standing in the case. And so, by virtue of rules of law, they are the population.

There were two others that were added by legislation over the years.

We do have, over a 25-year period, situations where some school

districts that are Abbott have made progress academically, progress

economically, such that they represent higher levels of achievement, higher levels

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of economic indicators than others who were not so designated. So what is

largely an issue from a policy point of view here is what is the Abbott

designation, and what is the update for those who are presently in the Abbott

group, and what ought to be the criteria for others to be considered, and is that

fair? Or, do we have some school districts who are more Abbott than those who

are designated. One of them, which Iíve made a decision pending some appeals,

is I have evaluated Salem City, and believe that Salem City meets all of the

criteria that we have worked on and certainly deserves the Abbott designation.

It has been so decided, and itís part of the recommendation.

The other side of this is, not every District Factor A school in the

state is an Abbott, even though in order to be classified District Factor A you

have to satisfy a number of conditions indicating economic difficulty and high

concentrations of poverty -- about 20, about 20 right now. As we work on the

final piece of this -- that is, what I told you, how do we account for the

differences between student population and the community -- those 20 donít fit

in this. Those 20 are places of high concentrations of poverty, and they are very

low income communities.

So, as we proceed with this, what we have done is identified some

characteristics, and we can go through this.

And weíll get back to your question, Assemblywoman, about the

issue of triggers here, and percentage.

Thereís another important policy question here, which is, should

there be other ways for communities with high concentrations of poverty to

receive additional resources that the children need without being designated as

Abbott, or is Abbott the only way that that happens? Our view is, it shouldnít

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be the only way that it happens. Abbott has a long history and has a specific

set of remedies, and those are appropriate certainly to the districts that were

identified and who continue to meet the criteria. But there are other sets of

circumstances where there are children in communities of high concentrations

of poverty who should be able to get additional resources. Those are now

permissible under the CEIFA legislation. That is, that the commissioner may do

this. The commissioner may extend beyond the funding formula those

additional resources, specifically to those communities.

Because our position from a policy point of view is, we want to

make sure that Abbott and Abbott designation remains consistent with all of the

court decisions and all of the language. We also want to work diligently to find

ways that if youíre a child in a community of high concentrations of poverty

there are resources that come to you, rather than either it is Abbott or you donít

get that. That is the way we are approaching, at least, the District Factor A

communities now.

If we may go to (referring to statement) -- past the area of the

educational adequacy that largely relies on the monitoring process, which we are

in the process of making some revisions, so that our process to monitor

educational adequacy reflects the new Federal requirements, puts standards

together to reply to all school districts, and your designation in terms of

economic adequacies, how well you meet them. So, instead of having four

systems -- set of rules for State takeover, set of rules for Abbott, set of rules for

those past monitoring -- weíre going to have one system, one set of standards,

criteria; then evaluate how well school districts-- And then we will decide what

kind of category they belong in. But this gives you some idea of that.

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But if youíll turn to what is, I think, the fourth page in this

(referring to statement), youíll see on the designation-- Youíll see the beginning

of how we proceed with -- how we are recommending that the concentrationsof-

poverty issue be established. It starts at the bottom of the page. "The district

must be District Factor A and satisfy the following criteria. District Factor B

districts that also meet the following criteria may be classified as Abbott if they

demonstrate additional substantial economic hardship." Again, the governing

piece of here is the economic hardship.

Now you see, low income concentration, free and reduced lunch of

at least 40 percent, and then some other characteristics. Low income -- if the

district has low income concentration less than 60, it must have equalized value

per capita at least 3 percent below the State average and equalized tax rate at

least 30 percent greater than the State average. Low-income concentration at

least 60 percent, then equalized value per capita at least 3 percent below the

State average. Equalized tax rate does not factor into the eligibility for the

requirement of these districts.

So you see that there are two benchmarks here -- 40 percent and 60

percent. You must have at least 40 percent free and reduced lunch. Inside the

40 to 60, there are other characteristics. Above 60, then the Abbott designation

continues so long as the other things still fit. So, weíve tried to reduce these

indicators of community wealth, which is just evidence of communitiesí ability

to support to those characteristics.

Then we have a suggested process in this which is, once we conclude

the process of -- I make the recommendation, we discuss this, and then the

Legislature, after this whole process, decides what to support. Because thatís a

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Legislatureís decision. Itís not mine. Then the criteria would be applied. Now,

letís assume, though, of course, this is not likely to ever happen, letís assume

that everything in here were to be adopted. Then what would happen is this

criteria would be applied to school districts and then there would be a second

recommendation that says, "Here are the districts that do not fit this category

any longer. Here are the districts that do." So that you would have a D

designation or a new designation. Now you have Salem as one that has been

evaluated by me to be certainly meeting all these characteristics.

We donít believe that it is good policy, fair, in any way consistent

with what weíre trying to do for those communities who should be designated,

or no longer fitting this, to have their status change immediately -- that there

needs to be a process by which this would happen, which is over a period of

years, so that a community could be able to decide.

We also think that all of those obligations previously met, like

facilities, even if your designation were to change, if you met those timetables

you ought to, even if you were no longer an Abbott, if that has all been

completed, you should still have the 100 percent facilities support. Because that

was done while you were in Abbott, that was part of a commitment, and we

should honor all the commitments made. So at the end of this we certainly

should provide a transition for those school districts that no longer meet this

criteria -- should.

Now there are, without mentioning specific communities, there are

a couple of communities where the community wealth has changed dramatically

since 1978 -- higher -- for a variety of reasons. But there are a number of others

where there have been a number of changes. So we have to think about how fair

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is this criteria, how clear is this criteria? Thatís step one in terms of the

discussion that we need to have. We also need, in my view, to get to the point

in the funding formula -- and this will not be solved by this -- however, I think

we can move in this direction. That if youíre a child of poverty, it shouldnít

matter what community youíre in. You shouldnít only receive additional

support because there are more children in your community like you. There are

children, who are in high concentrations of poverty, who do not get the same

resources that other communities get, even though they are in need. That

shouldnít be the result of a district designation. That should be, money and

support ought to follow the needs of the child, particularly children in high

concentrations of poverty.

And thatís the information that provides the overall context for this.

Iíll be happy to respond to your questions, listen to your concerns, and discuss

issues with you.

ASSEMBLYMAN DONALD TUCKER (Co-Chair):

Commissioner, how are you going to relate to the children who would not be in

a 40 percent area, but in fact, clearly are living in abject poverty? How would

you deal with that?

SENATOR RICE: Excuse me, before you respond. Weíre being

transcribed. Would you just put your name in the record, Assemblyman.

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: Okay. Assemblyman Donald Tucker,

sorry.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: And Iíd like to recognize that

Senator Martha Bark arrived earlier.

Thank you.

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SENATOR RICE: Also, for the record, let me just indicate that Iím

a member of the Committee, but Iím the Chairman of the Joint Committee on

Public Schools, and my name is Senator Ron Rice. Iím here.

And we also have the Assemblyman, who can put his name in the

record.

ASSEMBLYMAN DIEGNAN: Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Good morning, Assemblyman

Tucker.

