Agenda: State Board of Education

School safety, charter schools, public participation, and deregulation on agenda for board’s first meeting of 2013

Date: Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013

Time: 10 a.m.

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

What they are doing: The board’s first monthly meeting of 2013 — postponed two weeks for scheduling reasons — will pick up where 2012 left off. At the top of its agenda will be continued review of code proposals that aim to ease state mandates on schools, as well as new regulations for charters schools. But after the Newtown, CT, mass killing, school safety will also be on the board’s agenda. he board also is expected to face some feedback from civic advocates who have protested that it has squelched public input.

School safety: A late addition to the agenda is a discussion of school safety in New Jersey in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings. Education Commissioner Chris Cerf has said he doesn’t expect any new state regulations, saying New Jersey already has some of the strongest mandates in the country. But board president Arcelio Aponte said all options need to be discussed. “I think all of us are rethinking this now, so we have asked for this discussion,” he said yesterday.

School deregulation: The Christie administration has devoted much of the past six months to moving new regulations that would reduce mandates on schools, and the board’s meeting will include more discussion. No new proposals are on the table, but there will be discussions about some pending proposals concerning the minutia of school operations, such as how and where to keep student records and what are requirements for summer schools.

Charter schools, converted: The board is also continuing to hear a proposal that would allow for the conversion of public or private schools to charters. While popular in some other states, the idea has yet to gain traction in New Jersey’s public district schools. One private school, St. Philip’s Academy in Newark, has applied to be a charter next fall, in part prompting the proposed regulations. The meeting will host public testimony on the charter conversion regulations.

Where’s the public?: Public participation has always been a dicey topic with the state board, with testimony for years pushed off to the afternoon of the monthly meetings. Often, just a fraction of the board stays for the testimony. Last year, the board did away with the specific scheduling of a time for testimony, Now, it’s the last item on the agenda, whenever that may come. Some parent and community activists have objected, saying it makes it even harder for people to set aside time to come to Trenton.

One proposal: Save Our Schools NJ, the advocacy group, plans to testify and ask the board to go back to its previous system of setting aside a specific time for testimony. It also asks that any time limits be removed, and that the full board be present.

One response: Aponte, the board president, said he is aware of the concerns and is open to suggestions. He said that others had previously complained that the set time for testimony had been more a hindrance than help when board meetings ended long before the appointed time.