JOINT COMMITTEE ON THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS
"Recommendations for the Designation of Abbott Districts"
Committee Room 1 State House Annex Trenton, New Jersey
August 5, 2003
Assemblyman Donald Tucker, Co-Chair
Assemblywoman Rose Marie Heck, Co-Chair
Senator Ronald L. Rice
Senator Martha W. Bark
Assemblyman Patrick J. Diegnan Jr.
Melanie M. Schulz
Joint Committee on the Public Schools
Meeting Recorded and
The Office of Legislative Services, Public Information Office,
Hearing Unit, State House Annex, PO 068, Trenton, New Jersey
ASSEMBLYWOMAN ROSE MARIE HECK (Co-Chair): Good
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,
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
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
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 theAbbott
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
theAbbott decisions, because thatís the only way which I believe this will remain
true to the intent of all theAbbott decisions. And you know, there are many.
That was done with a host of people, because thereís a voluminous record on
But what we find is that there are three themes in theAbbott
decisions. Number one, theAbbott 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.
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.
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
ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: I know that. I know that. Thank
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
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
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,
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 FactorA.
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 FactorA. Most of them are,
not all of them are. Some are District FactorB. And presently, a couple of
them are neitherA 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
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
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
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.
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
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 FactorA school in the
state is an Abbott, even though in order to be classified District FactorA 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
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 FactorA
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.
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 FactorA 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
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 aD
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
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,
ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: And Iíd like to recognize that
Senator Martha Bark arrived earlier.
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
ASSEMBLYMAN DIEGNAN: Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan.
COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Good morning, Assemblyman
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.
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.
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
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
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 FactorA 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 FactorB,
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 FactorB, or likely to be. And thereís a
need to do that, because there are many District FactorBs 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 FactorA, 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 FactorA 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
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.
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
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
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.
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 --
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.
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
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
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
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 theAbbott 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
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 theAbbott 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 theAbbott 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
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 -- asThe New York Times says, and I agree --
this is the most important educational decision sinceBrown.
Now we all know that weíre entering the 50th year of theBrown
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 theAbbott 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
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
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 theAbbott
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.
COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: I think theyíre out of business,
SENATOR RICE: I hope so. But the people may have
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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.
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
MR. ANDERSON: They absolutely do.
ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: --because itís very hard for all of us,
because theyíve asked us to explain it.
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.
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.
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 districtX be like
school districtY, 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
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 likefreeze.
It doesnít use terms thatfreeze 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
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
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
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?
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
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.
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
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.
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
have any -- or could you express what you think you might be doing for those
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 FactorA 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 FactorA, 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 ofB, just to be sure that we donít have high concentration of
poverty in those districts, or are you going to strictly leave it to theAs?
COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: No, weíre not going to strictly leave
it to theAs, but weíre going to start with As because those are the places of
SENATOR BARK: Thatís logical, yes. Thatís a good starting
COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Yes. Yes. Weíd also look at the
population of District FactorB, 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
COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: We hope to be able to do the
District FactorA 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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
SENATOR BARK: I think so.
ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: Yes.
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
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
ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: All right. But then weíll have to
meet in October.
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
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
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
Thank you for this opportunity. I look forward to working with
ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: Okay.
ASSEMBLYWOMAN HECK: The meeting is adjourned.
ASSEMBLYMAN TUCKER: The meeting is adjourned.