Governor: Unlock the Task Force report!

At town meetings, press conferences, radio and TV appearances, Gov. Chris Christie has made loud and clear his intent to change the face of public education in New Jersey.

The Christie administration has capped superintendent’s pay, touted school vouchers, championed charter schools and challenged tenure rights as an obstacle to shedding bad teachers.

On April 4, 2011, Gov. Christie appointed an Education Transformation Task Force “… to find ways to reduce energy-sapping government and red tape that wastes time and resources … (and to) give the leaders in our schools the flexibility they need to drive innovation in the classroom and deliver the best results.”

The volunteer panel was charged with recommending strategies for upping student achievement, improving administrative and teaching effectiveness and making students safer in school.

The task force, whose ranks included former Kearny Schools Supt. Frank Digesere, was due to report back to the Governor by Sept. 1, 2011. A preliminary report was expected by Aug. 15.

Well, that deadline passed almost nine months ago and there’s been no report issued. We tried to get a copy by filing an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, which was denied.

DOE communications staff offered this explanation: “The report has not yet been completed and is still in draft form. Therefore, it would not be subject to OPRA. The Task Force is committed to providing real relief to schools, educators, and taxpayers through deregulation, and given the enormity of this charge, has been given additional time by the Governor to successfully complete the task. The Governor granted an extension and the Task Force is working to complete the report, but it is not going to be shared until it is complete.”

We shared this information with our local contact, Frank Digesere, who seemed perplexed to hear this.

“It’s the first I’m hearing it’s not complete,” Digesere said. “As far as I know, we sent a completed report Jan. 15 (2012) to the Department of Education.”

Later, after conferring with DOE, Digesere told us he was advised that the report’s release has been “pushed back because of other pressing issues” on the Governor’s plate.

While Digesere said he was bound by an agreement signed by the entire panel not to disclose the report’s contents prematurely, he did offer some details about its preparation. “We met two to three times a month for six months and we spent four to five hours per session discussing our findings,” he said.

Meetings were held at DOE offices in Trenton and at the Bordentown offices of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, which was “more centrally located” for many of the panel members, he said.

Other members of the Task Force are: Angel Cordero, co-founder of the Camden Education Resource Network; Angela R. Davis, Teaneck High School principal; Linda DuBois, Pittsgrove Township Middle School teacher and Pittsgrove mayor; Donald E. Goncalves, Elizabeth Board of Education assistant secretary; Bruce Litinger, executive director of ECLC of New Jersey, a nonprofit agency that provides education and jobs for people with special needs; and Michael J. Osnato, a Seton Hall University educational administrator.

If the Governor is being genuine about the need to reform the state’s educational system, we would think he’d push to get this report out in the open for public discussion and debate – and, presumably, Legislative action.

We know Gov. Christie is not bashful in making known his feelings about public issues.

So, Governor, we call on you, as a public service, for further enlightenment on educational progress in New Jersey.

– Ron Leir

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