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Interim Superintendent Appointed to State Education Funding Task Force

Steven Engravalle is among seven people tasked with making recommendations to the governor on the Free and Reduced Price School Lunch Program and the current school funding formula.

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.

Tracy April 05, 2012 at 02:52 PM
Congratulations! I know you are meant for greater things! Our community is blessed to have your expertise and ingenuity. Mr. Engravalle is an innovative and insightful leader who embraces change for much needed progress and modernization of the educational system. While honoring the time held traditions of educational theory and management, he is able to update and solve the challenges through application of technology and integrating the best management theories and practices from the modern and ever changing world outside of academia. He is modernizing education while maintaining and improving the quality of the fundamentals of learning for our children. By striking this much-needed balance, he is demonstrating the epitome of fiscal responsibility and an unwavering commitment to the children of our community and their learning. ~Best Wishes, Tracy
Keith Jensen April 05, 2012 at 08:05 PM
Nearly $800MM stolen from the taxpayers for 'free or reduced' lunch. I've included the state audit in this article to prove it. Go catch these criminals Mr. Engravalle. The Star Ledger reports that children of janitors making nearly $100K, along with a principal and even President of the School Board all who had their children enrolled. http://www.nj.com/times-opinion/index.ssf/2012/03/editorial_investigate_audit_nj.html This is just the tip of the iceberg. Go after these criminals. Get our money back and put it to work for the children of our communities instead of raising our taxes to pay for the bloated and criminal administrations of these Abbott Districts. While you are down in Trenton please tell everyone, including our Governor, how The Fort Lee Board of Education unanimously approved the attached resolution stating that the school funding formula is in err. By the way, the Mayor and Council still will not bring this up to vote. Therefore, it is obvious that they are owned by their political bosses and not serving the taxpayers of Fort Lee. Tell the Mayor and Council to have the courage to vote on the resolution which I also attached. This could end up reducing our property taxes by 1/3rd! Until then, our taxes will continue to go to places like Hoboken.
Joe R April 06, 2012 at 12:47 AM
From that NJ.com article: ".....estimates of the problem, however, vary wildly. {so the problem may not be as bad as the hysterical screamers say] State officials cite an analysis by the state auditor in July that found that up to 37 percent of free lunch recipients were enrolled in the program fraudulently. But that statistic refers only to 37 percent of the 3 percent of the applications each school district is required by the federal government to review. Districts are asked to focus on applicants whose household incomes fall within $100 of the maximum income that qualifies children for the lunch program. Further distorting the true picture are those students who don’t sign up for the program, despite their eligibility, because of embarrassment or a litany of other reasons. Meanwhile, undocumented immigrants are not about to advertise their presence by signing up their kids for the meals, hungry as they may be."
Keith Jensen April 06, 2012 at 04:45 AM
Fort Lee and 85% of NJ are holding the short end of the stick and paying nearly 80% of our taxes to towns elsewhere. http://schoolfundingexposed.wordpress.com/examples-of-waste-fraud-and-abuse/ Have not heard anyone at all been able to refute these facts aforementioned above in the link.
Howard L. Pearl April 06, 2012 at 12:42 PM
Obviously, there are a number of New Jersey residents that do not ascribe to the adage “there is no such thing as a “free lunch””. For years, the abuses have plagued the system because the cost of weeding out the “violators” can often be more expensive than doling out the “free lunch”. Finally, the Governor has said “enough already” and plans to set up an investigatory committee to curtail the abuse. Let’s hope the cost of this program is offset by the savings. Far too often this is not the case.
Diane Sicheri April 06, 2012 at 02:44 PM
I have to agree with Howard lets hope the savings is worth it. My question is how can Mr. Engravalle have time for our children when he spends so much time on all these task forces and committee's? How can he have time left for the district with all his outside commitments? It is great to belong to some, but his list is very long, I just hope we are not the ones losing out.
