S-1701 will limit administrative spending

Robert Whittemore

Guest Column

Everyone committed to quality education needs to collaborate, focus on quality, and avoid distorting the potential impact of the recently enacted New Jersey Senate Bill S-1701.

Why was the emphasis of a recent report on S-1701 funding law focused on efforts to fight legislation already passed? Doing so overlooks the numerous benefits this legislation is designed to produce.

The purpose of this legislation is twofold: short-term property tax relief, and greater accountability to local voters on school budgets approved annually at April school elections.

To this end, the new law:

• Requires the excess surplus to be used for tax relief

• Eliminates spending adjustments, and revises the courtesy busing spending adjustment to correct the defect in the original CEIFA formula

• Implements new approval requirements for line-item transfers more than 10 percent and limits board-authorized appropriation of surplus or other unbudgeted or underbudgeted revenues to the last three months of the fiscal year

• Requires deposits of surplus into capital and maintenance reserves

• Limits the amount of unused spending authority a district could “save” for future years (“banked cap”)

• Includes additional requirements on separate proposals

• Implements a limit on administrative spending such that all administrative spending for 2005-06 must be within the regional limit as well as below the district’s prior-year-advertised administrative spending adjusted for inflation.

Each of these changes addresses specific budgetary loopholes local school boards have utilized to annually compound spending increases, accumulate cash surplus, and drive property taxes into a never-ending upward spiral.

This legislation forces local boards of education to maintain fiscal responsibility and requires sometimes overzealous or overwhelmed board members to work within financial guidelines. Nowhere in the legislation is there a call for budget cuts or spending reductions. In fact, every school district will continue to fund 100 percent of their prior year budget plus reasonable spending growth based on economic reality.

Once again, parents are herded, rallied, and misdirected by local activists with a self-serving agenda. Rekindling past emotions affecting our schoolchildren like courtesy busing, overcrowded classrooms, and fear of future budget cuts.

The majority of spending continues to be allocated to teacher salaries and benefits. Although it is no surprise, if one reviews the 3,000 signatures posted at on online petition, most names appear to be taxpayers directly responsible for school spending — teachers and school administrators.

The petition clearly identifies their primary concern: “These low caps permanently lock in teacher salary discrepancies between districts with lower-paying districts never having the chance to catch up while also ensuring they fall further and further behind creating a two-tiered teacher salary structure in New Jersey.”

Is it any wonder those most vocal about this legislation are those who share the often-heard message from within — “the system is designed to spend more and tax more.” Words blatantly spoken by district superintendents and local teachers’ unions representatives, and those that support their agenda.

Robert Whittemore is a former member of the Middletown Township Board of Education