JOINT COMMITTEE ON THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS
STATE TAKEOVER SUBCOMMITTEE
"Testimony from Commissioner William L. Librera,
Assistant Commissioner Gordon A. MacInnes, and Benjamin Rarick"
Committee Room 6
March 6, 2003
Senator Wayne R. Bryant, Co-Chair
Assemblyman Patrick J. Diegnan Jr., Co-Chair
Senator Ronald L. Rice
Melanie M. Schulz
Meeting Recorded and
The Office of Legislative Services, Public Information Office,
Hearing Unit, State House Annex, PO 068, Trenton, New Jersey
ASSEMBLYMAN PATRICK J. DIEGNAN JR. (Co-Chair): Call
the meeting to order.
Roll call, please.
MS. SCHULTZ (Committee Aide): Senator Rice.
SENATOR RICE: Here.
MS. SCHULTZ: Senator Bryant.
SENATOR WAYNE R. BRYANT (Co-Chair): Here.
MS. SCHULTZ: Assemblyman Diegnan.
ASSEMBLYMAN DIEGNAN: Here.
Weíre honored today to be joined by the Commissioner and
And basically, itís my understanding, Commissioner, youíre going
to give us an update on where weíre at, in terms of the State takeover, and what
assistance we, the Legislature, can be, in terms of the entire process.
So I will hand the ball off to you.
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: Thank you
very much, Assemblyman.
We are pleased to have the opportunity, always, to come and talk
with you about the status of our plans, an update on things that we have
mentioned to you before. And Iím pleased to say that the work that we began,
in terms of changing the State takeover law, which is a law that we think is very
much in need of change by all sources, in terms of our own experience, in terms
of the report that we got from Paul Tractenberg, in terms of the things that we
see and hear in each of three State takeover districts--
We are slightly behind schedule, in terms of the report from the
working group, and Gordon was -- had been chairing. Gordon chaired the
group, and Ben has been instrumental in helping us do that work.
Their charge from me was to take a look at the report prepared for
us by Paul Tractenberg and the others from Rutgers, on State takeover, and to
look at it carefully and discuss with other members of this 30-person committee,
which represents the three communities, as well as those people who have
worked closely with these issues over a long period of time.
And though we thought it was possible to have that work completed
by October 1, we were much too optimistic, in terms of that time table. And we
could have had something by November, but instead we chose -- I think it was
the decision by the board -- was a wise one -- to continue to work on these
topics to see if we canít get as close as possible to consensus on issues. Thatís
taken us a long time. But I think that report, if Iím not mistaken, will be
available to -- will be presented to me within two or three weeks.
When we get that report -- when I get that report, what Iím going
to do is evaluate it and begin to work on a draft of changes in the State takeover
law. And when we get to the point of having drafts available, then weíre going
to share them with the appropriate committees and then, eventually, with the
entire Legislature, as would be indicated by the responses to the draft.
What I can tell you is, after the work that weíve been doing for
more than six months on the takeover law and, in particular, issues in the
takeover districts, we see a number of problems that are among the highest
priority in this change. And they are among the highest priority, and Iím giving
you, at this point, more my perspective than the perspective of the committees,
but I think it gives us a basis to discuss things for today and beyond.
The basic problem with the State takeover law is that it doesnít
really provide for adequate transition from State takeover to the return to local
control. In the places where that has worked in this country, it has been a
gradual process. It has been one that would permit greater local control after it
was clear that some parts of local control were handled well. And we need to
do a better job in the transition areas. Weíre working on some of those right
now. In some cases, theyíre working well, and in some cases, itís been difficult
for us. But if you donít provide for a transition, if you donít provide for a
gradual return, based on how well the district is doing, you find yourself in allor-
nothing-at-all situations, which is part of the problem of what we have.
When you look at the report by Paul Tractenberg, and this really
corroborates our experience, what you have, in the successful experiences of
takeover in this country, is the return when districts show substantial
improvement -- not complete improvement, substantial improvement. That is,
thereís plenty of indication that things are better. Theyíre not done, theyíre not
finished, itís not a question of 100 percent compliance, but itís strong evidence
that the things that were identified to cause a problem in the first place were
being addressed. So we have problems of transition that, clearly, are going to
be reflected in the State takeover law.
We also have problems with governance. One of the problems that
we have is that people are -- this is just one example. Right now, we have
people elected to duly represent their constituents, but have drastically or
significantly limited authority, which creates a number of problems -- in terms
of working relationships, understanding on the part of the community, and
frustration -- because being a board member is very difficult work. Being a
board member, under ordinary circumstances, is very difficult work. When
youíre a board member in a situation where most of the authority that makes
a difference, in terms of how schools are run, are things that are not a part of
your responsibility, itís very hard to understand.
So we are also looking at the governance issues, as well. Weíre
looking at different models, looking at different arrangements. And we also
think that one feature of the State takeover law, which asks a community to
make a decision as to how they will be governed -- that is, whether it will be by
mayoral appointments or by the electorate, directly, or any kind of hybrid -- to
have to do that in one year, we think, after returning it to local control, is
inadequate and insufficient. And so weíre looking at other ways in which
governance can be changed positively.
The final thing that Iíd like to say, and then I would like to give
Gordon an opportunity to add to my introductory remarks -- same with Ben --
is, we think that it is a problem to have a system of monitoring quality and
accountability in this State, which essentially breaks out into two areas. One
is, monitoring for everybody else, and then monitoring for Abbotts, as if there
were two sets of rules.
Instead, this ought to be a continuum that represents what all
districts should do, just like what all kids should learn. And then along that
continuum, depending on where you -- what kind of progress youíre making --
there ought to be intervention where itís appropriate, support where itís
appropriate, sanctions where itís appropriate. And this all ought to be a part of
one system that monitors quality.
So the State takeover law changed that. We are going to
recommend, eventually -- is very definitely going to be integrated into the State
monitoring system. There canít be two systems. There has to be one.
ASSEMBLYMAN DIEGNAN: Why donít you go ahead Gordon,
and then weíll have questions after that.
A S S T. C O M M I S S I O N E R G O R D O N A. M a c I N N E S:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Let me introduce my colleague, Ben Rarick, who has been the
Director of the Office of State Operated School Districts for, what, three years
B E N J A M I N R A R I C K: Three years.
ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER MacINNES: Three years.
Let me just amplify one part of what the Commissioner discussed,
because I think itís frequently not appreciated -- how the present law really
prohibits the return to local control. However well all of the factors that were
cited in the comprehensive compliance investigation, which led to takeover
under the existing law -- where the financial management of the district may
have been restored to reflect a high standard of practice, where the instructional
program is coherent and everything is working like it should-- Even with that
progress, it would be impossible for any district to meet the standards, and there
are two explanations for that. I just wanted to share them, briefly, with you.
