Wednesday, 07 March 2007

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Sara Lazarus: Corzine town hall in Union Here's an update of what I experienced at Governor Corzine's Town Hall meeting in Union on February 3. I found the Governor to be very articulate, well-intentioned, and a good listener. He stated on numerous occasions that he's committed to keeping our school systems great, and cited with pride the recent survey in which NJ was among the top school systems nationwide. He said he wants to create a new and fair funding formula, although he concedes it may not happen soon. At it's most recent meeting, which I attended, the Garden State Coalition decided to come up with it's own suggestions re/the formula to jump start the process, and I look forward to seeing what that looks like. Governor Corzine also responded to questions about the County Superintendent. He thinks it's an important job in terms of overseeing districts that aren't financially responsible, and recommending consolidation of the tiny districts, and the sharing of services. Because he wanted to hear questions from as many people as possible, there was no time to respond to his responses. So no one was able to ask about fiscally responsible, high-achieving districts like ours, and whether the Super wouldn't feel compelled to interfere with our expenditures just so he could show how efficient he is. The Governor also said that he doesn't see any reason to force districts to have budget elections if they are under the 4% cap. This statement was met with enthusiastic applause. He was warned by one participant that it is not stated in the current version of S20 that under-cap local budget elections would be eliminated. He agreed to look into that, and we should definitely hold him to it. I'd say easily one fourth of the questions were education oriented. There were speakers from Cranford(2), and Livingston. Two men from New Providence wanted to know why their tax rate was so much higher than other communities they listed. I don't think Corzine clarified for them that those districts with lower taxes probably get substantially more school aid. I was on line to ask a question, but he had to stop the meeting just one person in front of me. So I raced up to him as he was shaking hands and asked him how we could continue this dialogue with him about education, and create an ongoing channel of communication. He gave me a few names at the Dept. Of Education, and agreed I could use his name with them. As we were talking, a group of parents formed around him, requesting that he listen to us. I think he got the message that a whole lot of people care deeply about this! Lynne Strickland of the GSCS was there, and one of Corzine's assistants came up to her and agreed to see her after the meeting. I haven't spoken to Lynne yet to hear what occured. All in all, it was an intriguing event. I do think that Governor Corzine believes these bills won't harm our schools. It's sort of a "trust me" situation, and though I'm convinced of his good intentions, I'm not convinced that those legislating and carrying out these plans are as committed as he is, and see quality education as their goal. I think it becomes our job to make sure the Governor follows through with the Legislature and his appointees to fulfill the promises he made today. Sara Louise Lazarus Parent, and Founder of Advocates For Education Millburn, New Jersey

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