Saturday, November 21, 2015

How Englewood and Englewood Cliffs Gamed Interdistrict Choice

The state is about to stop Interdistrict Choice payments made for students whose districts of residence have no schools for that age group.

Englewood Cliffs is a K-8 district without a high school.

Englewood Cliffs is not part of a regional high school district, so in the past Englewood Cliffs has had a "send receive" relationship with Englewood, where Englewood Cliffs would pay tuition for its students to attend school at Englewood's Dwight Morrow High School.

Then Interdistrict Choice came around and the state of New Jersey said it would pay for students to attend school outside their resident districts. It is a terribly designed program in the first place, but intended to let students attend schools outside their districts while their property taxes stayed in their residential districts

Englewood Cliffs, again, has no high school at all, but Interdistrict Choice gives students the ability to attend school outside their districts.

Since Englewood Cliffs students attended school out of district anyway (in this case in Englewood) Englewood Cliffs just signed its students up for Interdistrict Choice and let the state pay tuition for its kids.  Englewood was thus off-the-hook for having any monetary responsibility for its high school aged kids.

Englewood's Local Fair Share is very high, so the average payment was $17,700, picked up by state taxpayers.  Since there are 23 Englewood Cliffs students enrolled in the Academies@Englewood, the total cost to state taxpayers is $407,100 per year.  Because of this Interdistrict Choice Aid Englewood is one of the few overaided districts in Bergen County.

But most of the Englewood Cliffs students who attend Dwight Morrow High are enrolled in the school’s magnet Academies@Englewood program. The Academies are part of the state’s School Choice program, which allows approved schools to accept out-of-district students without charging them tuition.
The state decided last year that, because of the send/receive relationship, Englewood Cliffs students are not eligible for School Choice aid. The Englewood and Englewood Cliffs districts both appealed. 
The education department recently agreed to pay Englewood approximately $1.2 million in back aid for these students. The amount represents three years’ worth of funding, going back to the 2013-2014 school year, according to a copy of a letter sent to school officials in October. 
The Englewood school board unanimously accepted the payment Thursday night. The money will be used to pay teachers’ salaries and for a vice-principal for the Academies, according to the resolution that was approved. 
The letter also stated that starting on July 1, the department would no longer pay School Choice aid for any Englewood Cliffs students who attend classes in Englewood.
Anyway, eventually the Department of Education decided it was inconsistent with the intentions of Interdistrict Choice for state taxpayers to pay tuition for students from districts that don't have schools for kids of that age group anyway.  The tuition payments will now stop.

I do not believe that Englewood is the only situation where something like this applies.  New Jersey has about ten non-operating districts that are supposed to pay tuition for their students to attend schools in other districts.  Many of these non-operating districts are in rural areas and the Jersey Shore where there are many Interdistrict Choice participants.  Allenhurst students, for instance, are supposed to attend school in Asbury Park (perhaps NJ's lowest performing district), but it's easy to imagine these students attending school in Deal through Interdistrict Choice instead.

Englewood and Englewood Cliffs have appealed this decision in the past, but I hope that the decision sticks.

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