First, the standards for certification have changed radically since the
1987 law was enacted. We didnít have a core standards, we didnít have State
assessments, we didnít have the Abbott educational remedies, we didnít have
No Child Left Behind, and the standards for adequate yearly progress. So we
have certification standards that donít reflect the work that is actually receiving
most of the attention in the Abbott districts. I mean, if you represent any
district that is a non-Abbott district, but which is subject to the new Federal law,
No Child Left Behind, that is a district that is paying a lot of attention to the
new Federal law -- because the incentives are so strong and they produce such
drastic public consequences that everybody is really focused on this Federal law.
None of that work would be reflected, given the 1987 law. We need to adjust
this so that there is a fair chance.
And by the way, the way to state this -- and it supports the
Commissionerís last point. There are an awful lot of high-performing districts
that could not pass the test that weíre now expecting Paterson, Jersey City, and
Newark to pass. They couldnít meet 100 percent qualification in all the
certification standards, because those standards have risen.
So what we want to have-- We want to have, yes, 100 percent on
some standards. Can you produce an annual audit that is unqualified, and that
is done in a timely way, and which assures the reader that the financial
accounting practices are as they should be? Thereís no give on that. Youíve got
to be able to produce it. You canít have 80 percent compliance on that. Thatís
got to be 100 percent. But what about a standard that talks to the involvement
of the community and parents in the life of the school? How do you measure
that? And once youíve decided on how you measure it, can you really ask that
that be achieved at the 100 percent level? No, you want to see a pattern that
thatís getting attention, that there is steady, significant progress. And you set a
threshold. Once you get to 80 percent, then youíve -- we check that and say we
consider that to be a standard that has been met. Under the existing law, we
canít do that. Even though common sense and good practice would say that
thatís how it should be done. I just bring that to your attention.
COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Ben, would you like--
MR. RARICK: I think that covers it.
COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Okay.
I would just like to close with one thing that needs to be said every
time weíre talking about the State takeover law. There arenít too many things
that I did in 1987 that wouldnít have been altered, slightly or in some ways,
some 16 years later, and I think that that needs to be said as part of this context
-- that something began in 1987 called State takeover law in this country. And
the first one was in the State of New Jersey. The first state takeover in the
country is in Jersey City. So when that occurred, we, meaning the State of New
Jersey, embarked on this with no models, no other patterns in front of us. And
over the years, there have been plenty of attempts to try and make some changes
that didnít occur.
And where we are now reflects the problem of trying to continue to
apply something that was, perhaps, the best practice or what was our best
intention 16 years ago, but today there are very different realities. Our practice
needs to reflect that.
Weíd be happy to entertain your questions and discuss these issues
ASSEMBLYMAN DIEGNAN: Before I turn it over -- I know
Senator Rice has several questions -- but I just want -- you donít have to answer
it if you think itís premature -- but in terms of the three districts, in a thumbnail
sketch, can you give us a sense of where theyíre at, and are they close to being
at that, what you would consider to be, transitional stage?
COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Yes, but with some heavy context
around it. That question can only really be answered when you have the change
in the State takeover law and when you fully evaluate the district against that.
Thatís really the time when it can be answered.
I think it is safe to say, however, of the three, Jersey City, by most
indications, seems to be the one of the three closest. And that has to do with
a number of factors, not the least of which they have been under State takeover
for the longest period of time. There are other factors, as well, including the
issue of that, plus relative stability, in terms of the superintendent -- Stateoperated
superintendent. So I would say that.
And then I would say in Paterson and Newark, depending on the
category, we would say one is very close. As an example, I would say Newark,
probably, is closer than Paterson, in terms of financial operations -- two years
of unqualified audits. Paterson has some very encouraging achievement. So I
think itís safe to say that of the three, Jersey City is closest in the whole of these
categories, and then Newark and Paterson differ in certain areas. Some are
stronger in one and not so strong in the other.
ASSEMBLYMAN DIEGNAN: Senator Rice.
SENATOR RICE: Yes, thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Commissioner and staff, good morning.
COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Good morning, Senator.
SENATOR RICE: Let me ask a question first. Why do we take
over school districts?
COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Why do we take over school
SENATOR RICE: Yes, what was the intent of that legislation?
What was the justification for it?
COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: The justification for it, as I
understand it, was that those districts gave repeated evidence of not solving
fundamental problems themselves, such that the State determined that those
problems had to be addressed by the State supervising the district.
SENATOR RICE: Okay. I asked that for a reason. The State
justification -- and itís documented for the takeover of Newark and Jersey City,
etc. -- was mismanagement and corruption.
Now, given that that may be, whether itís real or not, that was the
justification. There are those of us who didnít believe in the takeover law. I
voted for it, but I didnít believe in it. I had my own bills in, and no one would
entertain them, to try to get around that.
The concern we have is that if you take a district like Newark -- and
I was listening to what you were saying, and I donít dispute that. But itís very
interesting that the Newark district can be where it is today, and we still have
not gotten the accountability from the district. When the State took it over,
under the auspices of mismanagement and corruption, there was a surplus in
The State ran it with an outside superintendent, and all of a sudden,
we came up short $70-plus million. But yet, those dollars have never been
replaced, youíre cutting us like hell -- thatís all the districts right now -- but yet
weíre able to, kind of, stay the course to, at least, meet some of the criteria
required by the State, which is totally different in Jersey City, regardless of how
long theyíve been there. I wonder if I have the $70-plus million, where would
Newark be today based on where we are.
Iím raising that, because when you speak in terms of looking at the
State takeover law and making changes, we disagree. Thereís legislation in,
sponsored by Senator Ron Rice, that said abolish State takeover. I donít believe
State takeover, or takeover of anything by government, is good, whether itís
takeover of local government, takeover of school boards, takeover of State
government by the feds. But I do believe that if, in fact, thereís truly
documented mismanagement and corruption, it needs to be addressed. And so
what we need, and what weíve always argued, particularly in the minority -- that
we need legislation to address improprieties and hold people accountable, not
takeover. There are a lot of ways that can be done that requires the State
involvement. Maybe with inspector generals it will change a little differently --
the State go in there and being there, just like when local government finance
services come in and say, "Weíre going to work with your mayor." You know,
and hold people accountable to work directly with you.
So the first thing Iím arguing -- because I can tell you this, itís going
to become a real street battle, and I really believe that we will get more people
involved with this fight -- Iím tired of fighting this government and this
Governor. Weíll get more people involved, who have never been taken over. All
we have to do is let them know that the potential of the legislation -- you can
be taken over, and we donít believe should be taken over, for these reasons.
So I think they would join with (indiscernible) in the march against
the takeover law. What we need to do is structure some accountability laws.
If it means putting some real serious criminal penalties in there, and doing some
other kinds of things, that needs to be done. But I, for one -- and the
constituency base and this majority that I represent -- and I think I can speak
for Paterson at this point, and probably Jersey City, too. We donít want to hear
the wordtakeover any more in any legislation, so you need to-- Itís suggested by
me that you eradicate that from your vocabulary and your thought, and talk
about accountability law, or whatever we call it.
