By Theresa Luhm
In a July 27 opinion published in NJ Spotlight, I outlined the process by which Newark, in less than a year, can regain control of its public schools under New Jersey’s school district monitoring law, known as the Quality Single Accountability Continuum or QSAC.
That process took a positive step on July 29 when Education Commissioner David Hespe released Newark’s most recent QSAC scores. With these scores in hand, the newly-formed Newark Education Success Board (NESB) and the Newark Advisory School Board can work to keep the QSAC process moving forward.
In the latest QSAC review, Newark scored a 72 on “governance,” only eight points below the benchmark of 80 necessary to restore local control in this area.
The district lost the most points on just two of the governance indicators – for not having “written policies and procedures for the budget and planning process” and for not “annually align[ing] fiscal goals and budget objectives.” While the DOE report identifies the documentation needed to show compliance with these requirements, the report does not explain exactly how the district fell short. Satisfying either of these requirements by the next six-month review will put the district over 80 in governance, assuming no points are lost on other indicators.
The next step under QSAC requires State Superintendent Christopher Cerf to submit a district improvement plan, approved by the Advisory Board, to Commissioner Hespe by October 1, 2015. The Commissioner then has 30 days to review and approve the plan.
The NESB can play a pivotal role in helping the Advisory Board and the State Superintendent move this process forward. The NESB can ask Commissioner Hespe to make public a more detailed explanation of the “written policies and procedures” and other documentation needed to cure the deficiencies in Newark’s budget and planning process and in aligning fiscal goals and objectives, the two major issues where the district lost points.
The NESB can also work with the Advisory Board and State Superintendent Cerf to prepare and submit the improvement plan and to correct any deficiencies in preparation for the next QSAC review, which will occur in January, but can take place sooner.
As this process plays out, there is important context that should be kept in mind. First, Newark’s most recent QSAC scores are not atypical. According to data from the DOE, as of January 2015, there were 32 districts in New Jersey that scored below 80 in governance. The QSAC law requires the DOE to provide technical assistance to these districts, including Newark, to help boost their scores to the “high achieving” 80 mark as quickly as possible.
Second, the four districts currently under some form of State operation – Newark, Jersey City, Camden and Paterson – must achieve a score of 80 in any of the QSAC areas for the State Board of Education to return local control in those areas. However, the score for initiating State takeover in a district not currently under State operation is 50 or below. At the current governance score of 72, Newark today would not be a candidate for state control. In fact, Newark has not had a governance score below 50 since its first QSAC review in 2007.
Theresa Luhm, Esq., is ELC’s Managing Director
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