Thanks to the advocacy efforts of NJPSA members and the NJPSA lobbying team, legislation to eliminate the administrative spending caps, S-3244/A-2740 (Ruiz, Sarlo, Diegnan , Johnson, Jasey, Singleton) has passed both houses of our State Legislature! Currently, the bill is under review by the Governor’s office.
With the close of the 216th legislative session on Monday, January 11th, Governor Christie has 10 days to review the bill and either sign the bill into law, affirmatively or conditionally veto it or fail to act and thereby “pocket veto” the bill. NJPSA is hopeful that the Governor will sign this long overdue legislation into law. The elimination of the administrative spending cap has been a long time advocacy goal of our association.
Since school year 2005-6, with the passage of the School Funding Reform Act, P.L. 2004, c. 73, school districts have crafted their annual budgets within specific spending limits on administrative costs which cover a broad range of costs beyond the idea of “school management.” As defined in statute and clarified by S-3244/A-2740,administrative costs encompass costs related to school and district level administrators (salaries/benefits), school business operations, district level support services (including evaluation), information, communications and technology services, the salaries and benefits of secretaries within administrative function areas, certain professional development, curriculum development costs, legal fees, certain equipment services, school security and outside professional services, to name a few. Collectively, these budgetary line items have been restricted via statutory cap to the prior year’s spending level or a regional spending level calculated by the NJDOE. Cost of living adjustments are only permitted for cause, with the approval of the Executive County Superintendent.
Since 2010, districts have been operating under a second, more stringent cap – the two percent tax levy cap enacted by P.L. 2010, c. 44., which has effectively limited the overall growth of school budgets, yet contains few cap exemptions. As a result, the administrative costs portion of local budgets has been doubly capped to the detriment of implementation efforts in a time of key school reforms and heightened demand for strong instructional leadership in our schools.
In recent years, the responsibilities of school leaders have increased exponentially – with new curriculum standards, assessments and evaluation systems requiring significant investments of administrative time.
The TEACH NJ statute and its implementation regulations for example, have set forth important observation and evaluation requirements – with specific frequency and time requirements throughout the evaluation cycle for every teacher. In many districts, particularly smaller schools with a single principal, school leaders have struggled to meet the observation, feedback, and paperwork requirements for their teachers. Due to their commitment to this important work, principals and supervisors continue to strive to meet requirements, but the lack of movement in addressing administrative capacity is taking a toll on the sustainability of evaluation reform, other administrative responsibilities, school operations and leadership morale. Local districts have been stymied in their efforts to increase administrative capacity by the administrative spending cap. This situation has led to an interesting result- last year over 52% of local districts received waivers from the NJDOE to modify current regulatory requirements for evaluation due to these capacity concerns.
Administrative costs in New Jersey are in fact among the lowest in the nation (fifth lowest, NCES, 2011 at 9% compared to national average of 10.7%). Further, over the past fifteen years, New Jersey has experienced large increases in the numbers of students (+27%), teachers (+52%) and support staff (+64%) in our schools, while the number of administrators has actually decreased (-25%) in comparison (See, NJDOE Statistics, 1990-2015).
For these reasons and the important fact that strong school spending safeguards for taxpayers remain in place, The Senate voted to support the bill by a vote of 36 to 0 and the Assembly voted to support the legislation with 63 in favor and 10 opposed. NJPSA will continue its advocacy with the Governor’s office in hopes of having this important legislation become law in time for this year’s school budget cycle.