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Profile: Veteran Lobbyist Represents NJ’s Suburban Schools at Statehouse

She went from Tenafly school trustee to widely respected advocate for education funding

strickland
Lynne Strickland (at left)

Name: Lynne Strickland

Title: Executive director, Garden State Coalition of Schools, 1992-present

Why she matters: Strickland has represented the coalition of suburban schools -- now nearly 100 members strong -- for 24 years, making her mark in particular on school-funding issues and, more recently, special education. She is among the state’s longest-running and most-influential education lobbyists.

How she started: Born in Teaneck and raised in Tenafly, Strickland began work after college as a systems analyst for New York State’s motor-vehicles agency before stepping out of the workforce to raise two sons. But itching to get involved, she was elected to the Tenafly school board, and looking to get back into the workforce, she applied for a job with the fledgling Garden State Coalition of Schools.

How the coalition started: The coalition was the brainchild of leaders from a dozen suburban districts -- from Ridgewood to the Chathams to Cherry Hill -- who feared the repercussions of school-funding debates in the early 1990s, and saw the need for a unifying organization and advocate in Trenton.

“They started by having these meetings, and they decided they really need to get more organized and get someone formally representing us and be our ears and eyes in Trenton,” she said.

Sound familiar? Among the main issues of debate at the time was who was going to pay for teachers’ pensions, with state leaders proposing a shift of responsibility to local districts.

Coalition now: It has nearly 100 members, each paying a little over $2,000 in annual dues. Those dues are the organization’s only funding.

Four school-funding laws: Strickland came to Trenton as a registered lobbyist under the Quality Education Act (QEA), then the Quality Education Act II (QEA II), then the Comprehensive Educational Improvement and Financing Act (CEIFA), and most recently, the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA).

Unfulfilled promises: The state stopped funding each one not long after each law was passed, including the SFRA. But she still has a favorite: CEIFA. “It had the wherewithal that if was funded on a regular basis … it had a lot in it that was very workable,” she said. “But when you start freezing funding, over time it creates distortions.”

Dreams of full funding: “If you look at these 24 years, the economy has gone up and down, up and down, and funding is available some years and not others. It has been far more less-available than available. And that has been Democratic and Republican administrations alike.”

Highlights: Strickland lists her work on the CEIFA formula in 1996 as among the highlights, assuring stability for all districts at the time. Other highlights include the school-construction law of 2000 that extended the state’s help to non-urban districts; special-education funding that was extended in 2003 and 2008, and her role in the development and refinement of the state’s monitoring system.

Not-so-good lesson in government: Strickland lost her Rumson home to Hurricane Sandy. While battling the government bureaucracy at both the state and federal levels, she needed to move multiple times.

“You can get disappointed in government,” she said. “You stand in line and then you stand in line some more. But there are so many who want to help and, in the end, who do help you.”

“The one thing I have gotten more efficient at is packing,” Strickland said.

Appreciated by coalition members: “Lynne Strickland’s legislative acumen, understanding of complex educational issues and ability to adroitly remain politically neutral in her advocacy has helped to shape the educational policy debate around what is best for the students we serve in New Jersey for the past 20-plus years,” said Charles Sampson, superintendent of the Freehold Regional High School District and chairman of the coalition’s board.

“Her voice is highly respected as a result of her focus on ‘best courses of action’ for quality public education,” he said. “Legislators, school leaders, and advocates know that her opinions on educational matters will be well researched, grounded in empirical data and unbiased. I believe those qualities have allowed for the continued success of the Garden State Coalition of Schools as a powerful voice for quality public education in New Jersey.”

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