State Board Affirms Current Leadership As Hints of Return to Local Control For Jersey City Become Real At June Meeting

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The June Meeting of the State Board of Education included an affirmation of the Board’s current leadership in spite of recent legislative action to nominate two new members in the place of current leadership, the first step in moving Jersey City back to local control, an ongoing discussion on changes to New Jersey’s School Accountability System, NJQSAC, and a first blush at the work of the Teacher Leader Endorsement Advisory Committee.

Board Leadership

Usually an uneventful process, the nomination of the Board’s leadership for the upcoming school year raised a few eyebrows when the Board’s nominating committee announced that they recommended the re-appointment of the current president and vice president – board members Mark Beidron and Joseph Fisicaro – to their respective leadership roles.  Why this matters – the nomination is the Board’s quiet way of affirming their support for the two board members whose seats are in jeopardy in light of recent action to replace them.


Gov. Chris Christie moved to replace the two late last year, and this past month the Democratic-led Senate appeared to have decided to go along with the change, with the Senate Judiciary Committee moving the appointment of their replacements in late May.

Turnover on the 13-member Board is not unusual.  But in recent years, the appointment process on the board had gone fallow with the entire board serving in a ‘hold over’ capacity until their replacements or their own reappointment occurred.

So, when the Governor’s package was put forth which included the replacement of the board’s two ranking and highest-profile officers, president Biedron and vice president Fisicaro – folks raised questions.  Now, all that stands between the men’s continued participation on the Board and replacement is a full vote by the state Senate – likely to happen late this month.

The move has not come without controversy, with considerable opposition coming from within the Democrats’ own ranks.  What’s behind the change is not fully clear, but Biedron and Fisicaro have been outspoken on several issues and may have ruffled feathers on both sides of the aisle.  This made yesterday’s nomination not only poignant but a statement by the Board in and of itself.  NJPSA will continue to keep you posted as the matter unfolds both at the legislative level and internal to the Board’s inner-workings.

Return of Local Control For Jersey City & Others?

Beyond quiet statements, however, the Commissioner also announced that Jersey City has successfully attained success under the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum (NJQSAC) so as to effectuate a return to local control.  As the state’s longest takeover district the news was truly historic.  Officials also said the end of state control in Newark may additionally be in the offing.


In 1989, the state of New Jersey took over Jersey City’s school district, citing a “total education failure” in a district that was rampant with nepotism and corruption. That was 28 years ago. Two years ago, that state gave personnel and operational responsibility back to the local school board. Previously, it gave control of school governance and finance back. Instruction and programming remained the last area still under the state’s control – at least until yesterday.

At the June board meeting, the Commissioner announced that the district had far exceeded the qualifying score in I&P.  As such, Wednesday’s decision marked the last hurdle to regaining full control. The state Board of Education is expected to sign off within the next few months.

The approval came as part of the customary QSAC certification that the Board reviews and approves on a monthly basis.  This month the Board approved 54 evaluations under QSAC *(13 full reviews and 41 interim reviews).  Appendix A  lists all of the districts and their DPR scores.  Seven districts scored 80 percent or above in all five DPR areas and were approved for a period of three years.  Forty-seven districts scored below 80% in one or more DPR areas and were required to develop and implement a QSAC improvement plan to address deficient indicators.

That increase in districts falling below the 80 percent requirements has had folks concerned and the Department is responding.

Evaluating Districts Differently?

Jersey City’s approval comes on the heels of changes to the actual process that districts must go through under the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum (NJQSAC).  The Board received an overview of new amendments to the Department proposed changes to N.J.A.C. 6A:30, Evaluation of School Districts, in light of input from groups like NJPSA and other education stakeholders.

The substantive changes coalesce around Instruction & Programming, Personnel and Governance predominantly as follows:

page1qsac changes



QSAC regulations, first adopted in 2007 and renewed in 2012, are up for re-adoption this year. Proposed changes are part of a broader effort to clarify, align and simplify New Jersey’s accountability systems, as well as accurately reflect key state initiatives such as the adoption of New Jersey Student Learning Standards, PARCC assessments, ESSA school accountability and AchieveNJ educator evaluation system.

