NJSBA survey finds almost all school districts expect layoffs

Nearly 93 percent of New Jersey’s school districts expect to lay off staff – with the large majority of those districts looking at teaching staff reductions – due to state aid cuts in the coming school year, according to a survey by the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA).

According to a press release, NJSBA conducted the survey to gauge the impact of the governor’s proposed $820 million in cuts to state school aid for the 2010-11 school year. State funding for every school district would be reduced, with most incurring aid reductions equal to 5 percent of their total operating budgets – far greater than many school officials expected.

A total of 323 of the state’s 588 school districts responded to NJSBA’s survey. The survey found that:

• 92.8 percent will lay off staff, with 85.4 percent of districts indicating that teachers will be affected.

• 59.7 percent of districts say the staffing reductions will translate into education program cuts, with art, music and language courses and electives cited most frequently, along with programs for gifted and talented pupils.

• 66.7 percent of responding districts will cut extracurricular activities, such as clubs, sports and band.

• 83 percent of districts said the state aid reductions will result in higher property taxes.

According to the press release, school boards indicated they are using several strategies to address the aid cuts and preserve school programming. These strategies include:

• Reopen Contracts. Almost all boards in the first and second years of their current teacher contracts have been discussing the reopening of negotiations, with the goal of a wage freeze or other adjustment to compensation, NJSBA’s survey indicates.

These districts, which are reflected by the 64 percent of survey respondents discussing the topic, are those that would have to reopen negotiations in order to implement a wage freeze. Other local school districts — more than one-third of the state total — were already in negotiations for new contracts when NJSBA called on the state teachers’ union to urge its local affiliates to cooperate with proposals to reopen contracts with the goal of a wage freeze.

NJSBA believes the salary freeze should involve all employees, including administrators.

Reopening of negotiations requires the agreement of the local teacher union. In almost all cases, survey respondents said that the school board, not the union, had initiated the discussion.

• Activity Fees. To preserve extracurricular offerings, 31.5 percent of the responding districts say they plan to charge parents “activity fees” for students’ participation in clubs and sports. Approximately 20 New Jersey districts already charge such fees. (Students whose families cannot afford to pay the fees are not excluded from activities). In 2006, the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association reported that 35 percent of schools across the country were charging fees to participate in sports programs.

• Subcontracting Services. 34.5 percent of school districts are considering subcontracting services, or expanding the number of services currently privatized. A fall 2009 survey by the NJSBA showed that 84.2 percent of responding school districts have fully privatized some services.

Services cited most frequently were transportation, cafeteria operations, and maintenance. In addition, several districts are subcontracting business operations, child study teams, occupational/physical therapy, security and technology.

According to the press release, while NJSBA is calling for increased state support for education by extending the “millionaires” income tax surcharge, it is also advocating the reopening of contracts to save needed positions and education programs. A sampling of 23 school districts showed that in those districts alone more than $59 million and a significant number of jobs could be saved by school employees foregoing raises in 2010-11.

The NJSBA is a federation of 588 local boards of education and includes 44 charter school associate members. NJSBA advocates the interests of school districts, trains local school board members, and provides resources for the advancement of public education, according to the press release.