2012-07-24 / Front Page

School districts split anti-bullying funds

Old Bridge interim supt. sees some positive effects of reporting requirements
BY ADAM JOSEPH DRICI
Staff Writer

EAST BRUNSWICK — New Jersey’s landmark Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights may no longer be an unfunded mandate, but for many school districts it is a thoroughly under-funded one.

In April, the state Legislature passed a law allocating $1 million to the Bullying Prevention Fund to help school districts implement the new anti-bullying measures and keep the 2011 law on the books.

But with nearly 400 school districts filing requests for a combined $1 million, funds were quickly exhausted and districts received only about one-fifth of the amount requested.

For the Camden school district, that worked out to an award of $38,519, topping the list. For the Oradell schools in Bergen County, the number was $46, which was still more than the $36 allotted to Haledon borough schools in Passaic County.

“I didn’t realize they could arrange for such an infinitesimal portion of that funding,” said East Brunswick Board of Education Vice President Meredith Shaw at the board’s July 12 meeting.

East Brunswick’s schools filed a request for $33,000 to cover expenses incurred from training staff members to handle issues associated with harassment, intimidation or bullying (HIB), as well as the preventative Rachel’s Challenge program for students, the Olweus bullying prevention program and the Second Step curriculum administered to students.

East Brunswick’s final award totaled $6,764, roughly 20 percent of the amount the district asked for.

“I just think that it continues to put the public school districts in the state of New Jersey really under a great disadvantage as they try to implement these (HIB) laws and to try to treat children fairly,” said Shaw.

The $3,306 awarded to the Old Bridge School District, a similarly small portion of funds requested, was less of a surprise to Interim Superintendent of Schools Tim Brennan.

While $1 million may sound like a large amount of money to an individual resident, the Old Bridge School District’s annual budget is more than $140 million.

“Everybody knew, I think, that it was going to make a very small dent in what we had to do,” said Brennan, in reference to splitting less than 1 percent of the district’s 2012-13 budget with 370 other districts that sought the HIB funding.

The lack of additional funds and the extra paperwork aside, Brennan said the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights and its requirements for faculty and staff have had an overall positive effect on students and the school environment.

“It does appear to be yielding some important information,” he said, noting that the most frequently checked category in HIB reports has been the one indicating that the bully did not realize the effect his or her behavior would have on the other person.

“I believe the HIB law has helped us identify a problem; that’s the good news,” Brennan said. “The right thing has been done for some kids.”

Contact Adam Joseph Drici at adrici@gmnews.com.

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