The other concern that we have is, if, in fact, we go on the premise
that weíre not going to be talking about takeover legislation, weíre going to be
talking about accountability legislation, then we need to talk about this process
of giving these districts back. Your mindís already focused, okay? And I
There is a process, under the statute, for giving the district back. So
we canít say thereís no process. What we can say, Gordon, is that the process
that was intended is not suitable, and probably not workable, primarily because
if we gave the district back under that statute -- which the process says after five
years, you can make the recommendation and get the (indiscernible), to the
superintendents there, and all that stuff -- the transitional-- That doesnít get us
to the point-- If weíre making progress, how do we maintain that stability with
the progress and enhance it from that point on? I think thatís where the
problem lies, and thatís where we have to be focusing, as to the district.
And I raise that to ask this question in particular. I keep hearing
about these working groups. I have legislation in, and Iíve made this request
personally. I believe that any legislation, since you have the working materials
coming to you for review -- any legislation -- Iím going to be adamant about
having the superintendents of the districts, presently-- And Iíve heard nobody
cry yet about the superintendent in Jersey City. And youíre indicating that
theyíre probably in better shape than all of us. The superintendent of Paterson
was just voted six to one to be recommended to stay there. And I think
everybody knows how we feel about the Newark superintendent, regardless of
the politics. So whether they remain in place for a period of time or not, they
should be at the table talking to anyone thatís drafting legislation. I think that
some of the union personnel from those cities, whether we like them or dislike
them, should be there. And the reason Iím raising that -- and some of us who
represent those districts should be at the table, because if itís going to be
administrative legislation, then let me tell you, the greatest barrier to get that
moved is going to be me. And what that means is, if Iím the greatest barrier, it
means Iím going to structure my own legislation with those people and with my
colleagues who want input. And Iíd rather not do that. Iíd rather us to walk
out, regardless of how painful it is, with the right piece for giving it back.
The reason those individuals become very important to the process
is because, whether we like their personalities or not, theyíre the very people that
have been working with more than one commissioner and with the State, trying
to put in place and do the things that we required. But they also are the same
people who did the moaning and groaning about what shouldnít be done, why
canít it be done, or whatever.
We need those elements, if you will, to be analyzed. All right, we
did this. Itís like a car. Letís fine tune it. What were the problems we had?
Whatís the good, whatís the bad, whatís the downside, the upside? What can
be fixed, what canít be fixed? And thatís why that becomes very important.
And if itís not done that way, Iím not going to be a happy camper. I can assure
you, on this Committee, Assemblyman Tucker is not going to be a happy
camper, Craig Stanley -- I can speak for those two -- not going to be a happy
camper. I know, legislatively, Senator James is not going to be a happy camper.
Iím talking legislative now. And Iím not so sure if Joe Doria is going to be a
happy camper. And to be quite frank, I wonít speak for him, because heís here,
but looking at where Camden is, Iím not so sure if Senator Bryant is going to be
a happy camper, and others. So we need to, at least, have that kind of input
into that process of legislation.
Is that doable? Is that possible? Do you intend to do that, or do
I have to keep yelling this thing? If youíre telling me, "No, I donít have a
problem with that," Iíll just tell staff, "Letís start a meeting," so I can start to
put my bills together.
COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: The answer to your question is yes.
Let me go back through a couple of the points that you made. And
let me say, again, that though it-- You offered them as examples of areas where
we disagree. The fact of the matter is, I see more agreement than disagreement.
We have some differences, in terms of how weíre terming things or the way weíre
describing things. We understand your point very well about the State takeover,
and we have been as clear, I think, as any administration, about the
fundamental problems of State takeover, and that is you canít take over a
community. And thatís the fundamental problem. And that you can do things
in the way of intervening where appropriate.
And we may-- And you may see in the change in the overall
monitoring system, which is an issue of accountability, that weíre going to
change the law so that it fits into the overall monitoring system. There may be
things like, on certain occasions, the business office of a district is taken over by
the State. That may happen for a period of time. The personnel office may be
taken over. Taking over the whole district, I think, is very unlikely. And I donít
want to speak for -- because of the obvious problem -- of saying, "Iíve got a lot
of people working on this, but, by the way, hereís the outcome." I donít want
to say that.
But I will say that, insofar as Iím concerned, I think that what
happened with the present State takeover is, even if you accept all the reasons,
and you say that weíre right for the intervention in the first place, thereís a point
in time where you have the law of diminishing return, because youíre still there
and because you blunted the local communityís opportunity to take
responsibility and be accountable for their schools and for their children. And
you canít do that, and you canít ever do that.
And so we see ways in which intervening at different times-- And
weíve already started to do that, not waiting for lengthy reports. You see
conditions, and then we arrive. And then the whole idea is that that arrival is
as temporary as is absolutely necessary. And then you begin to recede from
there until such time that you see either all kinds of progress, that youíre no
longer necessary, or the same recurring problems, in which case youíve got to
escalate and go back in. Thatís what I think youíre going to see, in terms of our
Now, the mismanagement issue clearly is in all of the State takeover
proceedings, and Iíve read them all. But I think, larger than mismanagement is
the whole issue of identified problems and an inability to solve those problems,
And there are places that would surprise most people in this state,
school districts that have aspects of what they do that are not very good --
sufficient that the State may, very well, have to intervene and supervise directly.
Making mistakes is not the sole province of urban school districts. We all know
that. And we have to move in the direction of one system that monitors quality
that is very clear, that is fair, and that people understand that. And then there
are sanctions and rewards according to where you are. So we donít disagree
with that, at all.
I think that -- and Iíd like Gordon to speak to this -- when we were
trying to work on this recommendation -- his working group -- we always have
that problem of, how many people do we put on a working group. We put 30,
and I think heíll speak to who we invited, because we did have elected
representatives. We did have association people. We tried to make it as
representative as possible. We want to take the work that weíre doing and work
through obvious stages of involving people. Thatís how you build something
thatís really strong. If you end up excluding people, handing something over to
people, you fight a whole other counterproductive way of doing things, which
we donít want to do.
Gordon, can you speak a little bit to the representatives?
And, Senator, if Iíve not dealt with any of the issues youíve raised,
please let us know, and weíll be glad to go back.
ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER MacINNES: Yes, the working
group consisted of-- We asked the chairs of each of the advisory boards in each
of the three takeover districts to serve or to designate somebody. We asked for
the representation of the teachersí representatives in the three districts, which
was represented, I think, by the NTU directly and, at least on occasion,
representative from the NJEA from -- to represent Paterson and Jersey City, that
are both association unions. We had people from the academic community,
whoíve spent a lot of time looking at these issues and who were involved in the
report. We had people from-- We had parent representatives. We had
community representatives, people who have been active with neighborhood
advocacy groups, on behalf of education. We had people from the Education
Law Center. Iím trying to go around the table. Weíve had--
MR. RARICK: You had former superintendents.
ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER MacINNES: Thatís right, weíve
had former superintendents.
So we had a pretty good cross section of people. Most of them
were from the three communities affected.
