TAX DOLLARS USED TO FUND CLOWN SCHOOL, FLYING LESSONS, TRIPS TO RESORT DESTINATIONS ? EVEN BRASS APPLES
As school districts throughout the state grapple with budget cuts resulting in layoffs, school closings and reduced funds for extra curricular activities, some continue to spend tax dollars on questionable and frivolous items, such as trips to resorts, gourmet meals and gifts for teachers.
At today?s hearing by the Assembly Budget Committee, Assembly Republican Leader Alex DeCroce will question State Education Commissioner Lucille Davy about instances of questionable spending practices and why they are still seen despite her previous assurances that improvements would be made.
?At a time when people are struggling to make ends meet and denying themselves even simple amenities, it is outrageous that some school districts believe that they are entitled to travel and eat at places that most people only dream about,? said DeCroce, R-Morris and Passaic. ?In today?s economy, one has to question why we are spending taxpayer dollars on things that have no educational value. People who cannot pay their mortgage or utility bills will understandably be upset when they learn of the ways money is being squandered.?
DeCroce said an examination of vouchers from a sampling of school districts that were obtained under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) demonstrate a need for stronger monitoring of expenditures by the state, which has provided billions of dollars in state aid, with the largest share going to Abbott districts.
?While there is some good news that conditions have improved in a few areas, the bad news is that there are still school districts spending taxpayer money on trips to places like Miami, Palm Springs, New Orleans, and Orlando,? continued DeCroce. ?And they are staying at posh hotels such as the Four Seasons and Royal Sonesta. Apparently certain districts haven?t heard that everyone is tightening their belts, and that they must do the same.
?Far too many students in these districts are still lacking in the basic skills such as reading and math,? said DeCroce. ?What this analysis indicates is that we must have even greater oversight and accountability to guarantee that the billions of dollars we spend on education are spent wisely and in the classroom.?
Beginning in February, Assembly Republicans submitted OPRA requests to 11 school districts throughout the state. Three districts ? Willingboro, Tenafly, and Hoboken ? were non-responsive to the initial and follow up requests. Two districts ? Teaneck and Pemberton ? did not exhibit instances of wasteful spending. However, numerous examples of highly questionable spending were evident in Camden, Newark, Cherry Hill, and Plainfield.
?At a time when most districts are being forced to drastically reduce spending, it is incumbent on those receiving additional funding to recognize their responsibility for budgeting wisely,? continued DeCroce. ?Unfortunately, we are still seeing too many instances where that lesson has not been learned. For several years we have heard that oversight would become a high priority within the DOE. These examples of waste suggest that this issue still is not being vigilantly monitored. ?
Some notable examples of imprudent spending occurred in Newark, where $25,000 was allocated for eight students to take flight lessons, and $1,400 was spent for a workshop on Clown Arts. At this seminar students were taught balancing, juggling, and the history and challenges of clowning.
Taxpayers are also paying $10,000 just to film each installment of the Newark School Superintendent?s monthly cable television show, and that teachers in Newark can be compensated at the doctorate level as long as they have obtained a Masters Degree and 30 additional credits. Actual completion of the course work is not required.
And while Camden was purchasing engraved bells to ring on the opening day of school in 2007 and buying insulated lunch bags and brass apples for its teachers, Plainfield was spending taxpayer dollars to send students to a dude ranch in New York.