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: Good morning.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Well, there are a number of ways

to do that. But one of them is that we think that there are programs that have

already been started in terms of early childhood. In districts that are not so

designated now as Abbott districts, but are designated as ECPA districts, or

thereís half-day programs for four-year-olds, as an example, we think that we

ought to be moving in a direction where children who come from high

concentrations of poverty, even if there arenít 40 percent or more, ought to be

able to get some kind of support in terms of expanded early childhood. There

also ought to be some way -- and we donít have this, just yet, done -- but there

ought to be some way that we recognize specific needs that are likely to occur

with children of poverty and provide some kind of additional categorical aid

support for kids who are in that category. And maybe we would even work on

the other intervals of 20 percent. Because as you probably know, the ECPA aid

-- that is, the aid for four-year-olds -- has a threshold of 20 percent. So what

weíve got now is 20 to 40 percent.

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I think that it would be likely -- it makes sense for us to further

grade this -- that says, at 40 percent or 38 percent, these are the remedies; at 30

percent, these are the remedies; 20, 10, and so on. But what we think ought to

happen is, there ought to be an array of remedies, not always a guarantee that

this is what happens. Because different communities may already have

successful early childhood programs, but they donít have this other area. We

need some flexibility to do that.

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: Commissioner, how would that, in

effect, take place? Would that be a petition from the local boards, or would it

basically be an evaluation from the Department of Education? In other words,

how would that be triggered in some way or another?

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: I think it should be triggered by at

least two ways. The answer is that it ought to be triggered in more than two, if

it was necessary. But, one, it ought to be triggered by a department of education

looking at achievement, looking at other indices and making that determination,

so that it doesnít fall on the community to ask for something that we should

know they need. So thatís the first part.

The second part, however, is that there may be parts of what exist

in a community that the Department cannot tell as much as they need to from

simple statistical analysis. And therefore, it ought to then be also available to

a community to petition, based on what they can demonstrate, based on data

that they have, because we shouldnít have to rely only on information every 10

years to tell what is the nature of need of children in a community. So there are

at least those two.

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Now, when I talked about department, I mean county

superintendents. I mean regional superintendents. I mean the people who are

responsible for knowing communities, knowing needs in the communities, and

knowing achievement patterns. But at least those two.

And then, Assemblyman, what would follow from that is, hopefully,

a simple, not layered, process where, if it came from the school district, then the

Department would have some reasonable period of time, 90 days, to go in and

ascertain whether thatís true or not. Thatís part of what we would build into

this.

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: At this point, are you sharing with us

what you believe conceptionally will take place, or are you sharing with us

which, at this point in time, is more definitive?

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Well, the first part about this is

Abbott designation, and weíre very clear here as to what we think the Abbott

designation approach ought to be. The second part of this is, if you are not

designated as an Abbott, but you do represent children of need, which falls out

of Abbott designation, that is being presented more conceptually, because one

rides on the other. That we donít want to develop all of the second pieces until

we know that weíre somewhat in agreement on the Abbott designation part. But

weíve got to speak to the second part so you understand our whole approach.

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: Okay. Based on your preliminary

review, at this point, of the existing Abbotts -- which were determined many,

many years ago, and in some cases more recently -- do you envision that some

of these particular -- not some-- Can you share with us the number that you

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believe would not necessarily, basically, fit the design of, in fact, 20 percent or --

no, Iím sorry -- 40 percent?

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: I can give you an approximation.

I donít want to go beyond that, because we still have one other piece of this.

I can tell you without question, the 20 districts that are District Factor A will

remain as Abbotts no matter what happens. And then inside the other 10,

which happened to be those districts that may be classified as District Factor B,

then we have to look at these other characteristics. Weíre not done with that

yet. But certainly, two-thirds of what weíre talking about, thereís absolutely no

question, that I donít need more time to look, in final gradation, on that.

I donít want people to think that, automatically, that means weíre

talking about 10 school districts. What it means is weíre doing further analysis

on the 10 that happen to be District Factor B, or likely to be. And thereís a

need to do that, because there are many District Factor Bs in the State of New

Jersey, many of them. We want to make sure that what weíre doing with Abbott

designation is fair, not only to the Abbotts, but fair to them as well. So weíve

got more work to do there. What concerns us very much is, just as I can be very

definitive about District Factor A, there are still District Factor A communities.

Many of them small, rural communities that have needs that presently are not

being met, and we have to find a way to deal with them, and thatís another part

of our considerations. Itís a long answer, but the short answer is weíre not done

yet. However, District Factor A is certain, by our own criteria, that they must

stay there regardless of the educational achievement, because the communityís

ability to pay is considerably below what is necessary to guarantee what those

kids need.

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ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: Based on your initial review, can you

share with us a period of time that you envision that this would take place?

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: If the Census Bureau gives us the

report by the end of the month, which they say they will, it probably will take

us 30 to 45 days to do the final analysis, and then put that together, and then

begin to have the kind of review that we always want to do. We donít want to

do a review in the Department and then come out with something, and then

have people say, "Well, have you considered this, and have you considered

that?" I think that this process -- 30 to 45 days.

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: Itís based on the census data, which

would be-- Obviously, we currently, at this point in time, have head counts.

But youíre talking specifically about economic income, I assume, and family

mix and other social--

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Yeah. And weíre talking about

more specific gradations in terms of whatís the difference between the student

population and the community population. Because we have some few

communities where itís very different. The kids in the schools are not

representative of the people in the community, and how do we account for that?

Thatís fairly sophisticated information in a small group of places that we still

have to deal with.

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: Obviously, thereís other questions --

the other committee people, or places, may want to raise. I donít want to just

stay dominant just raising these particular questions. So it would be better to

say of the members of the Committee, are there any points?

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: To your right, someone is asking.

20

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: Yes.

ASSEMBLYMAN DIEGNAN: Commissioner, I know that youíre

saying itís 30, 45 days to get the data, but are there a significant number of

additional districts in your sense that would meet the factors that do not now

qualify?

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: No. No.

ASSEMBLYMAN DIEGNAN: Okay. And you -- again, I know

this is dealing in the hypothetical -- but I have-- I mean, I have a spontaneous

guess at why it would be -- what would your sense be in those districts if there

was a disproportionate -- or the student population did not reflect the

community economic makeup?

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Yeah. Thereís a couple of questions

that have to be answered. Whoís responsible for remediating those conditions?

Thatís basically the issue. One is to say if the community wealth is such that

it is different than the population in the schools and thereís community

responsibility, not the State responsibility, to provide for what those kids need;

versus it is the Stateís responsibility, because you canít control what the

community is going to decide in terms of level of support. The whole thing rests

on that.

Now, just as I said that thereís only a small number, thereís a major

policy question in this, because thereís a small number where it applies right

now, but it may be a growing number in the future. We donít want to do this

every six months. We want to be able to do this every five years and satisfy the

broad policy questions.

21

A place -- and I will use a community thatís not an Abbott -- thatís

a fairly dramatic example of this. Thereís a lot of community wealth in Atlantic

City. And yeah, if you take a look at the population of kids in Atlantic City,

they donít -- theyíre not representative of the community wealth. The

community wealth comes out of casinos. It doesnít come out of per capita

income. So how do you grade that? And further, Iíd add one other

complicating factor. That is, when you take a look at the K-8 population in

Atlantic City, itís different than the 9-12 population, because the 9-12

population draws from sending districts that are nearby where the wealth is

quite high. So it is not, though thereís a handful and a number of fairly

significant policy questions that have to be answered. We want to make sure

that we have that clearly understood so that you understand what weíre

recommending and why. Thatís the only exception that Iíd like to make here,

because theyíre not an Abbott school district, but I think theyíre illustrative of

the kinds of questions.