According to the Department the amendments are meant to:

  • Reduce the burden of data collection on districts (aligning metrics to those proposed in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) State Plan or New Jersey Performance Reports will minimize new data collections);
  • Provide a nuanced picture of where a district is on the continuum of improvement (over the years, this has been reduced to a pass/fail mentality, and the NJDOE aims to support districts in changing the mindset from threshold scores to a continuum of support); and.
  • Allow the NJDOE to work more effectively with districts (the NJQSAC user manual is being developed over the summer and the next year and will closely support implementation as the Department hears feedback from districts)

Last month the Board heard testimony from stakeholders on the proposal, including from NJPSA.

The proposal includes amendments to the Instruction and Programming, Governance, Fiscal Management, Operations and Personnel DPRs.  For more information on the proposal please review the Department’s initial power point which provides background on the proposal as well as an outline of changes by DPR area.

The state board is not expected to adopt the proposed changes until the fall, after further discussions and public comment.  Any amendments are proposed to take effect in the 2018-19 school year, giving districts next year to adapt to the changes.


Teacher Leader Endorsement

Moving beyond QSAC, the Board also had an opportunity to meet the Chair of the Teacher Leader Endorsement Advisory Committee – Ms. Heidi Olson.  Ms. Olson delivered the Committee’s report to the Office of the Commissioner and State Board of Education before and after the public segment of yesterday’s meeting, providing both entities recommendations for the establishment of the teacher leader endorsement.

During the public segment of the meeting the Commissioner praised the comprehensive work of the group – stating how happy she was with not just the recommendations the group came up with, but also the collaborative work the group did to come up with a proposal that everyone could support – witnessed thru the joint statement in support of the recommendations that the Board released yesterday as well.

State Special Education Advisory Council

Further, the Board approved the reappointment of two individuals to the State Special Education Advisory Council – NJPSA’s own Barbara Gantwerk, Director of Special Services and Ms. Amy Smith.

The advisory panel consists of members that are representative of the state population and are composed of individuals involved in, or concerned with, the education of children with disabilities.  The panel’s job is to:

  1. advise the department of unmet needs within the state in the education of children with disabilities;
  2. comment publicly on any rules or regulations proposed by the department regarding the education of children with disabilities;
  3. advise the department in developing evaluations and reporting on data to the Secretary of the United States Department of Education under Part B Sec. 618 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act;
  4. advise the department in developing corrective action plans to address findings identified in federal monitoring reports under this part; and
  5. advise the department in developing and implementing policies relating to the coordination of services for children with disabilities;

Educational Facilities

In addition, the Board approved minor amendments to emergency regulations adopted back in July of last year related to testing for lead in the drinking water of school districts, charter schools, renaissance schools, jointure commissions, educational services commissions, approved private schools for students with disabilities, State-funded early childcare facilities pursuant to N.J.A.C. 6A:13A, and receiving schools as defined by N.J.A.C. 6A:14-7.1(a).

The Department worked in consultation with the NJDEP to develop guidance documents for districts.  The emergency adoption of the regulations was authorized by the Fiscal Year 2017 State budget (P.L. 2016, c. 10), which also appropriated $10 million to reimburse district boards of education for costs associated with the required testing. The regulations expire June 30, 2017.  As of this date, 62 percent of districts and 52 percent of charters have completed testing, of which 47 districts were eligible for reimbursement.  Over 75 districts had results above action levels.

Among the changes proposed are the following:

  • Addressing testing in ‘Twenty-four-hour school facilities” which are facilities that host residents on-site year round, which require the availability of water at all hours, employ staff on site 24 hours a day, and/or are care facilities such as hospitals with educational programs provided at the facilities;
  • Outlining rules for district boards of education granted an extension of time to conduct initial testing beyond the July 13, 2017, deadline to complete the initial testing no later than July 13, 2018. District boards of education that completed initial testing prior to July 13, 2017, must perform follow-up testing in accordance with a schedule;

Marie Katzenbach School for the Deaf

Further, the Board had a second discussion on re-adoption of N.J.A.C. 6A:21, that relates to the Marie H. Katzenbach School for the Deaf.  The Board received an overview of the school’s program from the school’s acting superintendent as well as a review of technical changes to the code provision last month.

