State of New Jersey
Department of Education
100 River View Plaza
PO Box 500
Trenton, NJ 08625-0500
James E. McGreevey
||State Board of Education
||William Librera, Ed.D
||State Takeover Report
||June 19, 2002
In 1988, the state of New Jersey approved, through the legislature and
the State Board of Education, the authority for the Department of Education
to take over school districts that were failing according to the established
monitoring process. In 1989, the State of New Jersey became the first
state in the country to takeover a school district when the Department
of Education did so with the Jersey City School District. The State of
New Jersey also took control of the Paterson School District in 1991,
and the Newark School District in 1995. The takeover legislation intended
to authorize an intervention that would be temporary in nature. The State
of New Jersey is still in control of those three districts.
From 1981 through 1997, there were a series of Supreme Court decisions
regarding the Abbott suit on behalf of minors filed relative to
thirty school districts. This suit charged and later prevailed that the
funding system in the State of New Jersey was unconstitutional, as it
did not provide adequately for the children in the lowest socioeconomic
urban centers in the State of New Jersey. Although this decision dramatically
changed the funding formulas in the State of New Jersey including, but
not limited to, the three takeover districts, the content of the decision
has never been integrated into the state takeover legislation and/or regulations.
In January 2001, Commissioner David Hespe authorized a study of the state
takeover districts with the expressed intent of examining ways in which
the districts could return to local control. The Commissioner requested
that four faculty members from Rutgers-Newark complete the study. In part,
this request reflected the recent history since 1997 when there was a
minimum of 5 plans to return the state takeover districts to local control
beginning with Jersey City. By 2001, these plans had been abandoned. The
faculty members included Paul Tractenberg who had been involved in both
the Robinson and Abbott cases, including his work to create
the Education Law Center. The four faculty members had a thorough knowledge
of the circumstances leading to state takeover and the subsequent Abbott
decisions. The ultimate objective of the report, completed in May
2002 after interim reports were provided a year earlier, was to "develop
a detailed roadmap or a blueprint for state takeover and for reestablishing
local control in an effective, measured and responsible manner."
Consisting of more than two hundred pages, including a thirty-two page
executive summary, the report contains a history of state takeover in
New Jersey, comparative student achievement data, best practices in school
and municipal takeovers in the country as well as observations, conclusions,
The following are almost exclusively direct language and quotations from
the report. They do not represent a priority order but rather illustrate
briefly the essence of the report.
- New Jerseys approach to state intervention in school districts
seems ill-conceived and poorly executed.
- The state has never performed a systematic external assessment of
the progress or improvement in any of the state-operated districts.
- State operation of school districts in New Jersey has lacked direction
- New Jerseys three largest school districts have been under state
operation for long periods of time with no clear understanding about
what the states focus should be, or how, and when, they should
be returned to local control.
- The condition of local capacity should be the cornerstone of the states
intervention and the deciding factor in whether or not state intervention
is necessary. Local capacity to operate a school district should be
determined by examining numerous factors; reliance solely on pupil achievement
is too narrow.
- A clear and specific system of standards and benchmarks by which districts
will be assessed needs to be established. In the case of districts determined
to require state assistance, ensure that competent, objective, periodic
assessments are carried out to measure progress and that results are
promptly communicated to the district.
- State operation in New Jersey has involved little effort by the state
to prepare the boards of education for the task of resuming governance
authority and little effort to work with local officials to make changes
that are likely to result in long-term educational improvement.
- During the period of state operation, the board of education should
include four appointed members in addition to nine elected members.
- In each of the districts, gains have been made, both in academics
and operations, but the progress has been slow.
- All three districts have demonstrated improvement over the last three
years, in some cases, especially in Newark; they are still below the
levels of achievement in other Abbott districts.
- States with desirable patterns of success in state takeover have been
California, West Virginia, Connecticut, and Kentucky.
Based on the report as well as my direct observations including discussions
with many people knowledgeable about state takeover, I believe a corrective
course of action must begin immediately. It is obvious that the present
state takeover law does not fulfill the intent as established in 1987.
- The present legislation governing the return to local control of state
takeover districts through full certification has not worked. It must
be replaced with legislation that reflects the best practices identified
in the report and all of those point to substantial progress toward
certification as the criterion for return to local control. All Department
of Education directed efforts to state takeover districts shall immediately
make the building of local capacity to govern well the primary objective.
- A working group of the Department of Education will begin immediately
to identify a new approach to the return to local control based on the
models identified in the report as best practices. Gordon MacInnes,
Assistant Commissioner for Abbott Implementation, will create this group
and it shall be constituted with those people who are knowledgeable
and experienced regarding urban schools, particularly Abbott schools.