SENATOR RICE: Mr. Chairman.

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: Okay. Go ahead.

SENATOR RICE: Commissioner, good morning.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Good morning, Senator.

SENATOR RICE: The issue of concentration of poverty and the

economic indicators -- a strong emphasis has been put on that, via your

articulation of your interpretation of the courtís decision and, I think, everybody

in New Jerseyís. One of the concerns I have, the community has, and many of

my colleagues have, as we have been reading the paper and Iíve been making

meetings, is how weíre really going to address that. It does not appear to be --

22

and this is really in my personal opinion -- no reflection on you, personally, but

Iím not so certain that Governor McGreevey is really committed to this whole

Abbott scenario, as he indicated as a candidate on more than one occasion.

And the reason I said that is that -- we recognize-- We went through 30-plus

hours of budget. We also recognized that we inherited a $14 billion budget

deficit, and weíre trying to clean it up. But none of that changes, in my

estimation, the court determination and decision to fully fund Abbott. And as

we move through the rules process to implement Abbott V, and in the future we

know that thatís still going to be the number one issue -- is funding the decision.

And even during the rule-making process, the concentration should be not on

who agrees or disagrees, but how do we implement what the costs have actually

stated. And once again they stated a fund.

And so it is up to the Legislature and the Governor to figure out

where the funding is coming from. But what appears to be happening is,

because of the budget deficit and the economics of our State with our budget,

is thereís movement to eliminate and find excuses for not funding the Abbott

districts at capacity. And the reason I raised that, number one, is the

Department of Education -- not yours, but I will call a name. Gordon has

seemed to be cheerful on his statements in the press and at other meetings, and

he continued to indicate that weíre not-- He feels we have more money than we

need, and weíre not spending it correctly.

Now, I donít disagree with oversight and I donít disagree with

accountability -- something Iíve always argued for here in the state, come out

of the Newark school district. But one of the things that concerns me is the fact

that recently we went back into court and there was a decision rendered recently.

23

And when we thought -- the Governor has spoken to those of us in the

Legislature and the Black Legislative Caucus, and we argued. We did not go

back to court for an extension. He said he had to. He also indicated that

funding was not his issue. He wanted flexibility. And we questioned: flexibility

for what? Because we wanted to know if weíre on the same page. He indicated

that we can not do Whole School Reform and move out forward with everything

being a cookie cutter. What one school needs versus another may be different,

and those administrators need their building to be flexible.

From our perspective, thatís fine, but that requires dollars. For

example, one school -- the flexibility, the way the Governor articulates it, is that

as an administrator you can make choices, but the choice is based on the dollars

you have. And therefore, in order to get the progress thatís indicated here with

these criteria, a school may need some after-school programs, may need some

social workers, may need more teachers. The Governor says, "Fine. You make

a choice which one youíre going to eliminate." Where the mere fact that you

eliminate one of those elements, if you will, tells you youíre not going to be

successful, because itís already been identified that you need it all. And if you

donít fund those elements, then all of this is null and void.

So I guess my question is, based on the recent article where several

schools -- and I recognize this coming from Treasury, but I also believe that the

administration had to have some input or at least raise some questions --

recognizing that theyíre going to audit between now, the 4th and the 15th, some

of the Abbott districts, not all of them; it disturbs me. Because the Governor,

in my mind, does not want to spend money. If anything, he wants to cut money

24

in the Abbotts or abolish the Abbott. Heís only awarding those districts that are

requesting additional funding.

And then Gordonís statement implied that in those districts there

may be some improprieties, or some mismanagement, or lack of management,

or whatever category you want to choose. The problem I have with that is when

a school or an entity -- weíll say entity, not necessarily a school -- does not

request additional funding, does not mean they are doing things correctly. As

a former investigator, I can assure you the best way to rip off people and do

things wrong is to keep everybody happy. So if no one in the district is

complaining, it does not mean that they are meeting these criteria or performing,

or providing. How do we reconcile that? Because it is my belief, if weíre going

to move in and audit 23, or whatever number of school districts are in Abbotts,

then immediately after that we need to move in and audit the rest of them. And

then from that, we need to audit every school system, basically, in New Jersey.

An audit is an audit. The State--

The other part that bothers me -- and this is a question, and maybe

you can respond. If you canít, maybe you can get it back to us. If, in fact,

weíre going to audit the Abbott district schools, for the life of me I cannot

understand why the State is auditing itself with the three takeover districts.

They should never be a part of that auditing because weíre supposed to know

from day one exactly what is happening in those schools, how weíre managing

those dollars, and how weíre spending. That was the problem I had with the

Newark district when we had the previous superintendent -- $70-million-plus

were just mismanaged, for lack of a better word. Weíll never recoup from it, but

our concerns at times, "Wait a minute. How can this happen if itís a State

25

district?" The State is supposed to be the watchdog. It is their district. Thatís

who weíre working for. Thatís who is running our system. And to go back into

the three districts and say weíre going to audit you between the 4th and the 15th

because you asked for additional funding, to me is a slap in the face to State

government.

To be quite frank about it, I think the Treasurer is unjustly slapping

the Department of Education. Because if, in fact, Treasury had asked, the

Department would have said, "Well, look. We donít have a problem if youíre

going in, possibly. We understand where youíre coming from. But the three

districts, weíre on top of that. Just ask us what we think." Can you, kind of,

respond to that?

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Sure.

Senator, as always youíve raised a number of very important

questions, and Iím going to try and deal with all of them. The things that I

happen to omit, would you please remind me and Iíll try to answer every one

of your questions.

I need to start with the Governor and the Governorís role and the

Governorís commitment. Now, let me assure you that the Governor has been

completely supportive of our work with Abbott, and heís completely supportive

of the Abbott decision. The Governor has not told us what to do with the Abbott

decision or the Abbott budget reviews. He has, instead, listened to how weíre

approaching things, why weíre telling him what weíre doing. He knows that at

the end of all of our reviews of the budget, at the end of all of the appeals,

which we know there are going to be some, because thatís a guarantee to Abbott

districts, that if there is a shortfall between what we determine to be necessary

26

to fund the Abbott schools consistent with the decision, that we, not the

Governor, but that I will go to the Legislature and say, "This is the amount of

money that we presently need above the budget in order to do this." There is

no question about whether I am going to do that. The only question is, "How

much?" Itís the only question. I told him that. He knows that.

His position on the budget was simply: I donít want to put money

into the budget until we are absolutely sure what that number is. I understand

what you have to do. You have my support when you go to the Legislature with

your process, because we understand it.

So I donít think you should interpret the Governorís actions that

itís in any way not being supportive of Abbott. I think itís the exact opposite.

I think we also need to understand -- and I know you do -- that Abbott is

enormously complex. This is something, that I would say, that I donít believe

the Department, even though this is no reflection on the people that were there,

I donít believe the Legislature -- no reflection on the people -- I donít think

anybody expected the decision in 1997. I donít think anybody did. But if you

study the Abbott decision, thatís a radical departure from everything that

happened before; reflective of the court, I think, concluding that if they didnít

do this nobody would, and they were tired of going through this. And so they

were going to specify in great detail what had to be done. Now, Iím of the

position that you can be completely committed to the Abbott decision and have

some differences as to how weíre going to get there. And I think that everything

that weíve been talking about -- and you quote Gordon and the newspaper. I

donít really want to deal with what newspapers may have said, he may have

said. I can only tell you this -- that our position is that our argument with the

27

ELC and with other people is never about the ends in Abbott. Never. It is

always about the means. And I think that thatís a legitimate discussion to have.

