One of Those Jersey Lake Wobegons

CentralJersey reports that teachers in Montgomery Township are lobbying the local school board to bring in a budget at the 4% allowed by cap.

Why? Apparently town residents came to the last board meeting to plead for tax relief, but the teachers are concerned that not stretching to cap will limit their compensation. Montgomery Township Education Association President Chris Crow justified going to cap by explaining that,

the association’s teachers are willing to work hard, citing their attendance rating as the highest in the area. ”I’m urging the board, for the sake of the community, to seek the full 4 percent increase,” he said.

Montgomery Township Public Schools in Somerset County is a member of the most exclusive club in New Jersey, having achieved a DFG of “J.” This means that their District Factor Group, or socio-economic level, places them among the richest districts in the state. Rated by New Jersey Monthly as the 16th highest-achieving school in the State, with test scores to die for, even their kids with disabilities are gifted.

Really. First of all, only 8.8% of their high school kids have I.E.P.’s, which is low. And, while the state average of kids with disabilities who fail the Language Arts portion of the HSPA is 47.6%, at Montgomery High it’s only 15.9%. Across the state, kids with disabilities failed the math portion of the most recent HSPA 65.8% of the time. But in Montgomery? Only 36.4% of special needs kids failed.

And the non-disabled kids? Get ready to grovel. Here’s the data.

Another factor stands out as remarkable in this town: they don’t spend very much money on their kids, at least according to the NJ State Report Cards. While the average total cost per pupil in NJ for 2007-2008 was $14,359, the average in Montgomery was $12,142. That’s $2,217 less per kid and about 14% less than your average Jersey public school.

It’s no great shock that money doesn’t equal educational success, and this is an unfair basis for comparison. There are no numbers available on the number of Montgomery students who go to fancy preschools, or have all sorts of cultural and intellectual enrichments in their lives, but one can certainly make an educated guess that it’s most or all of them. And it doesn’t cost an exorbitant amount of money to provide a rigorous curriculum for them.

It’s when you get into more deprived backgrounds that the dollars add up for ESL classes, support services, higher rates of disability and behavioral problems. And, as most of the Abbott districts have proven, generous funding reaches a point of diminishing return.

Our state is structured so that we are peppered with exclusive enclaves – like Montgomery – where the needs are entirely different (less) than other districts, Yet the current intersection of politics and policy in New Jersey has put us on a trajectory to provide a cookie-cutter approach to education, all in the name of equity.

Montgomery probably doesn’t care, aside from the extra paperwork. In fact, if the State data is correct, they could spend more per pupil and still be rated “thorough and efficient.” It’s the districts in the middle who care, the ones who aren’t Abbotts and have a higher needs population. The Montgomerys of New Jersey get away with the occasionally silly board meeting.

What do you think?

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