Back-to-school for big savings

From The Senate By Senator Vin Gopal

It’s September, which means Monmouth County’s kids are officially heading back to school. It’s no small point of pride for many of us that our schools are some of the best in America. After all, you get what you pay for – and New Jersey taxpayers pay a lot.

Let’s make something absolutely clear – Garden State teachers work incredibly hard to serve our students, and we should never compromise on the quality of our educators. Similarly, we need to protect programs like special education, which do so much to support vulnerable children.

With a big budget, though, comes room for bloat and waste. When it comes to our schools, I believe we can do more to cut costs, both by trimming spending and helping our classrooms operate more efficiently. Our first step: school district administrative consolidation.

Let me start by clarifying some things: Consolidation won’t send your kids to a new school. They’ll be able to stay with the same teachers, peers, and classrooms they’ve always excelled with. Instead, we need administrative consolidation – an idea that could create big savings for local taxpayers.

New Jersey has a whopping 691 school districts spread out across our state. So many districts have their own superintendent, IT administrator, attorney – you name it. Each district has its own contracts for health insurance, waste disposal, and more.

Consolidating school districts would reduce the number of redundant administrative jobs – often the highest salaries in a public school system – and help us cut costs dramatically for the first time in decades.

What about students and teachers? It turns out that consolidation is a net win for them as well – and if we consolidate through attrition, rather than layoffs, not a single educator has to lose their job unwillingly.

Right now, students are often funnelled from a few K-8 districts into a single regional high schools. When you’ve got a patchwork of districts, you wind up with a patchwork of curriculums – and as a result, no two students learn exactly the same material.

Too many teachers are forced to waste time and resources catching students up on material they should have already learned. Consolidation would end that, creating larger districts with robust curriculums, and putting everyone on a level playing field.

I won’t lie – regionalization can be a tough sell in New Jersey, where the desire for home rule remains strong. But I believe that we can create a better future for children, our educators, and our tax bills if we have the courage to make real, meaningful reforms.

It’s my hope that promoting school consolidation will prove one of New Jersey’s best strategies for cutting taxes, but that doesn’t mean it’s our only one. If you have any ideas or feedback, please feel free to contact me at @njleg.org. I’m always happy to hear from you.

Senator Vin Gopal represents New Jersey’s 11th Legislative District in the State Senate, where he works to make the Garden State more affordable for its hard-working residents.