And by the way, Senator, I just add one thing to what the
Commissioner said, if I could, not directly in response to his request, but in
terms of something you said.
The only reason weíre talking about takeover is weíve got three
districts that are affected by this law. I think that itís very clear, looking at
some of the problems that weíve identified in other districts that clearly are, at
least, as great as the problems that were cited when these three districts were
taken over. Weíre not moving in that direction. The only reason weíre talking
about it is because we do have these three communities. And we believe that,
if that 1987 law isnít changed, weíre going to be in perpetual operation of it.
SENATOR RICE: Iím going to let the Senator speak, and Iím going
to come back to you, okay?
SENATOR BRYANT: Let me ask the question, because I thought
the bottom line on takeover, basically, was that weíre supposed to improve the
quality of education of students. And I voted against it, because I didnít think
the legislation did any of that.
But one of the byproducts, that isnít always good, is to see a State
or an entity think that theyíre doing something and, for once, they might have
to admit that what is actually transpiring, in very troubled districts, is a lot larger
than what it is that we can-- Because we did everything. You cut out contracts.
You donít have -- all your upper-level folks you can bring in. So you had it all.
You put in more money. You did anything you wanted to do. And yet, the
bottom line of educating folks from very distressed areas is a very difficult task.
Because, before that, we blamed everybody. We blamed all those folks. "You
must be the worst in the world." And they did have bad financial systems.
They might not have done curriculum as well as you wanted. But we learned
an important lesson, hopefully, out of this. And Iím not sure how youíre going
to correct this in whatever we do -- what we call takeover. Is that it is not as
easy with kids coming from social economic conditions, wherever they are and
whatever it is -- is to turn their lives around, even if, in fact, you have total
control over everything. And to me, itís been a blessing to those urban areas
that have been struggling, because theyíve been trying to take a part in that for
years. This is more and more daunting than we thought.
So Iím hoping whatever you come up with -- that you recognize
that you donít put standards out -- not that you shouldnít have standards -- but
you donít have expectations larger than what are real. And we now have a 16-
year experience. And we look at our students that we did for 16 years, and you
measure it against, say, maybe a Burlington City. You havenít done any better.
So you canít put standards out there that are greater than what we can achieve,
with carte blanche authority to do everything. It doesnít mean that you donít
want folks to strive, but we ought to be reasonable, based on social economic
conditions, and talk about how do we end up changing some of those, because
I think itís linked to whatís happening in those communities.
Where I might differ from my colleagues, in terms of whether you
call it takeover or not, is whether you have some joint efforts by the State
involved. And when I say joint, you can have some elected officials, you may
have some appointed by the mayor, you might have some from the State, in
order to be, sort of, a partnership, as opposed to never having any elections,
never having anybody on that. And I think you might need a mixture of folks
who are sitting on those boards, coming from those districts, that might have
Let me ask you, are you thinking in terms of whatever we do for
districts that we think we need to intervene in? And thatís what Iím talking
about. (indiscernible) Evaluating them, now, in a new light of what weíve now
found through our 16 years of experience -- that are very retractable --
untractable conditions that we have in these very tough areas, where the social
economic conditions are tough. It doesnít mean they canít learn; thatís not
where Iím going. But assuming, in a typical middle-class community, I can
move somebody from point A to point G in a year, that might not happen. And
we should know that now. I might only be able to get them to point C in a
year. So therefore, I might have to give them five years to get them to point G
in order for them to be successful. And itís not a failure to get to C.
As to -- and then Iím going to end up-- As to the audits, I really
want to know what an unqualified audit is, so that definition is really narrowed
down, because thereís hardly a municipality or school board thatís not going to
not have audit exceptions. Now, if an unqualified audit is going to be an audit
with audit exceptions, thatís crazy, because youíll never meet that test. I donít
know anybody that doesnít have some audit exceptions. They paid somebody
wrong or whatever else, or they canít trace a check to somebody else. So they
ought to be-- I want to make sure those standards are fairly significant in terms
of -- their affecting, say, the over -- the well-being of the community, and itís not
mere exceptions, and then we end up playing the game, "Well, what exceptions
did you have?"
COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Okay. A couple of responses,
First, in the area of governance and the mix system and the hybrid
that you described, thatís very much a part of our thinking, especially in the
transition. And it would be not just the transition, in terms of districts returning
to local control, but it may also be in our system where we see some districts
who are going into trouble -- and that maybe, one of the places along that
continuum is, weíve seen these problems not addressed for this period of time.
When youíre in this status, this is what happens. The object there is, itís all
temporary. And so weíre very much thinking that way.
And when I was talking about the change in State takeover, we
think the present law that says, "In a year, youíll decide either/or," is
inadequate. If you, instead, had this hybrid for this period of time, people
could see this and then have more options from which they could learn. Weíre
interested in that -- very much on the same page there.
Second issue, in terms of what we know about how difficult it is for
children in communities with high concentrations of poverty to learn at the same
rate as others, is really the issue. And to that end, here are the things that we see
that are important. First, the belief that given the right resources, including time,
all kids can reach these standards. The idea that youíre going to judge quality
based on how many 17-year-olds, in October of a given year, reach a certain
milestone, is a ludicrous conclusion thatís been perpetuated much too long.
That we believe that if you give kids a solid foundation in literacy, and that you
support them in terms of their early years and give them a foundation, we will
do a lot to redress the difference. However, beyond that, thereís nothing wrong
with young people reaching milestones six months before, six months afterwards.
Thatís the way all of us learn. Thatís the way we have to talk about young
And above all, if you donít put something in place that allows
people the opportunity to, first, demonstrate to you that they donít know how
to do this, youíre really in a situation that is so artificial that youíll be trying to
sustain something that will never work. What we want to do is give people
options as to how you get there. When you donít get there and make the wrong
choices, we will have escalating involvement, in terms of us making choices for
ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER MacINNES: Could I just-- First
of all, about the audit-- As a member of an audit committee for a corporation,
I think that what weíre talking about, with the unqualified audit, is the assertion
in the cover letter, for the accounting statements, that their review has found
that the accounts here are fairly represented, based on information presented by
the management, and that they meet the generally accepted accounting
principles. Then they move to a management letter, which will list -- you know,
"Youíre not keeping track of your petty cash fund, and hereís our
recommendation," and management reacts to it. So what weíre talking about
in that -- an unqualified sense-- Iíll stop using that term. Thatís good advice.
SENATOR BRYANT: I donít want folks to think -- exceptions. I
understand what youíre talking about.
ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER MacINNES: It sends-- Itís
confusing. Itís like the wordsanction, which can be either punish or to approve.
Iíd say on your main point, amen. And I wrote an op ed before I
took this job, which said the State of New Jersey has operated its three largest
districts for a combined period of 32 years, and nobodyís beating a path to
Jersey City, Newark, and Paterson to find out how to run city schools. And
both commissioners who were involved in the takeover of two of those districts
responded to that op ed by saying, "This was never about improving the
educational opportunities of kids. It was always about the mismanagement and
the corruption in the systems," an astounding, astonishing assertion, I thought.
