An ADR Approach to School Financing Disputes

An Order from the Supreme Court set forth responsibilities for a "collaborative regulation committee" and assigned a number of tasks to a mediator/facilitator. The Order encouraged parties to use a collaborative process to write regulations, and established a "collaborative regulation committee" that includes teachers, parents, and legislators, as well as education department officials, researchers, representatives of the Education Law Center.

The work of the committee was mediated by Sanford Jaffe and Linda Stamato, Director and Deputy Director of the Center for Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at Rutgers University.

According to Deputy Director Stamato, reaching consensus on education regulations among those who are affected by them is significant not only because it resolves a long-standing lawsuit, but because of its implications for other cases, school-related or not. Quality in the design and effective implementation of regulations is more likely to be achieved with participation by those who know best-administrators, teachers, agency personnel, researchers, and parents. The process for working collaboratively is no small piece of the problem-solving puzzle, Stamato says. After more than 20 years in litigation, momentum is finally building for consensus through mediation.

Today, the State of New York-particularly New York City-is facing the same school funding issues that New Jersey confronted, statewide, decades earlier. Former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, in an op-ed piece in the New York Times (July 20, 2003, page 11), called for a commission to "bring together all the relevant parties to reach consensus on the financing and other reforms needed to meet the court (of appeals) mandate... All interested parties-including the governor, the legislature, the city, parents, teachers, business leaders, and the plaintiffs-have a strong interest in developing a remedy that works. Face-to-face negotiations will expedite efforts to find a solution, particularly because all parties know that failure to reach consensus could result in a court-imposed solution that no one supports...."

Says Stamato: "The impact of conflict resolution in the policy arena is notable: consensus-building, problem-solving processes are increasingly seen as the way to go."

For more information on the New Jersey case, contact Linda Stamato.