I think this is the most important -- as The New York Times says, and I agree --

this is the most important educational decision since Brown.

Now we all know that weíre entering the 50th year of the Brown

decision, and there are still a lot of unfulfilled parts of that. It takes a long time

to do the kinds of things that that decision, this decision, require. And so we

donít apologize for saying we think there is another way to do this. Our

problem continues to be -- and Iíve said this to whoever would listen -- we have

to make the decisions while weíre doing this. We donít have the luxury of

saying, letís take three years and figure out all the-- We have to administer and

we have to evaluate and we have to change, and we also have very difficult

budget circumstances on top of all of that.

I think the degree to which we find people demonizing others, and

I know youíre not doing that -- but people characterizing other peoplesí position

with all of this shrill rhetoric -- gets in the way. For instance, you have never

seen a reference anywhere from me about waste. Never. I donít use that. I do

understand the difference between whatís absolutely necessary and what you

may consider to be desirable and helpful.

We have an obligation to say that the Abbott decision is connected

in terms of resources to those things that make a difference, and that those

things are directly connected. Weíll stand behind that. And thatís really what

we want to do.

And when we went back to court -- we went back to court because

we really ran out of time. We keep working with the ELC. And because these

28

are hard issues, there are points in time where you canít do it with each other

any more. So we needed somebody to do this. And Carchman is a brilliant

mediator -- absolutely brilliant. And not surprisingly, in three weeks or two

week, whatever it was -- it seems like it was years, but it was a relatively short

period of time -- we resolved every issue but the maintenance issue. Every single

one of them was done, and thatís because we needed a little help. Which also

should tell you that our position -- and you should read into that the Governorís

position -- not that far away from those who are arguing with us. But we still

ran out of time. We still have to have budgets.

Now, Iíd like to just comment on the last piece of this, which is the

audits of 25 of the 30 school districts. And it is 25, itís not 23. Twenty-three

are going to be done by outside firms, and two others that are going to be done

because itís a relatively small amount of money. That was a recommendation

made by the Treasurer. And I want to tell you very clearly, it is a

recommendation that I support, because we will stand behind our work, and we

continue to do that. But when somebody says, with this amount of money, and

your requirement to do this, you should have another set of independent eyes

looking at their budgets, meaning the Abbotts, and your work -- theyíre auditing

both here. Theyíre auditing the districts, and theyíre auditing our work. If they

find additional money that we didnít find that would help us, that satisfies our

continuing criteria of effectiveness, then we will respond. If they donít find that

much money, it will answer, for a while now, this question of Abbotts having

more money than they need. I am not of that opinion. I havenít been of that

opinion. We are not, however, of the opinion that we ought to say no to

additional scrutiny.

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Now, why 25 out of 30? If you do not ask for supplemental aid

in the budget, then you are getting what is your entitlement from the Abbott

decision, no questions asked. The five that are not being audited are not asking

for additional supplemental funds. The only ones who are being audited are

those who represent the amount of money that will be greater than what the

budget presented. So thatís why theyíre doing that. Should they have done all

30? In time, they probably should. If we would have had more time, we

probably should. I would recommend to school districts that periodically they

ought to go to some kind of process like this. But weíre back again to having

to do a lot of things in a short period of time, and weíre three weeks, or so, away

from opening school.

So I donít want this to be laid on the Treasurer, because the

Treasurer said this and I agreed to it. Weíll continue to agree to people who

want to evaluate our work, because weíll stand behind out work. Weíve made

mistakes, but when they see things that we donít and it allows us to do the work

we need to do better, weíre going to continue to do that.

Did I get all the questions?

SENATOR RICE: Yes.

One final question on that, and then Iíll yield.

Okay. Weíll take it the way you articulated it. And I respect the

fact that -- a supplemental. The question then becomes-- There are various

ways to do an audit, as we learned from (indiscernible). The issue -- and I hope

none of those folks are doing audits, because they worked for us before, and I

never liked them when I was on the Committee before.

30

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: I think theyíre out of business,

those folks.

SENATOR RICE: I hope so. But the people may have

transitioned.

The supplemental piece -- a lot of that is related directly to a criteria

that addresses the concentration of poverty and economic indicators. To me,

itís like doing a polling. They can go in and look for one thing. If they go in

and look to see how to diminish the funding that the courts mandated, thatís

one issue. If theyíre going in to audit and lay it against what the court is

requiring, thatís something else. And if, in fact, they, too, are going to scrutinize

DOE, particularly in the takeover districts, then it seems to me that the

Legislature -- and for the record, let the Treasurer know -- we should have a list

of those things theyíre looking for, a list of questions theyíre raising, and also

something to indicate that this is being audited in line with the court decision,

so that technically youíre not really messing with the level of funding, per se.

Youíre looking at managing those dollars that are required to get it done. Iím

not so sure that these auditors -- most auditors do not come from Abbott

districts, in terms of their livelihoods. Most of them donít have kids meeting

these criteria. They usually just go on and do some cost -- some numbers game,

and they will tell you that $2 million is greater than $1 million, and I would

disagree with that. The point is, is that they should be doing a true cost-benefit

analysis. And if, in fact, thereís going to be a true audit and a true cost-benefit

analysis, they have to factor in some of the elements of the socioeconomics, the

concentration of poverty. Then the issue raised was-- The question would be,

do you look at those things? Who is responsible for what, in terms of the

31

community? Well, the community could very well be responsible for assisting

us with the drop-out rate by doing some things within the community, to get

kids in school, like feeding them at home where they can come in with healthy

minds. They canít afford it. The community could very well be responsible for

the security of that environment, policing. Canít do it if the government cut

dollars, the feds cut dollars, and you canít keep your level of policing up and

crime fighting.

I donít believe the court intended that if the community cannot do

it that all this fail. I just donít believe that. And I think, just like you said, the

court is frustrated. Theyíre saying, hold it. However you get this done, if thereís

community participation, then to me thatís implied. Then government, you find

a way to provide to the community the kinds of things they need to meet their

responsibility to be a part of this team, and you provide it to the district. If

youíre not going to provide it to the community directly, then you know what?

You find a way to get this done. If that means that you have to put money in

Health and Human Services and you have to put nurses and doctors in those

schools, then you do that. We canít rely totally on the community if we are

talking concentration of poverty and socioeconomics.

The Atlantic City scenario is an interesting one, because we did

casinos and the money goes to education -- higher education. And maybe we

looked at that wrongly, maybe we should go back and revisit that Constitution

issue. But my question-- Well, you may not know, but my concern would be,

the need to go back, is-- We want to know -- on this Committee and the Joint

Committee and its totality, and I would like to think that my colleagues in both

Houses, and both parties would like to know -- what is this order of criteria,

32

etc., so that we donít wind up with someone doing someone elseís bidding and

diminishing what the costs have said in terms of funding, and find an excuse to

demise it. Because if you put all the public conversations together and all the

meetings Iíve attended, and our mind -- itís only our mind set. This perception

is that the goal is to demolish Abbott and to diminish funding. Thatís the way

you get there.

