Archive for the ‘school district mergers’ Category

How New Jersey Senate bill S450 will Increase Administrative Costs and Property Taxes Statewide

Monday, March 15th, 2010

Passage of the pending New Jersey Senate bill, S450, would eliminate all local school administrators over the level of principal and establish the Executive County Superintendent as the official who will govern and operate all local public schools within each of the proposed consolidated countywide school districts.  When former Governor Corzine signed the CORE Act (Assembly Bill A4 and Senate Bill S19) into law, he transformed the role of county superintendents of education from mere disseminators of state educational policies into powerful Executive County Superintendents of Schools.  In so doing, the governor empowered each Executive County Superintendent to begin consolidating all schools into K to 12 districts and ultimately to consolidate all schools within one countywide organization. 


By creating the office of Executive County Superintendent of Schools, New Jersey is moving to replicate the state of Maryland’s consolidated county school system model.  First, the state of Maryland eliminated all local school officials beyond the level of principal.  It then consolidated all of its local schools serving less than one million students statewide within one of the 24 countywide school districts in each county under an Executive County Superintendent.


Although Maryland abolished all school administrators above the level of principal from its local schools in the name of saving money, cutting administrative expenses and cutting property taxes, these small savings were overwhelmed by the ongoing costs of the office of the Executive County Superintendent of Schools with its ever increasing bureaucracy.  The reason Maryland’s total statewide administrative costs increased rather than decreased as promised following the implementation of the consolidated county wide school district is that the Executive County Superintendent is not accountable to the voters and this enables him/her to increase staff largely without taxpayer input. 


In New Jersey, the Executive County Superintendent also is appointed by the governor.  He/she supervises, directs and manages the functions of the County Office of Education as a representative and subordinate of the New Jersey State Commissioner of Education.  The Executive County Superintendent oversees all public school districts within his/her county.  To accomplish these goals, each county superintendent is given a staff and a budget which are not subject to taxpayer input, approval or elections. 


In Maryland, for example, the Montgomery County Department of Education by itself has an annual operating budget of approximately $2 billion with nearly 22,000 employees despite having a total student enrollment of less than 138,000.  The office of the Executive County Superintendent of Schools for Montgomery County, therefore, employs roughly one administrator for every six of its students!  Furthermore, the Montgomery County consolidated school district has more than three times the number of administrators per student than it does teachers!  Contrary to what S450 purports, it will not provide for a more cost effective educational system rather it will increase costs especially administrative expenses.  Indeed, states that have adopted this model or a similar model such as California have increased costs. 


The implication behind Senate bill, S450, is that it would somehow save the taxpayers’ money and enable the state to have lower property taxes by eliminating administrators over the level of principal.  Proponents even a suggest savings of $553 million.  But Maryland’s total statewide administrative costs increased rather than decreased as promised following the implementation of its consolidated county wide school district.  Indeed, the experience of such a control model in the state of Maryland contradicts the assumptions inherent in S450 based on its consolidated county school district control model for New Jersey. 


Rather than add another bureaucracy, the most effective way to cut property taxes in New Jersey is to eliminate the tax burden imposed by county government.  County government places a tremendous burden on New Jersey’s taxpayers especially as compared to those in Connecticut where county government was eliminated in 1960.  New Jersey’s 21 counties combine to spend over $6.1 billion annually in property taxes, hold more than $5 billion in outstanding debt and have more than 44,000 employees.  Indeed, just the three New Jersey counties of Union, Essex and Bergen together levy approximately $1.6 billion in annual property taxes. 


The question facing New Jersey’s taxpayers is whether more money would be saved by eliminating county government or by adopting a consolidated county school district model as advocated by S450.  The answer is rather straight forward.  Saving $6.1 billion annually in property taxes by eliminating county government would be the best way to ease New Jersey’s tax burden rather than implementing S450 and hoping its unsubstantiated savings of approximately $553 million materialize.


Decentralization rather than centralization brings decision makers closer to the taxpayers and local priorities.  Taxpayers have more of a stake in the success of their local school district rather than county districts.  Indeed, separating the taxpayer from his/her ability to control and influence the operating budget and educational plan of his/her local school district cuts neither costs nor property taxes. 


In these challenging economic times, every home owner wants to make sure their property taxes are as low as possible and are put to use where they can do the most good.  Nowhere is this more necessary than in New Jersey, where it is imperative that all levels of government do not waste our scarce financial resources and cut taxes particularly property taxes.  To accomplish this goal, it is imperative that New Jersey does not add another unaccountable bureaucracy which will increase administrative expenses and property taxes statewide as would result under S450 should it become law. 


Local School Districts mean Better Education

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Is bigger really better?  This is the crucial question facing New Jersey’s schools as the state moves toward a consolidated county-wide school district framework.  The proposed consolidation would eliminate local school district administrative personnel and centralize the operation of each of the county’s schools within one county-wide district such as the model used in Maryland (Enlighten-New Jersey, 2006).  As a result, all decisions concerning local school functions would be made at the county level with little local recourse. 