The school was established in 1883, in accordance with state law.  It serves auditorily impaired (Deaf and Hard-of Hearing) students from 3 to age 21.  Approximately 80% of the students are multiply-disabled.  The school currently serves 104 students in the Early Childhood Program, Elementary School, Middle School, High School and Behavioral Support Program.  Approximately 30 of those students are residential.  Current staff include a superintendent, business administrator, building principals, counselors, social worker, audiologist, behavior consultant, speech/language pathologist, teachers, teaching assistants, personal assistants (for students who need them), residential staff, housekeepers, buildings and grounds workers, cafeteria employees.

The Board also approved, at adoption level, changes to Fiscal Accountability regulations as it relates to Approved Private Schools for Students With Disabilities (APSSDs).  Currently 159 APSSDs operate in New Jersey (113 non-profit (about 71%) /46 for-profit (about 29%)) serving approximately 9,900 students.  Among the changes proposed is an amendment to N.J.A.C. 6A:23A-18.19 to require an Annual Disclosure Statement that would seek to disclose:

  • § Related parties with whom APSSDs do business
  • § Nepotism

Under the regulation, if APSSDs do not disclose certain relationships, the transactions are deemed non-allowable and cannot be included in the tuition rate.  Proposed changes at N.J.A.C. 6A:23A-18.20 requires APSSDs to develop and implement a nepotism policy.

The following tables outline the changes proposed by the Department:




Regulatory Equivalency and Waiver

Additionally, the Board approved, at proposal level, changes to N.J.A.C. 6A:5, Regulatory Equivalency and Waiver.  These rules provide regulatory flexibility for school districts and other institutions regulated by Titles 6 and 6A of the Administrative Code.  The chapter is scheduled to expire on October 20, 2017.  The rules govern the equivalency and waiver process and provide the opportunity for regulatory flexibility for school districts and most programs regulated by the Department:

  • An equivalency is permission to meet the requirements of a rule through an alternative means selected by the district board of education.
  • A waiver allows a district board of education to avoid compliance with the specific procedures or substantive requirements of a rule for reasons that are educationally, organizationally, and fiscally sound.

The rules require a school district’s educational community, including parents, administration, and staff members, to be informed of the proposed equivalency or waiver and provided the opportunity to comment.  Among the amendments proposed are:

  • An amendment to N.J.A.C. 6A:5-1.1(b), to affirmatively include renaissance schools, county vocational school districts, and county special services school districts;
  • A change to N.J.A.C. 6A:5-1.3(a)1, to require an equivalency or waiver demonstrate the spirit and intent of New Jersey Statutes Title 18A, applicable Federal laws and regulations, and the New Jersey Administrative Code Title 6 and 6A are served by granting the request; and
  • Changes to N.J.A.C. 6A:4, Appeals which define that an equivalency or waiver can be challenged by initiating a contested case before the Commissioner pursuant to N.J.A.C. 6A:3, Controversies and Disputes with additional appeal rights from a Commissioner of Education decision to the Appellate Division

Career & Technical Education Changes

Moreover, the Board received a second presentation on changes to N.J.A.C. 6A:19-7 which regulate the private career schools.  What is interesting about this code provision is that, the New Jersey Department of Education’s regulations must be adopted in conjunction with the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s (NJDLWD) rules regarding private career schools at N.J.A.C. 12:41.  NJDLWD adopted amendments on December 19.   As such, amendments are being recommended to N.J.A.C. 6A:19-7 to align the two provisions.

Other Items

Finally, the Board reviewed the updated State Board Calendar of Meetings for the coming year and received a presentation from Weehawken High School on their AP Capstone program.