Listening to you, I sense that is not your case. Iíve always told you

that, but Iím not going to speak for those other human resource pieces that

youíre surrounded by and with, including the Governor. And I keep saying that

publicly, so I just want to be clear.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Okay. Iíll continue to be clear

about the gentleman for whom I work -- is that I respectfully disagree with your

conclusions about his commitment and would just leave that alone right now,

because I think his commitment has been real clear. Itís been very clear to me.

The way I think your question is rightfully framed, about the scope of the audit

-- can probably be best answered initially -- is for us to get you a copy of the

request for proposals that went out, that define the scope of the work. We will

do that.

I think that in terms of the further analysis -- a sample set of audits

and recommendations, because itís a public record -- you should have access to

that. I think itís also important to understand that ultimately the decision

about cut the budgets or not, reduce the funds or not, is not as a result of the

audits. Itís a result of us getting the information and agreeing with it. If we see

that that information was a straight numbers run, and it missed some context

thatís important to that, weíre not going to do it. But it is incumbent upon us

33

to answer the questions of the audit, and weíre ready to do that. This is not a

matter, I think, of diminishing Abbott or cutting Abbott funds. Itís a matter of

responding in the best possible way with terrible economic times, so that we

make sure that the yardstick of effectiveness is what guides everything that we

do.

I want to assure you, Senator, that the overall decision about what

the Abbotts need is not going to be made by auditors. Itís going to be made by

the Department. And if that is unsatisfactory, as a district believes it is, they

have the right to appeal, to the Supreme Court, our decision. Auditors canít

make educational decisions. They canít. They donít want to. They will not.

We are looking for their expertise pointing us in directions which we may not

have seen. Then weíre going to evaluate them.

SENATOR RICE: Thank you, Commissioner, for good.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Thank you, Senator.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: Commissioner, weíre talking about

the audits, but Iím more concerned about the improvements in the classrooms

and the resulting improvements in our childrenís lives through education. I

wanted to ask you, do we have, first of all, any type of report card in evaluating

the moneys weíve used as it equates to the better education that the Abbott

schools are getting? Are we looking at whether the money is going into the

classroom directly to the children via teachers, teachersí aids, computers,

libraries, etc., or is it going into administration? Is there unnecessary funding of

administration? I ask you that not because Iím critical of what youíre doing,

but I recall years ago a couple of bus loads of people coming in from Newark --

of parents complaining that the money was not reaching their children. They

34

had no books. They had no pencils. They had no paper, but that

administrators were getting lots of money and thatís where it was going. Are we

looking at a report card? Are we seeing examples of Abbott districts or specific

schools doing a good job that we can use as examples for others?

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Absolutely. And we have a number

of examples of that, and it is our responsibility. That is, itís the Departmentís

responsibility to share that information, because the idea that the Abbotts

uniformly donít achieve is wrong -- that we have some very clear examples of

high achievement in districts, and then high achievement in some schools in

low-achieving districts. And that what we are trying to do -- what we are doing

is using those examples, as well as using threshold numbers. When youíre above

10 percent in an administration, we want to know why. When you have these

positions and you have no change in results, we want to know why. And I

think, rather than a report card, it might be really useful for us to give an annual

report of the Abbott school districts, including, hereís our criteria.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: With comparisons?

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Yes. Hereís our criteria Hereís our--

And what I think we would do is pick the outliers. That is, pick the real high

achieving places and why, and associate them, I think, with budget issues,

because I think we need to do that. The setup for all of this is-- The important

outcome of the mediation was that we got agreement that low-performing

schools would not continue to do what theyíve been doing without getting the

results, and that those results were going to be largely directed outside of

specified frameworks. And the court agreed to that. Thatís our opportunity to

identify what low achievement is and what kind of responses weíve had.

35

In addition to that, what we also got was an agreement that

high-performing districts ought to have more choices by virtue of having high

achievement. If you achieve and know -- and have produced that over a period

of time, you would have more control over those decisions. You ought to not

be bound. So itís set up to do that. But in all of our budget review, we have

talked about: the dollars have to go to the classroom. And there are threshold

numbers. We donít say youíre not going to get a penny over 10 percent for

administration. We donít say that. But we do say, if youíre above what is the

average that we believe is appropriate, we want to know why.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: Do we, under those circumstances

that you just mentioned, send in monitors?

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Yes, we do.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: We do?

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Yes, we do.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: And that information that you just

alluded to -- an annual comparison -- would we be able to get a copy of that?

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Well, what Iíll have to do is go back

-- and weíd be pulling out pieces here and there, but I think we ought to move

to this as soon as possible, because it was -- build the public understanding of

where we are. It is our responsibility, as those--

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: And the people deserve those

answers--

MR. ANDERSON: They absolutely do.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: --because itís very hard for all of us,

because theyíve asked us to explain it.

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COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Yes.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: We canít explain it.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Right. Do you know, for instance,

and probably donít, that we have a couple of school districts that are Abbott

school districts whose student achievement results, over a period of time, is

equal to the suburban average in this state?

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: I think weíve seen that. And thereís

a school in Newark thatís doing very well.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: A couple of these places were on the

verge of takeover seven, eight years ago. We think that they ought to be one of

the best-practice models that we use with some of our low-performing school

districts. Thatís what weíre doing. Yes.

Let me-- I will go back--

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: I really would appreciate that,

because I think itís concomitant upon both of us to make sure that we have that

information readily available for the people, because seeing is believing if they

see those comparisons.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Yes.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: We would like to know, over these

30 years, how many of our children have succeeded in life. Iím not saying just

going on to higher education, but succeeding in life.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: A much harder set of statistics to

get, because most peopleís follow-up studies in school districts rely on under 20

percent, and thatís not information that we have readily available, though those

are questions we should be asking.

37

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: Well, letís go back to -- sometimes

it is more available than perceived.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Okay.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: Because when we went through our

childrenís summit years ago, about five or six years ago, and we learned the

reading ability of our children -- how many are dyslexic in the state, have

reading difficulties, we went into the corrections facilities and learned that 40

to 50 percent of those people in corrections cannot read. So there is some kind

of a relationship between education and the paths that some people follow. I

think itís more important, and weíve said this for years -- including

Commissioner Terhune when he was here -- Iíd rather see more money spent on

education than the 45,000 a year to keep somebody in prison.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Sure. Absolutely.

Iím not saying there arenít some places where we could go for

information. Because the one piece of information you just said, about those

who are inmates, is absolutely clear. And thereís another piece to this.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: Itís an indicator.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Thereís another piece to this. My

daughter was involved in a study in California where, when they analyzed who

didnít return after being released, it generally were those people who could read.

And as a result of that, I talked with the Commissioner of Corrections, and heís

putting a tremendous emphasis on changing the kind of information thatís

available and making it possible for inmates to learn how to read, because

theyíd want to learn how to read.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: Itís very important.

38

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: But the other part of this is

something that-- What I will do is talk to people in the Department to find out

what we could assemble, and to do it quickly, because I think thatís an

important piece of public policy.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: I would appreciate that.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: That the achievement levels in

Abbott districts are not known largely in this state, and it is a very good story,

especially in certain communities. And we ought to know that.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: I appreciate that.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: And you ought to know that what

we continue to do is to say weíre not going to make school district X be like

school district Y, but if school district Y can do this with 70 percent of their kids

in high concentrations of poverty, you must, in your district, whoís not

producing, at least listen to this. We must say, why are you continuing to do

that when it isnít working?

