By Angela Andrews
Kathy Fazzari, education section chief in New Jersey’s Office of Legislative Services (OLS), knows a thing or two about education policy.
She’s been working on it since 1981, when she was tapped to staff the Assembly’s newly created Higher Education Committee. Her career as one of the Legislature’s top education experts started with earning a master’s in social work and intersected with her interest in public policy.
Fazzari earned her degree in 1979 and began drafting health and human services bills with OLS that same year.
The New Jersey native now oversees a staff of 10: researchers, fiscal analysts, attorneys and administrative assistants. She and her team handle some of the most challenging issues in the state of New Jersey. Asked what she enjoys about working in the Legislature, Fazzari mentions the people—her team, other colleagues in OLS, partisan staff and members of the legislature.
Meeting and working with many thoughtful legislators has been a rewarding part of her job. “Legislators often get a bad rap and some people think they’re in it for themselves. When I hear this opinion expressed, I remind people that it’s a very difficult job (being a legislator) and they are there to accomplish something.”
She recalls working with former Speaker Joseph V. Doria Jr. (D), when he was the first chair of the Assembly’s Higher Education Committee and with Senator Robert Martin (R) in 1996 on school funding as two highlights, of many, in working with legislators.
When asked what traits make someone successful in the role of a nonpartisan staffer, Fazzari mentions two: patience and respect. She stresses these traits with her team and others and says the manner of interaction—with anyone—is important. She also states that confidentiality, a core value for nonpartisan staff, is important in developing relationships and building trust with legislators.
During her almost 40 years in the Legislature, Fazzari has worked on key education legislation and she’s proud of the many bills she’s drafted and advised on, including the passage of an educational facilities financing and construction bill in 2000 and the school funding formula that was passed in 2007.
What’s kept her in the legislature for almost four decades? Kathy cites constant changes and challenges. “Every day is different.” She also points to her love of politics. “I like being up close to politics, but not in the partisan fray.”
Angela Andrews is a program director in NCSL’s Legislative Staff Services Program, which provides strategic, programmatic and administrative support to the staff professional organizations of NCSL and develops training and information programs for the nation's more than 30,000 legislative staff.