Tracy April 07, 2012 at 02:30 AM
His availability, and commitment are areas I am not worried about, I actually think he should be congratulated and thanked for it! This Interim Superintendent has accomplished more in the past few months than the 'many' we have had in the past decade. Engravalle seems to have endless and focused energy. This is where being in your mid-thirties instead of your mid fifties has its advantages for us! By happenstance, I need to email him today, not expecting anything until next week and guess what? I got an immediate response, and when I inquired about that, I found out he was at work today, a day off for the rest of the district. So, let’s be honest. During his short tenure, we have seen our schools improve, a referendum passed, curriculum being updated (valued and updated), Power School implemented district-wide in a short time, Board meetings televised, the district website improved, increased fiscal responsibility, district offices relocated, new classrooms being added to School No. 1, technology being updated and infused into the classrooms, school maps digitized on Smartphones, NEW textbooks from a downsized, controlled budget and many other things. I hardly think we are missing out…and I do think we need to begin accepting the industrious and talented educator he is, Fort Lee deserves a Superintendent like him!
David Sarnoff April 07, 2012 at 09:24 AM
Hi Tracy: Without addressing your comment point by point, I just want to focus on the curriculum comment. After attending the last BOE meeting, it is my understanding that the curriculum committee of the BOE has not had a meeting amongst themselves, or with the Interim Superintendent since the Summer of 2011. The K-2 curriculum that was updated last year, was mandated by the state. Personally, I would prefer to see a greater commitment of the BOE and administration to implementing a high caliber curriculum, and a unified curriculum in the elementary schools, in particular. It is a process that requires great effort and one that does not appear to have begun in earnest. Just my opinion.
Tracy April 07, 2012 at 03:00 PM
Hi Dave, First things first, I am not surprised at the BOE, there are too many people connected to the BOE that shouldn't be, too many opinions in the ears of each BOE member who do not understand education, too much politicized nonsense, including the gallery’s propensity to grandstand, bring up private student line items and not focus on the kids. I am not sure why you would include the Interim (since he did develop the K-2 curricula) in your concern when it’s the past 10 to 15 years of BOE members that have let our school district operate without the very foundation of why it exists. The past BOE (and the extensions) made the leadership unstable/ inconsistent and inefficient. Your argument is with the BOE of the past, not with Mr. Engravalle. It was last year during the Homeowner's debate that I brought up the fact that we had no elementary curriculum. How did I finally get to know that? For two years, I had been asking about the curriculum to help my dyslexic child's education be reinforced at home. It was not UNTIL I met with Mr. Engravalle that I was given the truth--- Fort Lee does not have an updated elementary curriculum. During the debate, the incumbents were stunned that we did not have a current curriculum. Why? Because we have not had a stable enough leadership in place to address anything but putting out fires. Its our own fault for NOT keeping a Superintendents.
David Sarnoff April 07, 2012 at 03:16 PM
I bring up the administration and the BOE because there has not been a meeting on curriculum, to my knowledge, for over 8 months. You also mention fiscal responsibility. I truly hope that to be the case. As was noted at a recent BOE meeting, the BOE and administration spent over $30,000+ on furniture (excluding office chairs) for the new BOE offices. It was also disclosed that there are about 12 employees at main office. $30,000+ for 12 employees seems a bit over the top to me. I run a small business with my partners and had to reign in expenses through the great recession to survive. In my opinion, the scrutiny should be even greater when it comes to taxpayer funds. With all the deficiencies in our district, every dollar counts, especially when it could have gone directly to the students. I hope you share this view.
Diane Sicheri April 07, 2012 at 03:26 PM
Tracy, don't you think the $30,000 plus would have been better spent on the children?
Tracy April 07, 2012 at 03:33 PM
I think there is a lot of wasteful spending--- but what would all the central office worker sit on and work at? Diane, this is just an expense that was set up because we need more room--- we could have save the attorney fees at BOE mtgs if we weren't so indulgent as a community. Or is the after care program really funded by the parents who use it?