While consolidation may sound tempting, because it is based on a presumption of economies-of-scale leading to assumed lower operating costs as well as improved administrative efficiencies which, in turn, are expected to result in lower property taxes plus greater parental engagement, the reality is much different, however.  It has been shown that county-wide districts often result in increased costs, increased bureaucracy, students being so remote that parents are less engaged, and increased special interest group control of the agenda, curriculum as well as the distribution of funds (Wenders, 2005).  


County-wide school districts tend to expand the county departments of education into unwieldy bureaucracies (Wenders, 2005).  These bureaucracies often become so large that their administrative costs exceed the combined cost of the local administrative personnel, including but not limited to superintendents, business administrators and directors of special education, they are supposed to replace.  Moreover, because these county departments of education are staffed largely by political appointees, they tend to operate without the essential public feedback that is the backbone of local boards of education. 


At the outset, New Jersey’s legislators used Maryland’s experience (School Board Notes, 2006) as a benchmark for the expected savings and efficiencies for New Jersey’s consolidation.  However, during her testimony to a panel of New Jersey state senators, Ms. Marie S. Bilik (2008), Executive Director of the New Jersey School Boards Association, demonstrated that the total state-wide administrative costs of the Maryland school system exceed those of New Jersey’s.  While testifying in front of the New Jersey Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on March 20, 2008, Ms. Bilik referenced an U.S. Department of Education report (2006), “A recent report by the U.S. Department of Education ranks New Jersey 38th among the states and District of Columbia in the percentage of current expenditures devoted to administration.  That means 37 other states – including Maryland and Pennsylvania – spend more on administration than New Jersey.”  In addition, enrollment in New Jersey’s public schools was over fifty percent greater than that of Maryland during the same period and continues to exceed Maryland’s enrollment by similar margins.  Thus, rather than removing administrative costs, the Maryland model has actually added costs and administrative overhead (Bilik, 2008). 


While New Jersey has not yet moved to a complete county-wide model, its recent school consolidation legislation has significantly increased the power of the politically appointed Executive County Superintendent.  Among these expanded powers is the ability to compel the creation or expansion of regional school districts with the ultimate goal of consolidating the regionalized districts into one county-wide school district in every county.  New Jersey’s county-wide school districts would be run by Executive County Superintendents, political appointees, who would not be accountable to the voters but rather would serve at the discretion of partisan political forces. 


But consolidation of local school districts into county level districts also tends to result in more of a traditional military-type command-and-control decision making process rather than a process controlled by local school districts with the active participation of local constituencies most notably local parents.  In a command-and-control model, while the state and federal policy makers develop the overall strategy for policy implementation (Fusarelli and Cooper, 2009), it is the county-wide school districts that combine these policies with their political directives to determine the curriculum, priorities and budget for each school.  However, because the county level is too distant from where education actually takes place and is more easily influenced by special interest groups, the result is often less parental engagement. 


Concentrating the school system at the local district level rather than at the county level will not only enable more resources to be focused on those most affected by education, the students, but also enable those most intimately involved in providing education, the teachers, to provide better instruction.  But the rise of county departments of education will also cause the local school districts to spend less time on students as well as parents because more time will be required to be spent on bureaucratic obligations thereby decreasing parental engagement which is a key component in improving student performance.  It is the local districts that not only are closest to the students but also have the necessary local expertise to most effectively decide how to provide a quality education. 


Indeed, it seems as if the reason for preventing or eliminating county-wide school districts is embodied in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case.  In Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court not only ruled against school racial segregation by striking down the practice of separate but equal but also established the right of all students to attend their neighborhood school.  Consistent with this ruling, it is essential that every child be able to attend their neighborhood school within a local school district free from the burden of county level bureaucracies so that the schools are better able to concentrate on improving every student’s performance. 


Consolidating local school districts into larger county-wide districts removes decision making authority from those most affected by educational policy decisions:  the individual student as well as his/her parents, school and district.  It also concentrates policy formulation and decision making at a centralized level where special interest groups have greater leverage on the policy makers and, as a result, greater control of the policy outcomes including local school budgets.  Moreover, consolidation of local school districts into county level districts while fewer in number tends to result in higher state-wide total administrative costs due to the lack of accountability, more political patronage and reduced local parental input. 




Bilik, M. S. (2008).  Testimony: FY09 State Budget, Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, Senate Annex, Committee Room 4, Trenton, New Jersey, March 20, 2008.   

Enlighten-New Jersey, (2006).  Is School Consolidation The Answer To New Jersey’s Property Tax Crisis?  August 9, 2006, Retrieved from 

Fusarelli, B. C. and Cooper, B. S., (2009).  The Rising State: How State Power Is Transforming Our Nation’s Schools, State University of New York Press, Albany.   

School Board Notes, (2006)  New Jersey vs. Maryland: The Facts,  September 14, 2006, Retrieved from Trenton, New Jersey: New Jersey School Boards Association. 

U. S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (2006).  Common Core of Data, August, 2006.  

Wenders, J. T., (2005)  Deconsolidate Oregon’s School Districts  March 21, 2005, Retrieved from