NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued June 4, 2013
On appeal from a decision of the New Jersey Department of Education dated.
Clifford G. Stewart argued the cause for appellants Newark Advisory Board and the Coalition for Effective Newark Public Schools (The Law Office of C. Gregory Stewart, attorneys in A-6302-10; Education Law Center, attorneys in A-6295-10; David G. Sciarra and Theresa S. Luhm, on the brief).
Michael C. Walters, Assistant Attorney General, argued the cause for respondent New Jersey Commissioner of Education (Jeffrey S. Chiesa, Attorney General, attorney; Melissa H. Raksa, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Angela L. Velez, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).
Before Judges Yannotti, Harris and Hayden.
The Newark Public Schools Advisory Board (NPSAB) and the Coalition for Effective Newark Public Schools (CENPS) appeal from a final determination of the Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Education, refusing to recommend partial withdrawal of the State's intervention in the Newark school district in the areas of fiscal management, personnel and governance. We affirm in part, and dismiss in part.
In 1995, the State Board of Education (State Board), acting pursuant to the then-applicable provisions of the Public School Education Act of 1975 (PSEA), L. 1975, c. 212, as amended by L. 1987, c. 398, authorized the removal of Newark's local board of education and the creation of a State-operated school district, based on its determination that the district was not providing its students with a thorough and efficient system of education. Contini v. Bd. of Educ. of Newark, 286 N.J.Super. 106, 110 (App. Div. 1995).
In 2005, legislation was enacted, which amended the PSEA and established the Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC), thereby altering the manner in which the State evaluated the thoroughness and efficiency of all public schools in the State. L. 2005, c. 235, amending N.J.S.A. 18A:7A-10. Under the QSAC statute, the Commissioner is required to evaluate all public school districts in five areas of district "effectiveness, " specifically instruction and program, personnel, fiscal management, operations and governance. N.J.S.A. 18A:7A-10.
This review is undertaken every three years. N.J.S.A. 18A:7A-11; N.J.A.C. 6A:30-3.1(a). The Commissioner also may conduct interim reviews of the district's progress in meeting quality performance indicators. N.J.S.A. 18A:7A-11; N.J.A.C. 6A:30-5.6(b).
A district that achieves a score of "80 percent to 100 percent of the quality performance indicators in each of the five key components of school district effectiveness" is considered to be a high performing district that is providing a thorough and efficient system of education. N.J.S.A. 18A:7A-14(a). A district that satisfies 50 percent to 79 percent of the quality performance indicators in any of the five areas of evaluation must develop and implement an improvement plan to address any areas of deficiency. N.J.S.A. 18A:7A-14(b). The Commissioner is required to evaluate the district's progress in implementing the plan every six months. Ibid.
A district that satisfies less than 50 percent of the quality performance indicators in four or fewer of the five key components of school district effectiveness is required to develop and implement an improvement plan and may be subject to partial State intervention. N.J.S.A. 18A:7A-14(c). In addition, a district that has satisfied less than 50 percent of the quality performance indicators in all five components of school district effectiveness may be subject to full State intervention. N.J.S.A. 18A:7A-14(e)(1).
Where, as here, a district has been subject to State intervention, the Commissioner considers the district's success in implementing the improvement plan in determining whether to withdraw from intervention in one of more areas of intervention. N.J.S.A. 18A:7A-14(c)(7). "If the district has successfully implemented the improvement plan and achieved sufficient progress in satisfying the performance indicators in one or more areas under intervention, the State shall withdraw from intervention in the district in those areas[.]" N.J.S.A. 18A:7A-15(d).
In 2007, the State evaluated Newark's performance in light of the quality performance indicators developed by the Department. N.J.A.C. 6A:30 (Appendix A). Newark achieved a score of 39 percent in instruction and program, 66 percent in fiscal management, 86 percent in operations, 32 percent in personnel, and 56 percent in governance. Based on that review, the Commissioner recommended that the State withdraw from intervention in the operations component of school district effectiveness. The State Board accepted the recommendation.
Thereafter, the Department continued to monitor the district's progress, through interim performance reviews. The January 2009 review resulted in the following scores: 50 percent in instruction and program, 94 percent in fiscal management, 87 percent in operations, 79 percent in personnel, and 75 percent in governance. The March 2010 scores were: 49 percent in instruction and program, 90 percent in fiscal management, 58 percent in operations, 42 percent in personnel, and 56 percent in governance.
In June 2011, the Department conducted its comprehensive, three-year review of the district. The 2011 review resulted in the following scores in the key components of school district effectiveness: 64 percent in instruction and program, 93 percent in fiscal management, 83 percent in operations, 94 percent in personnel, and 89 percent in governance.
By letter dated July 15, 2011, the Commissioner informed the district that he was not prepared to recommend the initiation of withdrawal of intervention in the remaining areas of State intervention. In his letter, the Commissioner stated that "much work remains" for the district to ...