Local School Boards Need Better Representation


New Jersey spending on education is near the top nationally.Yet, just like the rest of the country, 18% of the students do not graduate and another 15% get diplomas without being able to do eleventh grade work.One reason for this abysmal record is that the parents of the students and their elected local school board representatives have virtually no influence over education policy, which is dominated by the state legislature and the professional employee unions.


In some cities, like Trenton, the state capital, parents have almost no voice at all because the local school board is appointed by the Mayor, not elected by the voters.In other municipalities, voters elect the school board and cast ballots annually to accept or reject the school budget.


All local school boards belong to the New Jersey School Boards Association by statute.The School Boards Association is a lobbying group that is supposed to represent the interests of the local boards in the education debate before the state legislature.


In fact, the School Boards Association is a company union.Instead of representing the opinions of the school boards to the legislature and the public, it represents the interests of the legislature to the school boards and, effectively, prevents the school boards from organizing in their own interest.


On the surface, the School Boards Association is a membership organization.All 555 regular local school districts pay dues.Princeton pays over $28,000 a year in dues.However, the School Boards Association has managed to promulgate rules that mean that only 9% of the school boards are required to constitute a quorum for doing business.This is accomplished in the Associationís By-Laws by defining quorum as fifty boards from a majority of the twenty-one counties being present. So, while it is called a school boards association, the quorum is defined as a majority of the counties represented.


Every school board in New Jersey has one vote in the School Boards Association.That means that Newark with over 40,000 students has the same number of votes as Roosevelt with 90 students, a 450 to 1 discrepancy.


The 100 biggest districts (18% of the total school districts) have 58.1% of the students, including 87.5% of the black students and 2/3rds of the Hispanic students.Meanwhile the smallest 278 districts (50% of the total school districts) have 11.67% of the students who are 75% white, 6.78% black and 11.87% Hispanic.


New Jersey has managed to create a New Jersey School Boards Association where, even though white students are 55% of the total student body, white students are more than 75% of the student body in 57.65% of the districts and a majority in 82.34% of the districts.No wonder the minorities are lagging in academic accomplishment.Equal education spending can not disguise racial bias in decision-making.


Of course, this blatant unfairness was challenged in the courts by the AFL-CIO in 1966 soon after the Reynolds v. Sims decision that found disparate sized state senate districts to be unconstitutional.The New Jersey Supreme Court upheld the disproportionate voting power of the New Jersey School Boards Association members by ruling that the Association was not a legislature, even though it spends mandated taxpayer funds.


So the policies of the School Boards Association, which really speak for the school boards in New Jersey, is biased in favor of small, largely white, rural school districts.To add insult to injury, the School Boards Association is tasked by the legislature with teaching ethics to new school board members.


At the moment, the top legislative priority of the School Boards Association is to abolish the vote on school budgets, unless the budget exceeds a state mandated maximum.So who, exactly, does the Association represent?


There are problems with the School Boards Association other than its racially biased voting structure, like its failure to follow its own by-laws when it suits the leadership and the lack of a secret ballot in delegate assembly votes. So, there can be no real reform of the New Jersey schools, nor progress in closing the achievement gap, without the reform, or preferably, the abolition of the New Jersey School Boards Association.That would save taxpayers $7 million a year right off the bat.


Emerging from the current economic crisis requires at least that the parents of the children who will be charged with retiring this unprecedented bailout debt be accurately and honestly represented in the education debate.



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Contact: Joshua Leinsdorf