Acting New Jersey Governor Kim Guadagno Wednesday appointed seven representatives from the public and private sectors to the newly created New Jersey Education Funding Task Force, and Fort Lee’s Interim Superintendent of Schools was among the appointees.
“The Education Funding Task Force will evaluate the use of the Free and Reduced Price School Lunch Program as a measure for ‘at-risk’ students, explore the viability of alternative measures, and generally provide recommendations to address aspects of the school funding formula that are susceptible to fraud and abuse,” said Guadagno in a statement announcing the appointments.
Interim Superintendent of Schools Steven Engravalle said he was contacted Friday by the Office of Executive Appointments and informed that he was being considered. He received notice Wednesday afternoon that the appointment was official and said he was “stunned and very, very proud to be considered.”
“It’s really a terrific opportunity,” Engravalle said. “Certainly it’s a topic that needs to be reviewed. We have the highest per pupil expenditure in the country, and that needs to really be looked at carefully. By taking a look at these critical issues, we will ensure that education dollars are distributed in a fairer and more equitable manner for every child in New Jersey.”
He also said there are “obvious loopholes” in the Free and Reduced Price Lunch Program, and that “abuse of the system” has been rampant.
“It’s very, very easy to manipulate,” Engravalle said.
The only current public educator appointed to the task force, Engravalle joins Secretary of Higher Education and former Acting Commissioner of Education Rochelle Hendricks, who will serve as chair; Common Sense Institute of New Jersey president and former Randolph Board of Education president Jerry W. Cantrell; former Paterson Public Schools Director of Early Childhood Education Anna Lugo DeMolli; Stern & Kilcullen partner John P. Inglesino; St. Benedict’s Prep Headmaster and Essex County Vocational and Technical Schools Board president Rev. Edwin D. Leahy; and former Absecon City Councilman Charles Urban, according to the governor’s office.
“I’m proud to work with what appears to be a terrific group—some of them I know; some of them I know of,” Engravalle said. “It’s certainly a monumental task, but it’s also an absolutely crucial task.”
The direct appointments do not require Senate confirmation; each member serves without being compensated, according to the governor’s office. The task force is charged with issuing a final report outlining its recommendations to Gov. Chris Christie within 120 days of organizing, after which the appointments expire.
The task force was specifically charged with considering “economically effective” measures of student poverty, “educationally sound” measures of defining at-risk students and identifying areas of the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) that are susceptible to fraud and abuse in making its recommendations to Christie.
“We will certainly get right down to business and get to work so that we can make the best recommendations for New Jersey’s education system,” Engravalle said.
Fort Lee Board of Education president Arthur Levine congratulated Engravalle Wednesday evening “on behalf of the entire board” for being “named to this very august committee.”
“Steve is a creative leader who embraces change, not just for change’s sake,” Levine said. “While he has respect for traditional thinking, he recognizes that the old solutions have not solved the problems that plagued the system.”
Levine went on to say that the current system “penalizes taxpayers in high-achieving districts like ours by transferring local taxes to those districts, who despite receiving enormous subsidies, still struggle to achieve at acceptable levels of educational quality.”
“Throwing more money at a problem is not the answer; in fact, it exacerbates it,” Levine said. “Change is not without controversy and requires courage to effect it. We are proud that the acting governor selected one of our people, and know that [Engravalle’s] contribution on this committee will have a lasting effect, not just on the children of our town, but for all the children in New Jersey.”
The New Jersey Department of Education’s Education Funding Report called for the formation of the task force with the aim of exploring new measures of defining at-risk students in place of participating in the Free and Reduced Price Lunch Program. The funding report outlined a series of “common sense measures” to improve the school funding formula and “to help close the state’s persistent achievement gap,” according to the governor’s office.