And I think that we have learned-- And by the way, thatís the
reason we want to change the way the Abbott remedies are described -- the court
decision. We have too much respect for the differences among the Abbott
districts to believe that a cookie-cutter model, set on the basis of best
information available to the court in 1998, is going to suffice down the road in
meeting the needs of these kids. And not too far from you youíve got Gloucester
City -- Abbott district, 98 percent white, coming from English-speaking homes.
Why would you think that the program you install in Gloucester City would
work in Union City, where 98 percent of the kids come from Spanish-speaking
homes? It just doesnít make any sense. And youíve got to be able to show
What it means is, Trenton, the capital -- the DOE is not in a
position to know so well whatís going on in 454 Abbott schools that we can sit
here and prescribe. This has got to be much more of a joint effort. And weíve
got to identify the resources the districts need. And by the way, weíve got
Abbott districts in New Jersey that can provide some of those resources, because
they have applied what the court has directed on early literacy, in terms of
getting an early start. Itís working at such a level that people ought to be finding
out from these places how they did it. And they ought to be doing some
copying. They should look at what theyíre saying. Thatís the approach that we
want to take, and thatís why weíre hiring people from Abbott districts where
SENATOR BRYANT: I just have to leave. Let me just say this one
thing before I leave. Donít go back to the old model where all we did as the
DOE was point the finger. My theory is, DOE should have a role model of not
only analyzing, but then becoming part of the solution. So, as you tell or work
with somebody, that you have as much on the line as they do, and itís not just,
"We saw this was wrong. You tell me how youíre going to figure it out." They
give you a plan, and you okay the plan. And they say, "It didnít work. Youíre
the bad guy." I donít want that anymore. Thatís how we used to do it, going
all the way back. The least I want you to say is, "Yes, we, together, have made
this plan, and itís a failure, or itís a success -- is part of--" It might be a failed
experience. Thatís fine. Thatís what happens in life. But itís not, sort of, just
the district, and we are, sort of, the monitors and the bright folks that point
where youíre not doing well and then blame you when you didnít come up with
the right solution. I want you to be part of inventing the solution.
COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Thank you.
Ben has a point that heíd like to make.
Thank you very much.
MR. RARICK: I just wanted to add some information to the
conversation, as it related to the audit question, because I thought it was
important that the Senators know that all three of the State-operated school
districts have what we call, and what Gordon has defined as, an unqualified
audit, which hasnít always been the case, but it is now. And, frankly, it
currently is not true for all Abbott districts. But thatís a success, certainly, in the
State-operated school districts.
And I think itís indicative of a larger trend, which is -- whether it be
in the financial realm, or whether it be in student achievement, or any of the
particular monitoring indicators you want to look at -- Newark, Jersey City, and
Paterson are not the lowest performing districts, and yet they are the State-
operated school districts. So thatís really summing up the weakness in the law
that we seek to change. Thereís, certainly, a lot of successes to be celebrated in
the State-operated school districts, and they should be reflected in a greater
amount of local control in these municipalities.
SENATOR RICE: Youíre correct. We were never the lowest
performing districts, ever. Go check the records. But thatís not why the State
said they came in. Thatís my problem. The State said they came in not because
we were the lowest performing, itís because of corruption and mismanagement.
In fact, the Newark district was at Level 2, when, in fact, this law was passed.
Thatís why I voted for it. I thought it may send Newark a message that the
ability is there.
The argument with Newark was, if you check the records, that the
State -- the Newark plan was approved -- that they wrote -- was approved by the
State and the county. They werenít implementing it. If you go back and look
at discrepancies, they really werenít that bad. What it was, was the folks -- and
some of them are still around, and thatís the problem Iím having with the
superintendent thing -- theyíre still around. And the government knows who
they are -- not the Governor, but the government -- if they check the records.
They were adamant about just doing things their way. And all we
had to do was (indiscernible) that. They would tell you, for example, "Correct
this piece right here." It was very simple. I used to have those reports. A very
simple accounting thing -- didnít do it. So they say, Level 3. After a while,
Governor Florio said, "The hell with this. You all are playing games with us.
Youíre not a bad district, youíre just playing games. Weíre not going to play
your games, because of your political (indiscernible) up here, because the
students are hurting." And thatís why we know weíre never the lowest.
But I want to go back, because itís still not clear to me, and I really
need to get something clearer. And Iím a big boy. I donít have a problem for
yea or nay, and I think everybody here knows that. You didnít mention,
Gordon -- and I had suggested this before, but people just went around me, and
thatís fine. I respect that for now. Hopefully it doesnít happen again. I
suggested that working group, when it started, have chairs from the districts, as
well as union reps. And I heard you indicate that. But I also said the
superintendents; you did not mention superintendents.
ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER MacINNES: No, I did not.
SENATOR RICE: And I also mentioned legislators. I said, in fact,
I would like to sit there and have someone from the district on my committee.
Weíre the education legislators -- whether people like that or not -- between the
Senate and the Assembly in this Committee. And we have a lot to say, and
weíre going to have our voice in that. Iíd rather have the voice being a part of --
as a partnership, coming out, that we can sell to our colleagues, based on the
kind of input we think.
So we didnít do that. Now the Commissionerís going to be
reviewing whatever product you have. No problem. But, Commissioner, I
really need you to consider -- and hopefully (indiscernible) will put this in
writing and make it a request to share with my colleagues -- that you have an
education commissioner, legislative task force, or call it what you want --
advisory -- that would include representation from the education side of this
thing and the Joint Committee, because itís still our responsibility -- oversight.
And Iím not going to let anyone ever take that from us under this statute, not
the Senate Committee, nor the Assembly. We know our responsibility. And
that will include the superintendents, and will include -- I know it probably will,
anyway -- the Attorney Generalís office, and then maybe some of those other
folks. But my emphasis is on having those three superintendents there, having
legislative people there, whether we decide itís two or three. It doesnít make a
difference. They would do a bi-partisan thing in both houses.
To me, thatís a value to you. See, if Iím not bickering with you
over here, because we disagree on language or disagree -- but we recognize we
share the same common ground and intent, and itís a misinterpretation, then itís
easy for me to digest, itís easy for me to go where you donít -- you go, but you
donít have to worry about it. See, when I go to the community, Iíve got to
worry about whether Iím going to get elected or unelected. You go, you just
have to worry about whether they like or dislike you if we disagree. And then
people down here decide whether you stay or not. Thatís a big difference. And
then I have to live with that community seven days a week, as Iíve been doing
since 1955, etc.
And so we deserve -- weíve earned that input. Iíve been here long
enough. Iíve been on the judiciary task forces, and I know the governors have
appointed Attorney Generals, prosecutors, with such a mix. The Legislature was
always on these task forces and working groups. All of a sudden, the new
government decides theyíre going to do these working groups with task forces
devoid of legislative participation, if we want it.
