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.