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: I appreciate that.

Thank you very much.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Sure.

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: Commissioner, I just have a couple

of questions on them. What constitutes the maintenance year? Is it the freeze

of 2001 to 2002; or the funding level of 2002 to 2003, which was last year; or

is it county; or is it part of the 2003 or 2004? You see, what my concern on

there is, is that each one of our districts, locally, are going to have some sort of

escalation based on personnel salaries, based on things that at least -- that local

boards have to acquire. If the State does not relate to that, then what takes

39

place is, is weíre taking the budgets, locally, and turning them internally. So

what constitutes a maintenance year, at this point that youíre dealing with?

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: I will give you my understanding of

what a maintenance year is, but the court has ruled as to what this is. I donít

think my understanding is different than theirs. It doesnít use terms like freeze.

It doesnít use terms that freeze at this level. It, instead, is a decision -- because

weíre the ones who argued for this -- no additional programs beyond what it is

that you have right now. Thatís the strictest definition of maintenance. And

our position on that was, a year ago we said we want to support only those

programs which are critical to classroom achievement, and if you included them

in your budget a year ago, we are saying, in these times we canít support

expanding programs above that. In the most general sense, thatís the definition

of maintenance.

I donít recall seeing any language anywhere that says, "You shall

not provide for cost of living. You shall not provide for additional salary," not

at all. I think, instead, we have said, give us a standard against which we can

evaluate programs and say to districts, this is not a year that we can support

expanding the program.

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: I think thereís a major difference

between cost-of-living increases and expansions, or taking the inflationary

increases that -- not just local districts, but the State would come up against.

You see, my concern on the matter is, when I say maintenance, if that is not

maintained, then what takes place is programs, in effect, are -- they are in receipt

of a cut, just based on inflationary increase. And if theyíre not able to at least

look forward to at least the inflationary increase being matched, then that

40

means that the local boards are going to have to work out some sort of

ingenious ways of dealing with it, but it would be negative in regards to at least

trying to maintain programs that we know are effective.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Your understanding of what

maintenance ought to be is the same as what my understanding is, and that I

will revisit that courtís decision again. And if itís different than our

understanding, I will report to you.

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: All right.

The other point I wanted to raise is -- and that is the State review,

now and projected review-- I think itís similar to what Senator Rice is talking

about. Obviously, the Supreme Court decision talked about some sort of

evaluation being made. My concern on the matter is, is that in what way is the

State Department of Education or, in fact, the Treasury going to make the

evaluation. Is it an evaluation just based upon expenditures of fiscal

expenditures or is it, in effect, related to educational achievement or, in effect,

does it mean both?

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Well, if youíre talking about the

audits that are presently underway, as let by the response to the proposals for

the 25 districts, what we are going to get as a result of those audits-- Theyíre

given to us. And then we are going to look at what it is that they say, and use

it against effectiveness or not. All that they can do is give you numerical

irregularities, really. All they can do is to say, "This year the number was this.

Next year, that number increased by 9 percent. Have you thought about why

that would be?" Give it to us, and weíre going to take a look at those targets of

where they have that and ask the very question about educational and

41

operational effectiveness, which is the same thing that we did through the whole

budget review process, because thereís no way to do this if you donít do that.

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: I have another question on it. This

is more the question of the -- Treasurer McCormac sending private auditors to

the Abbott districts, considered to be a process to evaluate the effectiveness, the

efficiency, and non-instructional programs. Would that be part of their

particular review on that?

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Thatís a part of the scope that

theyíre doing, and thatís directed by specific language of the Supreme Court. It

falls generally into that same category again, except that what -- the approach,

as I understand it -- and the Treasurer would be better able to answer this than

me, although I think I have a pretty good understanding of it. What he did was

let the proposal, so that the non-instructional issue was done by one company

only, so that you donít have 27 different versions of what non-instructional is.

Same general approach again -- theyíre going to look at that, and theyíre going

to come up with recommendations. Theyíre going to come up with questions

about money. Theyíre going to come up with suggestions and recommendations

given to us, and then weíre going to have to respond to that.

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: The other question is, is that when

will you be sending the notices to the district that refers to four and six? Within

30 days? The Department of Education provides a date and time. This is what

we were talking to about before. In other words, those particular audits are

going to start when some of the other recommendations that were made directly

by the Supreme Court are going to be initiated. When?

42

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Well, I believe the Supreme Court

is real clear. Theyíve said 30 days after the report was-- After their opinion was

made public, we had an obligation to inform the districts of what their final

number was. So the audits are going to be done a week from this Friday. They

canít be done any later than that. Weíve got to turn that work around so that

we can respond to the 30-day deadline thatís been provided by the Supreme

Court. The only change in that is if there might be reasons why there is a request

of the court to add some more days to that, but weíre not doing that. That

would only come out of the Attorney Generalís office. Weíre working on the

30-day timetable the Supreme Court set.

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: Okay. When you say the 30-day

timetable and the completion of the audits, how long is it going to take the

Department of Education to look at the particular achievement levels at the

local district and compare that to the expenditure levels at the local district?

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Well, since weíve already been

doing that in our own reviews, what weíre going to be doing is -- because we

donít have any choice in this -- we have approximately seven to 10 days to

evaluate what has come as a result of these audits, so that we can make a final

determination about what the districts need to know, because weíve been given

30 days.

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: I will be frank. Iím not dealing with

the evaluation of the fiscal audit. Iím talking about the comparison of looking

at the achievement level of the children versus the actual report that comes out

of the audit.

43

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Okay. And what I-- I probably

didnít make this clear. Weíve used the achievement outcomes already in terms

of our evaluation. We know the different levels of achievement. What we are

simply waiting for is this independent result coming out of these audits, that we

will then take against what we already know to be the achievement levels. If we

know that achievement levels are very high in a district, or very low, we know

that already. And we are simply going to take the two pieces of information and

bring them together. We donít have to generate information about the

achievement. We already have it.

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: All right.

In that analysis, are you going to be dealing with the differences in

regards to the urban districts versus the non-urban districts?

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Well, weíve tried to be sensitive to

that from the beginning in terms of our work. Our work is really mostly based

on comparisons to districts over a period of time -- the districts in Abbott, not

the districts in the suburbs. Weíre looking at progress theyíve made against their

own indications. Thatís how weíve been doing our work with achievement all

along. But at the high end, our reference, as I said to Assemblywoman Heck,

is we have some average data from suburban groups of certain sizes, and we just

use that as a comparison. But for the most part, weíre looking at how well has

each of these districts improved over their initial starting points four and five

years ago. That we have.

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: Commissioner, I guess the point --

and Iíll try to be a little bit more specific. The cost of educating a child within

an urban district -- the comparison of educating a child within the suburban

44

district, thatís the two-part factors that Iím talking about. The entities that have

to be paid for within an urban district and what is paid for within a suburban

district. Those are the two points Iím dealing with, because any kind of audit

or analysis in dealing with educational achievement, and also trying to

counterbalance that against financial expenditures, has got to have a separation

of what cost is at an urban versus cost being in a suburban or a -- not totally a

suburban district. Iíd say, basically, a district that is near an urban and a

suburban district. These are what I call the districts in transition.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: We agree completely. And if you

think that what the auditors are going to be doing is bringing in all of these

suburban statistics, theyíre not. Theyíre not doing that. We understand that.

