NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 9, 2013
On appeal from the New Jersey Department of Education, Commissioner of Education.
Kendal Coleman, P.C., attorney for appellant Paterson School District Board of Education.
Jeffrey S. Chiesa, Attorney General, attorney for respondent New Jersey Department of Education, Commissioner of Education (Michelle Lyn Miller, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Diana C. Sierotowicz, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).
Before Judges Sapp-Peterson and Nugent.
In this appeal, the City of Paterson Public School District Advisory Board of Education ("the District") appeals from the September 21, 2011 decision of the Acting Commissioner, Department of Education (DOE), Christopher D. Cerf ("Commissioner"), declining to recommend the partial withdrawal of State intervention in the district, in accordance with the statutory authority accorded under N.J.S.A. 18A:7A-10 to -60. We affirm.
Pursuant to the 1987 "State Takeover" law, P.L. 1987, c. 398, the DOE assumed direct, day-to-day control over a number of school districts, including in 1991, the Paterson school district. In 2005 the Legislature enacted the Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC), "an additional statutory measure  designed to evaluate school district performance" as a means to ensure that the constitutional mandate of a thorough and efficient education is accomplished. See Abott v. Burke, 199 N.J. 140, 151 n.4 (2009).
Under QSAC, the Commissioner evaluates the effectiveness of all public school districts in five areas: (1) instruction and program; (2) personnel; (3) fiscal management; (4) operations; and (5) governance. N.J.S.A. 18A:7A–10. In addition to statutory requirements, regulations have been adopted to implement QSAC. N.J.A.C. 6A:30-1 to 30-9.
Pursuant to statute and regulations, the Commissioner undertakes a district review, at a minimum, every three years, but may also conduct interim reviews to assess a 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 achieving "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 providing a thorough and efficient system of education. N.J.S.A. 18A:7A–14(a). On the other hand, a district achieving only 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 a district's progress in implementing the plan every six months. Ibid. In any district achieving less than 50 percent of the quality performance indicators in fewer than five of the key areas, the Commissioner must direct an in-depth evaluation and improvement plan. N.J.S.A. 18A:7A-14c(1). Finally, where a district achieves less than 50 percent of the quality performance indicators in all five areas, an assessment of the deficiencies and areas of limited capacity within a district is required, as well as consideration of community conditions, which may have negatively impacted its overall performance. N.J.A.C. 6A:30-5.3(d).
Upon completion of the QSAC evaluation of the District, the Commissioner issued a final decision on September 21, 2011, which scored the District as follows: (1) 51% in fiscal management; (2) 53% in personnel; (3) 88% in governance; (4) 33% in instruction and programs; and (5) 70% in operations. Although the district scored 88% in governance, the Commissioner refused to recommend that a partial withdrawal of state takeover be initiated because the District had not demonstrated sustained and substantial progress. The Commissioner specifically noted:
[T]he [D]istrict's 2010 self-reported total graduation rate for the 2009-10 school year was 50.4%, far below the 80% graduation rate threshold set by the QSAC process. Moreover, even this number is overstated. Among students who start ninth grade in Paterson, 30.7% graduated as a result of passing the High School Assessment (HSPA), the standard exam for determining student achievement in reading, writing, and mathematics as specified in the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards. An additional 30.7% of students graduated as a result of completing the Alternative High School Assessment (AHSA). Currently, ...