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Agenda: State Board of Education

QSAC is back up for discussion, with plans to streamline or possibly overhaul the district-monitoring apparatus.

Date: Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Time: 10 a.m.

Place: NJ Department of Education, 1st floor conference room, 100 River View Plaza, Trenton

What they are doing: The state board kicks off the new school year by deliberating how the state oversees and monitors its nearly 600 districts, from the highest performing to the lowest. There also will be a few procedural matters along the way, including further discussions about new code for districts selling advertising on school buses.

On-again, off-again for QSAC: The last time the state board met with acting education commissioner Chris Cerf, he was talking about ways to streamline the state's district-monitoring system, called QSAC (Quality Single Accountability Continuum). They put off the discussion last month and may get a postponement again. But the topic hasn’t gone away, with board president Arcelio Aponte saying the board hopes to discuss Cerf's overall plan, starting with a proposal on the table that would vastly reduce the number of quality indexes from more than 360 to fewer than 60. But Cerf wants to remake the system entirely, and this may be just the first step. In the meantime, the scores of another 15 districts will be presented to the board on Wednesday, with just two of them receiving the grade "high performing."

Newark, first: Newark is not among those receiving a passing grade overall, although its individual scores are actually among the better of the lot. And as has played out this summer, Newark's local advisory board has legally contested the Christie administration's decision to retain full state control of the district, despite scores that it maintains should cede at least some control. Cerf says the district needs to make sustained progress before the state will give up its 16 years of direct oversight, and the matter looks as if it could end up in court unless some compromise is reached. The state board is not actively involved in the fracas, since it no longer serves as an appellate body, as it once did, but it will have to sign off on the final resolution.

School Improvement Grants: The education department is also administering more than a dozen federal School Improvement Grants to some of New Jersey’s weakest-performing districts, all of them multimillion dollar checks that come with considerable conditions that the schools make big changes. Department officials will present to the state board an overview and update on the SIG grants so far, including the latest nine approved by the state.

Bus ads: The idea was a popular one last winter, when the legislature easily approved a bill to allow districts to raise cash by selling advertising on the sides of their school buses. But none of that can happen until administrative code is enacted to set the rules and guidelines for such sales, and that is proving a little trickier than predicted. The code put forward by the department, after review of the state's Motor Vehicle Commission and State Police, would put considerable restrictions on how those ads could be presented. This is the board’s second discussion, with at least two more stages to go before approval.

Not on the agenda after all: The 13-member board will remain one member short, since Gov. Chris Christie's last of six appointees so far -- Joseph Fisicaro of Marlton -- will wait another month to be formally sworn in, according to Aponte.

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