N.J. shortchanges schools on anti-bullying grants - pressofAtlanticCity.com: Breaking News

N.J. shortchanges schools on anti-bullying grants - pressofAtlanticCity.com: Breaking News

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N.J. shortchanges schools on anti-bullying grants

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Posted: Thursday, July 5, 2012 7:51 pm | Updated: 8:43 pm, Thu Jul 5, 2012.

School districts and charter schools requested almost $5 million in reimbursement for the cost of implementing the state’s new anti-bullying law in 2011-12, data provided by the state Department of Education show.

But they will receive only 20 percent of that because the state authorized only $1 million for the program, leaving the law open to another legal challenge as an unfunded state mandate.

Statewide, 371 public school districts and charter schools applied for reimbursement, slightly more than half of the total in the state.

Locally, the largest reimbursement went to Pleasantville, which requested almost $55,000 and received $11,185.

Pleasantville Superintendent Garnell Bailey said district faculty underwent a lot of training to make sure everyone knew what the law required. The district also brought in some new anti-bullying programs, prepared a monthly report on incidents for the school board and made counseling available for students and families.

“The grant doesn’t come close to covering the costs,” she said.

The state Council on Local Mandates ruled in January that the anti-bullying law was unconstitutional because New Jersey did not provide any money to implement it. State officials had said districts could implement the law using existing staff and funding, but the Allamuchy Township School District in Warren County disagreed and filed a complaint with the council.

In March, Gov. Chris Christie said the state would provide $1 million in grants so the law would remain valid.

But even then, a survey by the New Jersey School Boards Association found that districts would likely need much more, with more than 200 districts saying they would need at least $2 million. The majority said funds would be needed for training and personnel and that other programs would be neglected so that existing staff could handle bullying complaints.

Frank Belluscio, spokesman for the school boards association, said the association is reviewing the issue and looking into whether it would support a new challenge to the law.

“It is hard to determine an actual value because, in addition to money spent, there was the reallocation of resources like counseling that took people away from other duties,” he said.

In March, many district officials said that since there was no funding they had simply reallocated staff to handle the bullying issues. But most had at least some expenses for staff training and supplies. Some districts paid staff an additional stipend to be the designated anti-bullying coordinator, and district officials said investigating complaints was a very time-consuming process.

Statewide, the largest grant went to Camden, which requested almost $188,000 and received $38,519.

Locally, Egg Harbor Township requested $21,120 and received $4,329. Greater Egg Harbor Regional requested $13,644 and received $2,796. Ocean City requested $20,938 and received $4,291. The only local charter school to apply for funds was the Galloway Community Charter School, which asked for $12,236 and received $2.508.

Some districts received far less. Galloway Township applied for $2,227 and got $456. Wildwood applied for $1,950 and got $400. Wildwood Crest applied for $200 and got $41, the second-smallest allocation in the state.

“You had to be able to show exactly what you spent, and some of it is hard to document,” said Martha Jamison, the new business administrator in Wildwood. “But we got $400, and it’s better than nothing.”

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