Committee Meeting

of

JOINT COMMITTEE ON THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS

STATE TAKEOVER SUBCOMMITTEE

"Testimony from Commissioner William L. Librera,
Assistant Commissioner Gordon A. MacInnes, and Benjamin Rarick"

LOCATION:

Committee Room 6
State House Annex
 Trenton, New Jersey

DATE:

March 6, 2003
12:00 p.m.

 

MEMBERS OF SUBCOMMITTEE PRESENT:

Senator Wayne R. Bryant, Co-Chair

Assemblyman Patrick J. Diegnan Jr., Co-Chair

Senator Ronald L. Rice

 

ALSO PRESENT:    

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

   
     
     
     


                                                     

Meeting Recorded and Transcribed by
T
he 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

Deputy Commissioner.

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--

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Gordon.

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

now, Ben?

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.

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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

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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

with you.

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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.

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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

districts?

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

that budget.

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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

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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 word takeover 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

disagree.

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.

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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.

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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

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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

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escalate and go back in. Thatís what I think youíre going to see, in terms of our

work.

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,

bigger than--

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?

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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

17

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

18

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

some dialogue.

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

19

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,

Senator.

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.

20

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

people.

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

21

choices, we will have escalating involvement, in terms of us making choices for

you.

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 word sanction, 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.

22

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

some sense.

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

theyíve worked.

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

23

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-

24

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

25

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.

26

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.

27

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

28

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

29

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

30

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

perspective.

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

about.

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

31

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

litigation.

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

32

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,

33

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.

34

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

35

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 of from 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--

36

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 it wipe 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

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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

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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

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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

seriously wrong.

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

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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

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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.

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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

again.

COMMISSIONER LIBRERA: We will.

(MEETING CONCLUDED)