This working group shall also share their preliminary work with the
Commissioners designees of the Department of Education as well
as the Abbott Implementation Council. The working group is invited to
meet with the authors of the report and, where possible, with others
familiar with best practices identified in the report. The final report
is due to the Commissioner on October 1, 2002 or sooner. The Commissioner
of Education will then prepare recommendations for the legislature and
the State Board of Education.
- The Technical Assistance Program of the Department of Education will
be reestablished and utilized in the state takeover districts as soon
as September 2002. The focus shall be on collaborative assistance designed
to improve local capacity for independent and effective practice. One
area for such assistance will be in the area of building community involvement
and capacity as is evident in best practices both for school and municipal
takeovers as cited in the report.
- The changes to be recommended by the Commissioner to the legislature
and the State Board of Education shall also provide the overall approach,
oversight, assessment, and evaluative model for all of the Abbott Schools.
This model may also contain criteria to be considered for other school
districts that may require some form of state intervention.
- Four non-voting liaisons to each state takeover board shall be appointed
no later than September 1, 2002 by the Commissioner of Education to
assist the local boards in the state takeover districts. These liaisons
shall be included in all board matters/meetings and they shall represent
higher education in the district, community leaders, and board members
with experience from either education or boards of trustees, and private/public
sector representatives from the community. At least three of the four
liaisons shall be residents of the community. It should be noted that
in Paterson a representative from William Paterson University has served
in just such a capacity with distinction. There are other references
to such a practice in the state takeover report.
- As all of the boards in the state takeover districts have only advisory
roles in personnel, the advisory role shall be extended effective August
1, 2002 to personnel appointments in all support staff positions, consultants,
and attorneys other than in-house counsel. (The attorneys under consideration
shall come from the approved list provided by the Office of the Attorney
General). The advisory role of the board in these areas shall be a process
that involves the board discussing and considering the recommendations
of the superintendent. Disputes between the State District Superintendent
and the boards of education shall be decided by the Commissioner, or
his designee instead of the veto power presently vested in the State
District Superintendent. This process shall be extended to professional
staff appointments on April 1, 2003, as that is the time when appointments
for the 2003-04 school year commences.
- If the State District Superintendent is to be notified of contract
renewal between June 2002 and November, 2002, as is the case in Newark
and Paterson, the Commissioner of Education shall conduct a national
search and he will present to the state takeover board and the non-voting
liaisons a slate of no more than five candidates for consideration and
advice as to appointment. Included in that slate will be the present
state district superintendents in those districts as both have done,
from information available to me, at least a good job. Involving the
state operated board in a critical decision is the motivation for this
approach. It must be understood that the Commissioner of Education has
all intentions to support the recommendation of the local board.
- Since it is possible that at least one of the three State Takeover
Districts (Jersey City) may be either immediately, or within six months
of the new legislation, be eligible for the return to local control,
the technical assistance, continued liaisons, and the involvement of
the Department of Education shall continue, after the return to local
control, in an appropriate manner that is both collaborative and supervisory.
- Between June 6-17, 2002, separate, but confidential
meetings with state district superintendents, chairs of local boards
of education, and the leadership of the teachers association
will be held to discuss the content of this report and the plan of
- June 19, 2002 -Public release of this plan of action
as well as the executive summary of the report by Tractenberg et.
al. shall occur at the State Board Meeting.
- By June 26, 2002, complete copies of the Tractenberg
report will be available on-line.
- Committee work on state takeover legislation begins.
- Hold one meeting with each board of education in state
operated districts to explain the plan without community questioning.
This will be done in September 2002.
- Interview prospective board liaison candidates.
- Hold one additional meeting with each state operated
board of education with opportunity for the community to question
and to comment.
- September 8, and 15-advertise nationally for the search
for the state-operated school districts in Newark, and Paterson.
- Non-voting liaisons established in each of state-operated
- October 1 -Final report from the Working Group due to
- November 8, 2002-Applications for State District Superintendents
- November 13-29,2002-Interviews for State District Superintendents.
- November 18, 2002-Target date for Commissioners
recommendations on state takeover legislation presented to legislature
and State Board of Education.
- December 2, 2002-Slate of candidates presented by Commissioner
to state takeover boards in Newark and Paterson.
- December 20, 2002-Recommendation from state takeover
boards to Commissioner.
- January 6, 2003-Announcement of appointments of State
District Superintendents in Newark and Paterson.