Passage of NJ Senate bill, S450, would eliminate all local school administrators over the level of principal and consolidate all school districts within each county under the control of the Executive County Superintendent. S450 would have New Jersey adopt Maryland’s consolidated county school system model. The state of Maryland eliminated all local school officials beyond the level of principal. It consolidated all of its local schools serving less than one million students statewide within one of its 24 countywide school districts under an Executive County Superintendent.
When Maryland abolished all school administrators above the level of principal, it said it was to save money, cut administrative expenses and cut property taxes. But Maryland’s total statewide administrative costs increased rather than decreased as promised under the consolidated countywide school district because the Executive County Superintendent is not accountable to the voters which enables him/her to increase staff without taxpayer input. The ever increasing cost of the County’s bureaucracy continued to more than offset any savings.
In Maryland, for example, the Montgomery County Department of Education has an annual operating budget of about $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 employs roughly one administrator for every six of its students! 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. States that have adopted this model such as California have increased costs and taxes.
The implication behind S450 is that it would somehow save money and enable the state to lower property taxes by eliminating administrators over the level of principal. Proponents even suggest unsubstantiated savings of $553 million. But Maryland’s total statewide administrative costs increased rather than decreased as promised following the implementation of its consolidated countywide school district. The experience of such a model in 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 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 over 44,000 employees. Just the three 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 countywide school districts as advocated by S450. The answer is 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 that an unaccountable county bureaucracy will not overspend and overtax as it does in Maryland.