The Christie administration has given Montclair and other New Jersey school districts until mid-May to seek their share of $1 million in new funding to pay for the rising costs of implementing the state’s anti-bullying law, NJ Spotlight reported this week.
But in its five-page application provided to districts, it also acknowledged the amount of money may not be adequate to go around and cover all costs.
“An application will be funded to the extent that it is approvable and funds are available,” the application reads. “If the total number of approvable applications exceeds the available funds, district awards will be pro-rated and adjusted accordingly.”
A strong demand for the money is expected. School officials and their advocates estimate the statewide costs this year have well surpassed $1 million to pay for the additional staffing and training required in the new Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights. The applications are due May 11.
Dr. Felice Harrison, assistant to Montclair's superintendent Dr. Frank Alvarez, said Wednesday that Montclair plans to apply for its share of the money by May 11.
John Donahue, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Business Officials, whose members will be the ones applying for the money, said it will be interesting to see how far this money will go.
Even if just half of the districts apply, he noted, that's only $3,000 per district.
And that’s just this year. No additional state money is proposed for next year under Gov. Christie’s fiscal 2013 budget. His budget does set aside nearly $160,000 to pay for two training experts inside the state Department of Education to assist districts.
The cost of the landmark law and New Jersey’s ability to pay those costs has drawn statewide attention. The state’s Council on Local Mandates ruled in January that the law enacted last year was unconstitutional as an unfunded state mandate. It was ruling on a complaint filed by the Allamuchy school district in Warren County, which contended the law had cost an estimated $30,000 in stipends and training.
That led to the legislature in a quick vote to amend the law last month and provide $1 million to districts for this year’s costs. The amendment also created a new commission to track the implementation of the law. Christie, who signed it on March 26, helped broker the amendment.
Considered one of the toughest in the country, the law requires districts to assign specific staff in every school to serve as the point person to investigate bullying complaints. It lays out timelines and procedures for how and when those matters are resolved. It also requires all teachers and staff to be trained in prevention strategies both in and outside the classroom.
That all costs money, local districts contend, and a recent survey by Donahue’s organization and the state’s School Boards Association found responding districts spending as much as $40,000 more for added stipends, programs and training.