As executive director of the New Jersey School Boards Association, I cannot think of a greater honor than to serve NJSBA as we celebrate our Centennial.
My relationship with NJSBA predates my appointment to this position in 2012. In fact, it goes back 38 years, when I first became the superintendent of schools in Mount Arlington. And it continued throughout my career as a board member, a district superintendent in Madison and Cranford, and an Executive County Superintendent. I never found a better source of information or guidance on school board governance, school law, and labor relations. NJSBA was responsive, always providing critical information quickly and accurately.
For the founders of the State Federation of District Boards of Education of New Jersey – our name when we started out 100 years ago – our responsiveness would have come as no surprise. It was reflected in the mission statement, which included the following words: “investigate such subjects relating to education in its various branches as it may think proper and encourage and aid all movements for the improvement of the educational affairs of New Jersey.”
NJSBA took the directive to “investigate” seriously starting in its earliest years.
In the 1920s, at the request of the commissioner of education, NJSBA conducted a study on the financial resources available to public schools. For years, the document was considered a primary reference on early school finance and tax distribution.
During the Great Depression, the Association initiated legislation to secure emergency state funding to keep public schools in operation in the face of collapsing tax collections and financial failure in local governments.
In the 1950s, our expertise in school board governance was reflected with the publication of What Every School Board Member Should Know, a primer on relevant topics ranging from policy to parliamentary procedure.
A 1979 NJSBA report cited the need for insurance pooling by local school boards, so that coverage could be obtained at reasonable cost. The result was legislation in the early 1980s that today enables school districts to participate in insurance cost-saving arrangements.
In the late 1970s, NJSBA’s report on school violence and vandalism was a major influence on state law and regulation, creating structures to protect schoolchildren.
The sharing of services was the focus of studies in the early 1980s, with the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, and in 2007, with Rutgers-Newark.
NJSBA reports also tackled special education issues: in 2000, resulting in an increase in state funding for extraordinary costs; in 2007, quantifying the cost of the state and federal requirements; and, most recently, in 2014, with a strong focus on early intervention.
Today, we are putting the finishing touches on the work of two task forces, one on school security and the other in the achievement gap.
These NJSBA studies and reports are part of an impressive body of work that has had a direct and positive impact on our schools. In 2014, I am proud to say that our tradition of investigating critical and, often, difficult subjects continues.
In all respects, the goal set by our founders in 1914 is reflected in the purpose of NJSBA, as identified by our senior staff recently: Recognizing the importance of every child, NJSBA provides training, advocacy, resources, and guidance to empower boards of education to advance student achievement.