Tracy April 07, 2012 at 03:34 PM
The educational part of the BOE has always been my plight and focus. I have had many conversations with the former Superintendent as well as the Interim about the elementary curricula. Now, the good news is that the current BOE has hired an Assistant Superintendent that is in charge of curricula. So they are moving along-- and are finally ridding the 'extensions' and getting back down to business. But why are we successful? The teachers! These dedicated, first-line adults with our children have been able to persevere with a turnstile of leadership. In spite of all that we (the towns people) have made them endure; they have been successful in our children’s learning. Dave, I would love debate more with you, so let's talk!
Tracy April 07, 2012 at 03:54 PM
For me Dave, this is where the argument loses steam. Return on investment never seems to be a consideration. It demonstrates the lack of knowledge of processes of education in a larger picture, by the public. To attack the flawed argument, you need to put the expense into consistent terms: 30k/ 60 months (lease term for the space) of use is $500 per month, this is not an unreasonable cost to provide proper work space for the people and computers needed to run a district. If you want to put a cost per employee its about $41.67 per month............ Here is an example that will make you feel better- although I am hesitant about its argument in this state (its not the full picture, nor proper, but the original argument was flawed) So lets also consider the cost ROI for the new classrooms--- even if ONE special needs child able to return to district, @ 80k outside tuition and service, is changed to perhaps 40k in district, a savings of 40k. or 4k per month and projected savings over 5 years? is 200k. Does that make the 30k seem more reasonable? $500 per month in office furniture to save 4k, a good enough return?
Tracy April 07, 2012 at 04:08 PM
Dave-- even as of the spring the members of the Curriculum committee did not even know that there was no elementary curriculum--- the member of the committee stated it directly to me. Mr. Engravalle requested another meeting with the Curriculum Committee at the last BOE meeting, a move that is not typical, but I can only imagine necessary to motivate them into action--- I am going to say that he was the originator of the last meeting and is requesting 'another'---- your issue is still with the BOE, the members need to do their jobs. Its too bad that its the same members who routinely don't do. Please be careful with inflammatory arguments and where you get your information, you need to have a bigger picture of education and audit from there, not details to grander scale....
Keith Jensen April 07, 2012 at 05:12 PM
Why are all of you up in arms about an ROI of $30K ? Sure bring it up because it is pertinent to the story, but the school funding formula should always be brought into every topic, because it is $30MM a year! That is essentially a $30MM annual referendum where that tax does not even stay in Fort Lee. At least Engravelle had the courage to endorse and execute the resolution that is attached in this article, yet the Mayor and Council won’t even allow it to be brought up for vote. More importantly to them, they will vote on if it is appropriate to allow Martha Washington Way to be renamed Park Ave. I am not running, but I am sure everyone will just rubber stamp whoever is in office and we'll be in the same situation. One where people who care about this town will blog and speak up behind the scenes, but never dare to make an open announcement for change. Addressing the school funding formula is the panacea to our tax problems and educational funding. $30K is peanuts. $30MM is incredible, and you all ignore it. Englewood has the same problem, look at my post in this article. http://www.northjersey.com/news/145719495_Englewood_girds_for_school_budget_cuts.html?c=y&page=2
David Sarnoff April 07, 2012 at 08:04 PM
Tracy: I am not sure what you mean by "inflammatory arguments." I was just stating what I believe to be the facts. In any event, the amount paid for the furniture is paid "today," not amortized over five years. Many pieces of furniture from the prior office were in decent condition. My opinion is that the furniture could have been purchased at a lower cost and the difference could have been spent on supplies or programs. Even you concede below, "there is a lot of wasteful spending." Have a Happy Holiday.