I really got to hear you say youíre going to do that or hear you say
youíre not going to do it prior to saying, "Well, hereís the legislation. Now
weíre going to meet and discuss it." At least that tells me where I have to go.
COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Senator, I said yes, before. Now,
let me say more specifically how it will be.
The working group, which I respectfully would say, Senator,
reflected a lot more of what youíre talking about, in terms of representation,
than maybe somebody who isnít as familiar with the details would think.
What I will do, because I just think, even if you didnít ask this, itís
good practice, this will come to me. I will take it. We will work on a draft.
And then we will assemble another group of people. Many, if not all, of the
people that you described, and perhaps some other people with perspectives --
in a manageable number, not 50 or 60 -- to take a look at the draft and help
shape the draft with me so that the imperfections, the gross imperfections, are
dealt with before we involve the larger audience. So what weíre going to do here
is work in concentric circles.
Gordon has a committee, gives it to me, we make modifications to
the committee. The people that get involved are the people that you mentioned.
And I just asked Ben to make sure that we clearly understand all the people you
just mentioned. They will be people who will work on the draft with us that,
eventually, will find its way in a recommendation to the Legislature as a whole.
We will do that.
SENATOR RICE: And thatís important. One thing that you may
want to give consideration to, if theyíre not involved -- and I think Senator
Bryant hit it on the head -- weíve been arguing for years. If I was to put this
together -- if I said right now, as Chair of the Joint Committee, Iím putting
together a commission, I would ask you to be on there. I would ask for some
of my colleagues, Republicans and Democrats of both houses be on there, I
would definitely have those superintendents there, but I would also consider
having the Commissioner of Human Services there, and maybe even Health,
because whatís happening is that weíre talking about making districts work,
under the auspices of not takeover, but getting accountability, but the
accountability is for what? To make the districts work so kids get an education.
Those other social service issues come into play, because even if we
did everything proper right now, and you said, "Okay, hereís where I am--"
Now we have a $14 billion budget deficit. Those things are expected, maybe
not so much, but theyíre expected. But we know we canít roll back, we canít
pull this out, whether itís arts, whether itís language, whether itís something else.
If that happens, then weíre going to go the other way, and weíre supposed to be
going this way. Thereís got to be a shield, if you will, of legislators and others
who understand that and say, "We donít care what our deficit is. There are
some things that are never going back." And thatís why this becomes important.
If not, youíll leave here -- five or 10 years later, we run into the same kinds of
problems again. Someone else will come and say, "Well, I think I know how
to grip with this," and they take us in a whole other direction, and you already
put us in the right direction, we just didnít know it, because we didnít stay the
course, for whatever reasons -- you follow me? And thatís why. So as long as
the answer is yes, Iíll stop here and turn it over to the Chair.
COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Let me just add one other thing,
Senator. One of the hardest things is to decide how large is too large, in terms
of the group that youíre working with. So when you ask us to consider, we
certainly will consider what you just mentioned about DHS and others. And I
think we have a conversation about, "Hereís the draft, hereís the people, hereís
how weíre going to do this," so that we get involvement in a timely way and a
productive way, because this set of circumstances is badly in need of change.
And weíve got to do it right, but weíve also got to do it in a timely way. So
thatís by way of saying-- When we get to the point of putting a draft together,
we will have some conversation so that we donít misunderstand one another
about what weíre going to do and how weíre going to do it.
SENATOR RICE: Let me say this. I come from a military
organization, and I survived a real war, and I understand itís panic control and
all that stuff. But Iíve also sat on task forces. The Juvenile Justice Task Force
has supreme court justices on it. The prosecutors are on it. Doug
(indiscernible) people like that. It may have been 18 to 20 people. But we
didnít just come together. We worked, and we worked, and we produced white
papers. So I donít need someone to say, "Take a look at this. Give me a
feedback. Hereís my product." Iím talking about a working group.
Because there was a working group doing something that youíre
going to review, Iím not sure if that group needs to come back together to do
legislation. They donít do legislation. To me, legislation should be what you,
at the table, me at the table, and my colleagues, those superintendents with that
kind of input-- And Iím talking now, people have to run that district, whether
they like it or not, people have to manage the people in that district, and people
from here. Iím not talking about all these community groups, too. And I will
say that to community groups. There comes a point-- Iíve had community
groups say, "Well, you never called me on that." I said, "I never intended to."
Ainít no use in me lying to you. I donít hide and play with the politics, because
I donít need confusion. I need community groups to give me the kind of input
that you indicated that youíve gotten. Now Iíve got to make a decision and
decipher this data and this information as to what it means from a legislative
I donít want to talk to a superintendent and get one view out of
Paterson and find out that thereís some commonalities, but thereís some
uniqueness, too, that was never addressed. And I want the other
superintendents to understand that this occurred in this district, so it may occur
in your district. So hereís how we handle it, but weíre going to (indiscernible)
your district, since you havenít gotten that far yet. And thatís what Iím talking
Now, if you want me to do the legislation to put the group together
for you, I donít have no problem doing that. But I think you know where Iím
coming from. Look, I donít need some of the folks you deal with right now.
Thatís necessary now, in terms of getting community feedback. And Iíve never
dealt with task forces coming out of the government with that group of folks on
it at a certain level, when it came time to structure legislation and doing all that.
You know, an academian here or there, thatís different. But thatís what Iím
talking about. And thatís very manageable.
COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: I donít think that we have a
disagreement, I really donít. And why donít we just take the answer of yes, and
the commitment that Iíve made to you, that when we get to that stage, I will
talk to you about how I envision doing this, with whom, and then weíll have a
more specific conversation, because we donít disagree.
ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER MacINNES: Can I just say
something that, probably, if I had said this earlier, maybe we would have
avoided some of these questions? We set this up as a part of a series of working
groups that were all under the umbrella of the Abbott Implementation and
Coordinating Council, which was established by Governor McGreeveyís
executive order, which was intended to be a mechanism for settling the Abbott
And in all of the working groups that we set up, the ELC, the
Education Law Center, was at the table and had a co-chair role in deciding the
membership. And it was designed so that we would maximize the collaboration
between the administration and the Education Law Center, with the hope that
we could settle the Abbott decision.
This working group, even though itís not directly impacted by the
Abbott decision, it was set up in the same way. And that, I think, explains some
of the oddities that occurred. And if I had said it earlier, maybe it would have
put it into a perspective. But that has been the case with working groups on
facilities, on the pre-kindergarten program, on the K-12 plan. And in turn, they
have spun off, literally, dozens of subcommittees from those working groups,
etc. And weíve gotten an awful lot of assistance from that. And, incidentally,
the superintendents have been involved in some of those working groups, and
some of them in very important ways.
The question of the superintendents being on this working group
did come up. Technically, theyíre employees of the Commissioner. They report
directly to the Commissioner. And I recall the conversation -- it was for that
reason we decided not to include them. The Department was adequately
represented in that. And it was also, as you know, a period where this other
process was in play for two of them.