Thatís our original position about designation. We understand that when you

have children in high concentrations of poverty the costs are going to be higher

because their needs are higher. We understand that. Our understanding and

approach on achievement already takes account for that. We are comparing,

largely in our achievement analysis of Abbotts, Abbotts against other Abbotts.

And we certainly are, however, looking at broad ranges like 10 percent of

administration. We think that, whether youíre an Abbott or not, that those

statistics generally do hold, especially since those percentages should be more

favorable as you get bigger, because you have economies of scale on your side.

I donít want you to think -- I donít want anybody to think -- that

these auditors are coming in and applying all these suburban frameworks against

urban school districts, because theyíre not. We have already differentiated that,

because we must. And there are differences, we know that.

45

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: Commissioner, what would be the

difference in regards to dealing with the Abbott urban districts and the three

takeover districts? Because there the State has more direct control, there the

State has more of a sign-off on expenditures and other kinds of activities, so

how would you look at the urban district that is part of their analysis versus the

urban takeover districts and their analysis?

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Well, the difference is that we have

far more data on the State takeover. The other part of it is that the differences

between the three State takeover districts and many of the other Abbotts is

small, negligible, if existent at all. The difference is that we have far more

information, a much better understanding of the three State takeover districts.

So weíre able to take what comes out of those audit reports and respond to

them quicker, because we have much more information. There isnít a great

difference between the three State takeover districts and some of the other

Abbott school districts that we have.

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: Okay.

SENATOR BARK: Mr. Chairman?

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: Yes. Go ahead.

SENATOR BARK: Thank you.

I think that there has certainly been a great many good questions

on Abbott, but I would like to follow up on one statement that you did make,

which is not directly related to Abbott, but itís that talking about the pockets

of poverty that may exist elsewhere outside of Abbotts, and certainly those

children deserve, as you indicated, some additional help along the way. Do you

46

have any -- or could you express what you think you might be doing for those

areas?

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Let me give you an illustration. We

would focus first on the communities with the highest concentrations of poverty.

So those would be likely the District Factor A schools and districts, once this

DFG is finished, who are not Abbotts, because by definition alone they have

high concentrations of poverty.

SENATOR BARK: Right.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Weíd be looking at a series of

additional responses, like taking half-day urban childhood programs for

four-year-olds and extending them to full day. Weíd be looking at other kinds

of remedies that they may need that havenít heretofore been provided, but weíre

probably going to start with early childhood full-day programs, because we

think thatís the highest leverage. We think that itís unlikely, regardless of what

happens with our deliberations, that weíre going to be talking about more than

20 school districts who are in District Factor A, not Abbott, but therefore have

high concentrations of poverty. More needs to be done than presently done.

SENATOR BARK: Okay. Would you also think about looking at

the designation of B, just to be sure that we donít have high concentration of

poverty in those districts, or are you going to strictly leave it to the As?

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: No, weíre not going to strictly leave

it to the As, but weíre going to start with As because those are the places of

greatest need.

SENATOR BARK: Thatís logical, yes. Thatís a good starting

point.

47

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Yes. Yes. Weíd also look at the

population of District Factor B, because thatís a much bigger population.

Thereís a range in that that we all need to be sensitive about, as we deal with

Abbott designation, to make sure that what weíre doing is fair here. And that

if youíre not going to be designated as Abbott because you accept this criteria,

then there has to be some other response.

SENATOR BARK: And when do you anticipate starting this

review?

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: We hope to be able to do the

District Factor A changes maybe as soon as September of 2004, and then maybe

have some plan as to how we would roll it out beyond that.

SENATOR BARK: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Sure.

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: Commissioner, one other question,

and this is basically dealing with the Supreme Court determination on the

3-year-olds, and the inclusion of that as part of the educational program with

the local levels. Are you going to be in a position to evaluate why these

particular, the 3-year-olds, have not been totally included at the local boards,

and are you in a position to look at the dollar amount that is made available

directly by the State, and also made available directly by the local boards, in

regards to reaching that particular level?

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: I think weíre already doing that

kind of work, and Iím pleased to say that we anticipate that our percentage of

age-eligible kids who are going to be in programs next September may be as high

as 80 percent. Thatís gone up from 55 percent two-and-a-half years ago. So we

48

feel very good about the progress that weíve made. We also know thatís 20

percent of a population still not serviced, and we have to look at different ways

with local communities about reaching children. Because we probably canít

hypothesize that the children not in school are probably the children who are

in greatest need, and they may very well represent children from very transient

families that we havenít been able to locate. Thatís where we have to do some

work with other agencies, like DHS, in order to make sure that we do everything

we can to see that we are reaching children who should be served.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: Excuse me. Including the rural

areas?

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Yes.

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: The point I wanted to raise on

reaching those particular children -- and this goes back to the question of

maintenance -- is there any reason why the appropriation in those local districts

or by the State has not increased in trying to get those children directly involved?

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Well, I think that there is an

increase. What has happened is that the projected increase of a couple of years

ago never materialized. That is, we had higher estimates of what we were going

to get and didnít get them. And so we adjusted that to that other level.

Maintenance has nothing to do with age-eligible, early childhood

kids. If a 100 percent showed up in September, it has nothing to do with

maintenance. Thatís a requirement of the court decision, like parity is. It has

nothing to do with a maintenance definition. Part of our problem in thinking

about going over 80 percent is we have a capacity issue that we may not, even

if we found all of the kids and found all the kids that were eligible, we may not

49

be able to find the places for them, because weíre still lagging behind in that

area. But thatís how I think the flat line, or what looks like a flat line in terms

of the budget, is really an increase over a number a year before that had to be

lowered because the population never arrived to the extent that we thought.

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: The point Iím trying to raise is, is

that rather than put the responsibility of the population arriving, is it the

responsibility of the Department of Education to be of direct assistance to the

local boards to assure that they reach out for these children, rather than just

waiting for them to come in?

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: I think itís both, and I think weíre

doing both. I think the Department recognizes its responsibility. It recognized

it canít do it alone. It has to be doing it in a complimentary way with the local

board. The local board has got to do that with community organizations,

otherwise theyíre not going to be successful.

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: The other point I wanted to raise,

and going back to the 3-year-olds, and this again deals with the capability of the

local boards to basically house those children. In what way are, at this point in

time, are you envisioning working out either renovations of existing schools to

basically include those particular children or, in fact, dealing with renovations

of other agencies, educational agencies, to at least expand their particular

capability?

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Weíre dealing with School Corp on

the building of new facilities as quickly as we can. Thatís their responsibility

and theyíre doing, I think, a very good job. Part of their problem is the

acquisition of property, that they continue to tell us is troublesome. We know

50

that under the best case scenario, 70 percent of the early childhood children, 3-

and 4-year-olds, are going to be educated in programs and facilities outside the

district. So weíre trying to work on a way in which we can ensure that uniform

standards apply, even though there are different agencies who are doing this. So

weíre working on that in a number of different ways.

School Corp work on the area of building facilities with our

encouragement. We work on the standards and work on making sure that the

community providers understand the law, which is that the local school district

is the one who must approve the providers. They have to work through them.