Tracy April 07, 2012 at 08:52 PM
Yes, there is a lot wasteful spending, but the furniture just is not it. I stated your argument was flawed. Without evidence that the old furniture was a proper fit for the small quarters at the new location and optimally using the the most of a small space, a premium $ space, its just not a feasible argument. We could send them in there with cafeteria tables with that argument. There is a cost per square foot and they needed to reduce that to its lowest usable cost. The other thing is that the BOE is forced to use approved (by the state) vendors and there are ranges on how much things can cost when using these vendors. Again, making the argument that the BOE could have bought used or cheaper furniture invalid. The purchase laws need to be considered as well. Dave, this isn't personal, I do challenge the use of your facts and extension of argument to prove them valid. There are bigger money concerns, but are you willing to take on an volatile issues like supplementing the aftercare program? or getting rid of the lawyer sitting at the BOE table? I am!
carol simon April 08, 2012 at 02:30 PM
How does government spend so much money on getting something wrong and then waste time and energy fixing it? Why is it great that Engravalle is being sidetracked from his responsibilities as the Superintendent of Fort Lee Schools to tackle free school lunches for Christie? This may be a great political/career builder for Engravalle personally, however, the buildings,classrooms, teachers and students of Fort Lee should be the high priority. Fair taxes and fraud are critical to Fort Lee residents. However, I would rather see administrators focus on the students... give more to succeed rather than taking away "lunch", a pimary source of sustenance.
Tracy April 09, 2012 at 02:34 AM
Carol, If any of could answer your first question, we wouldn't have any problems..... Do you really think sidetracked is the right word? He is the only educator on the panel and will represent the children and their needs within the realm of education. Education needs to represented in a task force like this, otherwise, there would be even more problems. people are taking advantage of this program while others are just over the limits and cannot get help. As far as administrators making Ft Lee the priority..... he has been here alone for 6-7 months and has accomplished quite a bit....realistic expectations need to be realized in Ft Lee. He got appointed because of what he has done here.
Howard L. Pearl April 09, 2012 at 11:54 PM
In Hamlet, Polonius states that “brevity is the soul of wit”, telling King Claudius and Queen Gertrude that Hamlet is “mad”. (Tracy, please reread!) (1) It is a bit presumptuous to place the blame entirely on Mr. Engravalle for the curriculum issue. With all the turmoil in the last two years, i.e. the departure of Dr. Bandlow, the lack of an assistant superintendent in the aftermath, the onslaught of the anti-Engravalles, it would be difficult for any individual to perform up to maximum capability. (2) Mr. Engravalle was most likely appointed to Gov. Christie’s committee as an ardent supporter, not for his accomplishments. (Always suspect political appointments!). (3) If the BOE had openly discussed the $ 30,000 furniture expenditure and allowed a few citizens to evaluate the new space and see if the old furnishings would suffice, this discussion would be moot. Note: A decent desk costs a few thousand dollars, so $ 30,000 doesn’t go as far as one might surmise. (4) To quote Tracy: “It’s our own fault for NOT keeping a Superintendent! “ Really! How are we to blame for Ms. Calabro’s desperate need of a couturier? Or Dr. Bandlow pursuing a higher salary in NY State? We could be blamed for electing poor BOE members or attendees haranguing superintendents at BOE meetings. Or we could blame former search committees or the dearth of quality candidates! Or maybe it’s an ancient curse?!
Tracy April 10, 2012 at 03:30 AM
Howard, that post cracked me up !! and you are always trying to get me to be brief, its just not going to happen.......:-) here is my attempt....we agree on 1-2-3, at least for the most part....good points, I respect that, and we are playing on the same field. and the fourth, stating 'we' is inclusive of the BOE members (as well as the gallery and citizens)--Bandlow himself began his search for a reason and was honest when asked why....his answer? The BOE, I just cannot get anything accomplished when they are what they are...... Calabro--- I was never a fan, she got booted from a town I used to live in...and before that? soooo many.....why can we not get a good one who can stay for at least three or four years? now the second part of #4!! Yes, ok and yes.....perhaps it is a curse of the Bridgman.......;-)
William Mays April 17, 2012 at 07:49 PM
I agree with the first half, I've seen way too many kids who get free or reduced lunch climb into Mercedes and BMWs after school.
Toni M. April 26, 2012 at 09:09 PM
Only in FL would such a prestigious appt be considered a bad thing. The appt shows he is respected and his opinions are valued. It shows that he stands out among other Superintendents. It shows that he can pick up a phone and contact State officials when we need them. It shows he has the backing of the Governor's office.

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