SENATOR RICE: Let me end on this, because I think itís
important, Mr. Chairman.
Gordon, youíre a former State Senator and Assembly person. But
Iím looking at the State Senate, okay? You also sit on the education committee.
ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER MacINNES: Yes, I did.
SENATOR RICE: Now, let me just say this. When Jack Ewing
chaired the Joint Committee on the Public Schools, there was great respect
coming from the education commission. They communicated regularly. There
was a lot of input. And they shared the views together, and they agreed and
disagreed, but they got to a compromise before they went and did all kinds of
crazy things, so there was less problem in the community. Thatís why Jack was
comfortable coming to Newark, regardless what the pressure was with our press.
ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER MacINNES: Right.
SENATOR RICE: The point is, Iím not, as a minority -- thatís the
only way I can put it -- I hate to say it that way -- I know this is not racial, but
Iím going to make it very clear. Coming out of an urban district, when others
who chaired this Committee did not come out of urban districts, is going to
subordinate myself to the respect of my predecessors.
When Martin and Wolfe chaired, they got respect. This is the Joint
Committee on Public Schools. Ronald Rice, one of the senior members of the
State delegation is the Chair. And Iím suggesting to you that folks heretofore,
including the Governor -- and I told him -- started to respect that-- We feel,
some of my colleagues and I, that we are being circumvented in these processes
or our conversations have no real meaning to them. Okay? That ceases as of
this moment, because there are other ways to do this. I can do it from
committee rather than subcommittee, and I can do it within the community.
You lose, the Governor loses, which means, ultimately, the people
lose. We donít want to sacrifice our folks. So I was trying to be nice and calm
this morning. And Iím accepting what youíre saying. But, Gordon, Iím coming
back to you, because the Commission is not here. You were a Senator, and I
know how adament you were about certain things on that Committee. And you
were right, because you were the State Senator who represented people in this
state on that committee, and you had a good grip on what people were saying
to you, unlike folks who work on the administration side, often times.
So we donít have to -- need a response to that. But once again, Iím
the Chairman. If they donít like it, too bad. The Governor donít like it, too
bad. I am the Chairman, and Iím proud to be the first minority chairman. And
Iím going to keep that on the record.
Iím sorry, Mr. Chairman. I donít have anything to say.
ASSEMBLYMAN DIEGNAN: No problem.
You have a thankless job, obviously. I think everyone is in
agreement that this law is flawed. You were, obviously, given the unenviable
position of having to administer it. And your credentials and truthfulness is
second to none, as far as Iím concerned. And Iím very happy to hear what you
said today, unequivocally, yes, that youíre going to, from this point forward, be
certain that legislative/community/superintendent input is forthcoming.
Thereís a couple of things that I just want to-- I know Gordon
made some reference to it in his comments. No Child Left Behind, the State
monitoring law. How does all of that work into these three particular districts?
COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Weíre trying to integrate all of the
issues that we know have a bearing on State performance and regulations and
guidance. Thatís not so easy to do. Itís not so easy to do because No Child
Left Behind is a massive piece of legislation still being formed, because there are
more than a few problems in the implementation.
We understand that if we donít find a way to integrate all those
efforts and make them a part of a coordinated whole, weíre going to make
mistakes, in terms of how we do this, how we implement our requirements. And
weíre also going to waste time. And we regularly meet to make sure that whatís
required in one law is not contradictory to the other things that weíre doing.
And so, when we talk about the monitoring system, weíre going to
talk about how that can house -- or how indications of schools in need of
improvement can be a part of that system that evaluates it. So itís not-- You
are on -- in this category with this set of regulations, and in this category with
the other. Itís all going to be the same. So thatís what weíre working to do.
But I do need to say something, because, Senator, with all due
respect, the last time I was here, when you asked the questions about how we
were going to proceed, I donít believe that I answered them any differently than
I answered them today. I think I said, generally, the same thing. If I didnít
make that clear, then I apologize for that. But at no point, at any time, was
there ever an attempt to try to circumvent, to try to minimize, to try to remove,
to try to uninvolve people. We have tried to be as public as possible in
everything that weíve done. We repeatedly have said we will be glad to be
involved with any committee that is involved in aspects of what weíre doing,
and would be pleased to discuss everything weíre doing, and why weíre doing it,
and the way that weíve done.
Now, sometimes, what you intend is not always clear. And the
people who are responsible for making that clear have to be accountable for
that, and will be, and I am. But at no point in this do I want you, in any way,
to believe that anything that we might not have clearly said was, in any way, a
response of disrespect. It never was. So thereís not a question offrom this point
on. It has always been an issue of respect. If it wasnít always communicated
well, I am accountable for that. And I know that you have no problems letting
people know when you have problems with what weíre doing. And I would hope
thatís our continuing relationship.
SENATOR RICE: Commissioner, in response, when I made the
request, and we had a phone conversation, no one that I know of, at least not
through me, was invited to be on that working group. And thatís what I
expected. What I did see -- listen to Gordon -- is you did reach out for chairs
and for the union representative. But I identified the same folks, unions, chairs,
legislators, etc. We didnít participate, and thatís okay, because the bigger piece
for our participation becomes the legislative piece. And that should be a
meeting called for chair -- I guess that would be you -- where weíd sit once a
week or whatever, and weíd go through legislation and weíd work and work
until we get it to where we want it to be.
But I want to get back--
And the other thing I need to say for the public and to you, because
Iíve said it to you before, but maybe my colleagues didnít understand it, thereís
a credibility problem coming out of my district and from me with this Governor,
not with you. And Iíll say that, because it needs to be said, and itís not just
with me -- with other folks. When you communicate with me, when I think I
hear you, and I hold you to high esteem with integrity-- My history has been
in government, not with you and with this Governor-- That folks make phone
calls, and we move a little slower in a different direction-- I donít like that, I see
that, and itís going to stop. Iím not going to have folks from my community,
who run a bunch of campaigns and do other things, dictate to the Governor over
my leadership down here. If they donít like my leadership -- they took me to
the polls, before, to the mat, I won -- come back out again. Until then, this is
the relationship that the people put in place.
I want to move now to an area of one child left behind legislation.
Is there any -- and maybe I need to raise this -- another forum -- but you may
know-- Is there any movement to change any of that legislation, because I was
talking to educators before, and Iím talking about people in administrative areas
and government people. And it was perceived that -- and Iím starting to read
it the same way now -- that this is not really one child left behind education.
Some people call itwipe out board of education legislation. And if, in fact, thatís
true, we have to be careful. We have to obey the mandates of the law, but as
government, we have to, sometimes, go back and say, "Wait a minute. You
guys are the feds, getting ready to wipe us out long-term." You need to make
some amendments or something, because in principle and theory, thatís a real
good thing, No Child Left Behind. But it looks like itís moving more to charter
schools and vouchers and things like that, if itís not tweaked and done right.
And Iím not about to spend public money to have whatever number of schools
we have throughout the various districts become more charter schools. And now
you run around and youíve got your hands full, because youíve got
individualism, to some degree, and a lack of control.