We want to see that the decisions on the local level are made on standards,

rather than on arbitrary kinds of conclusions that somebody may have about

some kind of program. So itís standards and results, and weíre doing it in a

number of ways.

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: The point, again, and when itís not

necessarily the standards, because I think that most of the providers outside of

the structured educational system understand the standards. The question is,

is that, are there any resources thatís going to be made directly out of Abbott,

to at least ensure that those particular housing issues can meet standards? In

other words, youíre talking about the implementation of standards which may

or may not be part of what the contract agencies are dealing with. But in effect,

if the State can make funds available to do renovations of those facilities, in

what way does the State envision doing that? Because at this point, thereís a

difference of opinion as to the number of children that are actually eligible to

be enrolled versus the actual number that we know right now are enrolled.

51

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Well, Iíd like to tell you that thatís

a relatively easy thing for us to deal with, but it hasnít been. Because what

weíre trying to do is work through school districts and then do an analysis of

their capacity, their facilities, as well as the community providers, and then

support the construction of more facilities as fast as we can within the guidelines

that are set up by the law, which is we donít make that determination for a

community providerís facility. The school district does that. And we are doing

everything we can to build facilities and to provide space as fast as possible,

because we know, even at 80 percent, youíre 20 percent short.

SENATOR RICE: Mr. Chairman.

With that said, a couple of issues. One, you donít have to discuss

here, but would you reach out for Senator Turner and also speak with staff here,

Melanie, and work with SCC to address a Head Start Trenton program in terms

of--

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: A Head Start Trenton program.

SENATOR RICE: Itís a building that I understand that the

community action went out-- I think the business community raised some

dollars, the Feds raised some dollars, local raised some dollars, and the State

seems to be reneging. And as a time factor, they may lose all those

commitments. They wanted to appear before this Committee. I suggested that

youíll be busy here with this subject, that itís something weíll look into, and if

necessary, weíll call everybody back. But I think itís something you can get

resolved and expedited. But please reach out for Senator Turner.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: I will do that.

52

SENATOR RICE: On the other issue of young people, early

childhood education, reading by a certain age, thereís a problem which Iím

trying to legislate and hope you will support it, but I guess the question is

whether it can be done immediately through regulations until we can change it.

Some of the problems in the districts happen to be one of age, where Iíve had

problems in Irvington and elsewhere and my school districts, where parents

attempt to enroll students into the school system. The problem is they get cut

off because the kidís birthday is the end of October or November 1. Weíre

under the opinion that the laws should at least allow that enrollment up to

November 1, because itís a lot of time and theyíre wasting it anyway. Iím trying

to move legislation, but sometimes my colleagues donít understand. So could

you check to see if, in fact, the Governor and the administration and the

legislators and the courts are committed to early childhood education? See if

you can change that by way of regulations, at least going to the school year?

And then, ultimately, we will try to change it by way of legislation when I can

get my colleagues back in session.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: I will do that.

SENATOR RICE: Okay.

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: I was just going to say,

Commissioner, for the most part, most of the local districts basically deal with

the date of birth as a determination by the State. Itís not necessarily something

that the local board usually decides. What the local board says is that if the

State Board of Education changes the stipulation of dates as to when a child

would be able to go directly into the school, then they would entertain that.

The problem is, is that this matter is -- weíre now talking about the educational

53

institution. What is now taking place is they just expanded. There were certain

dates and times in which a child could go directly into kindergarten and what

the local districts did, when they were dealing with the 3-three-olds, they just

backed it up two years. They didnít change the date.

So at this point in time, the State, in effect, is really the determining

factor on the date, as to what particular day a -- based on the childís birth --

they can be enrolled within the educational system.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Okay. Iím not fully cognizant of

that. It is my recollection that that typically is done at the district level, but I

will look into that, especially in terms of early childhood and the Abbott kids.

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: Let me see, are there any additional

questions?

SENATOR BARK: Just one more. I just wanted to follow up on

something that the Senator said, because I know that in my county we also have

a very new Head Start facility that was just built and probably opened, maybe,

two years ago. Iím assuming that you do use these kind of facilities for early

childhood. Now, I know in my county I only have two Abbott districts, but

one of them could be well-served by the Head Start facility, and I would hope

that those would not be ruled out.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Well, we work very closely in this

state, and I think successfully, with Head Start. I certainly wouldnít want

facilities that were adequate not to be used because of some kind of

jurisdictional problem as to who the agency of responsibility is. Theyíre still all

our kids, and they have to be educated. We need all the partners and agencies

that we can get.

54

SENATOR BARK: Thank you very much.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Sure.

SENATOR BARK: I do appreciate it, but I just know that itís a

brand new building, and itís a wonderful facility.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Okay.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: Commissioner, weíre discussing the

fact that weíd like to have another meeting, perhaps in September, when you get

this information put together, and Co-Chairman Tucker wants it to be after

school begins.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Sure.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: So we will determine a date.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: I think that would be a good idea.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: Itís a good idea.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: And Iíll work with Melanie in terms

of the exact agenda items that we want to deal with.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: Weíll look at a date so that the

entire Committee might be represented.

SENATOR RICE: Sure.

Let me apologize. I have to meet with Community Affairs upstairs,

you know. Some of us do work for a living.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: I think weíre near the conclusion

anyway.

Good-bye, Senator.

SENATOR BARK: I think so.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: Yes.

55

SENATOR BARK: We are.

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: Commissioner, I wish we could do

this, though. You indicated that the Supreme Court made a decision on 30 days

in regards to dealing with the audits. My concern on it is that we meet. But if

the school has started -- and where we would be able to get some data as to

what is taking place at the local level -- the audits will not be done by that time.

But at least we can get some sort of indication as to what is taking place at that

point.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Letís do this. The audits will be

done, because they have to be done. Why donít I give you the results of the

audits, you look at that, and then we decide when weíre going to meet to talk

about the specific things that have to be done.

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: When you say they will be done,

what is the date that youíre dealing with on that?

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: The audits have to be done next

Friday, in order for us to respond to the 30-day deadline. The 30 days from the

Supreme Court is not about the audits. Itís about us giving the districts the

number. The audits have to be done before that. Okay.

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: Okay.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: And the other data that we

discussed earlier, do you think that might be available as well?

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Iím not sure. Iím going to go back

and check.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: All right. But then weíll have to

meet in October.

56

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Well, I donít mind meeting--

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: I know. All right.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: --but it might take us a little while

to assemble this stuff. Okay?

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: Iím just joking.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Sure.

ASSEMBLYMAN DIEGNAN: Mr. Chairman, could I ask one

question?

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: Yes.

ASSEMBLYMAN DIEGNAN: While we have you, itís a little bit

off field. We had hearings earlier in the year. How did we do in terms of the

upgrades for health and safety items, especially in the urban districts? We had

some horror stories. I know there was a commitment by the administration,

that by the time this school year started, the vast majority of those issues would

be resolved.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: I think that they are resolved, but

I think that the people responsible for that are the School Corp people, and

theyíre the ones that ought to give that report. I will tell them of the wishes of

the Committee and see that the reportís given there.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: I just want to thank the

Commissioner. He has been very generous with his time and very informative.

Thank you very much.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Well, itís always good to be with

you.

57

Thank you for this opportunity. I look forward to working with

you again.

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: Okay.

ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: The meeting is adjourned.

ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: The meeting is adjourned.

(MEETING CONCLUDED)