But is there any movement? Do you see things that need to be
changed at the Federal level in the one child left behind? Anyone working with
the congressional delegation to see if that happens?
COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Our major problem right now with
the legislation is not with the broad goals, it is more with the way itís being
implemented and the narrow regulations that we see that are being inflexibly
described to us. And weíre working with the U.S. Department of Ed on that,
and weíre making some progress.
We are, however, in conversation with our Federal representatives --
and you can be sure that, at the moment, we feel weíre making no progress and
that this is beginning to run counter to what we know we need to do. And we
certainly are going to enlist our Legislature, as well as the Federal legislators and
representatives to be sure that our voice is heard.
Our voice is very much heard on some of the requirements. As an
example, what they originally said we had to do with testing, which we feel is
grossly inappropriate and that we-- And Iím pleased to say that, as of today, we
finally get the information that we need, in terms of how weíre going to be able
to test well this spring. So the answer to your question is, not yet.
SENATOR RICE: And the final question is, do you have someone
from your office who speaks to, on a regular basis or works with, the
congressional delegation? And if so, how often are they connecting with
Congressman Donald Payne? And the reason I raise that -- now Iím speaking
from a minority perspective again-- Donald is not only our minority
representative from the African-American community, the first minority -- state
to go to Congress -- well-respected down there, but heís also an educator. And
he takes a very strong interest in whatís happening with education in general,
and particularly urban education. And I donít get the feel that--
I keep hearing Menendez, Menendez, Menendez, and itís real nice
that heís the golden boy now at the Federal government of the State, but there
is another "minority" who understands minority education from which we come,
and also understands education before it became minority education, because
he grew up in the city of Newark when it was very diverse.
So is there, is someone making those connections? If not, can we
do a lot better saying hello to Congressman Payne?
COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: We do have someone who has the
title of Director of Federal Programs and Legislation. Itís a person who has
recently occupied that position. There are a number of things that have
occupied her time recently. But our intent for her was to do exactly what youíre
talking about, making sure that weíre well-aware, not only of legislation that is
contemplated here in Trenton, but also how that relates to legislation that has
either been passed in Washington or is being contemplated. And that will
include all of our representatives.
SENATOR RICE: Thank you.
ASSEMBLYMAN DIEGNAN: Now, Iíll really put you on the
spot. Crystal ball time. As you look forward, how long do you think the three
districts will remain under the auspices of the State? And do you foresee, in the
foreseeable near future, any other districts that -- I hope not -- that would be
subject to this type of takeover?
COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: The second question is easier to
answer than the first, and thatís no. The first one, I would think, needs to be
answered in terms of once the new monitoring system law is passed. How long
from that point? I would say one to three years. And itís not going to be all at
the same time. Some will occur quicker than others. If itís more than three
years after the new monitoring system, then we will have done something
SENATOR RICE: Mr. Chairman, just for your information -- and
weíll have more discussion -- but I think you know the feeling of some of us.
We canít give a Newark district back until we address the economics of that
district. That $70 million is just too much to say that weíre going to bear. We
donít know what the future is going to bring, in terms of the economy, in terms
of where education is going. But if you really look at the three districts, people
will think weíre on the same playing field. Weíre not. Newark is here. And so
even with these cuts that the Governor is throwing out -- and I understand
theyíre demanding more cuts -- need to talk about that -- because Iím going to
argue with the Governor on that. That budget isnít going anyplace. It canít go
anyplace. And Iím going to go to the board and find out exactly whatís being
asked to be cut, and Iím going to fight that battle. So they can stop getting mad
with people at the board of education.
But my point is that those cuts continue to sink us, so the districts
-- and this is talking about the takeover districts now -- whatever the cuts theyíre
facing now -- take them here. But every time they come down a notch, weíre
going down, and weíre already in the sub-basement. And itís got to be
addressed. And the numbers-- I mean, we would argue $70 to over $100
million. The State may argue we can never replace those dollars, and we argue,
"Well, maybe you can." But Iíll be damned if we canít come up substantially --
and I can sell that to New Jersey. New Jersey donít like to hear the fact that the
State, not Joe Public, but the State mismanaged or even stole -- I donít know
what happened, nobody investigated -- $70-plus million -- you canít hold me
accountable and tell me to put it-- I donít have it. Look, Iíll tell you, I donít
have it. Okay? So when we do something wrong, as the public-- I can
guarantee you as officials, as legislators -- let us do something wrong, let us go
out there and steal something or stick a bank up. When they find us guilty, or
at least they found we did something wrong, theyíre going to come after
everything we have to replace it.
But here it is, State government-- And weíre saying, "Well, by your
acknowledgment-- I mean, we didnít even have to try the State. The State said,
"Yes, youíre right. We did it." And we have no way to go out and say, "Okay,
then, replace it." Itís like, "The hell with you. We did it. We robbed the bank,
and the hell with you," okay? Then if thatís the case, then when I go rob the
Trenton Savings Bank, donít be locking me up. Tell me, "The hell with it." I
mean, thatís what it sounds like. I know itís not the intent, but I know we canít
address it today. But weíre going to be holding hearings on that stuff, because
Iím telling you, Iíve asked Donald Tucker. If you donít do it, Iím going to do
it as Chair -- to hold hearings, because I really believe we need to not just accept
your records for what they are, for what you know when you came in, what you
inherited in information. I think we need a thorough investigation. If that
means trying to subpoena Ms. Hall and everybody back and ask them
questions, we may have to do that, but this is real serious stuff. And itís starting
to haunt us a lot more now, given where our economy is here in New Jersey.
And I donít ever want that to happen again. And I think, under your leadership,
it wonít, because I think we agree.
But youíve got to, at least, think about that as we move forward,
because you may reach -- we may come up with some monitoring stuff, and
everybody agree -- "You know what? This isnít going to take two to three years.
We can do this right away." My position is, "Hold it. You can do it right away,
but donít send us back out there," because you wouldnít want to run in my
district today with that kind of a deficit and things still getting cut, cut, cut. I
think you would be either crazy or just decide you donít have nothing else to do,
and you can do something else.
COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: Some people already have decided
that I may be crazy in doing what Iím doing. (laughter) Letís just say that
thatís a topic for another day. And weíve already had that discussion, and we
need to have it again, because when itís all said and done, we have to have an
understanding of what happened. There are documents around, and what we
donít have is a public understanding of whatís happened. We clearly know that
things occurred that shouldnít have occurred. We know that. How we deal
with that has everything to do with what we understand the problem to be, and
thatís what we will do.
Thank you very much.
ASSEMBLYMAN DIEGNAN: Thank you for coming.
I thank everyone else for coming.
I want to compliment you, Commissioner, because I believe
everybody recognizes that you are not afraid to take on the tough issues. And
I respect that. It means a lot.
SENATOR RICE: Thank you.
ASSEMBLYMAN DIEGNAN: Thank you for coming. Visit us
COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: We will.