BRICK – School as well as Township officials are urging Trenton to restore funding as the district faces a $2.54 million cut for the 2023-24 school year. Despite the heavy blow, there may be hope on the horizon.
According to the NJ Department of Education, the total state aid for Brick School District is $14,632,033, down $2,542,260 – a 14.80% decrease.
“The reduction in aid is what was expected due to the continued loss of State Aid via the S-2 legislation. The loss will continue to negatively impact the Brick schools and provide challenges for maintaining educational programs,” Business Administrator Jim Edwards told Jersey Shore Online.
The new school funding formula known as “S-2” took effect in 2018. Since then, Brick schools lost 49% of their state aid, according to Superintendent Thomas Farrell.
When the state aid numbers were published, the township immediately expressed its outrage. Farrell published a 15-page report stating how schools are short millions of dollars, which are needed to fund a fair and adequate education.
“S-2 claimed that aid would be cut commensurate with enrollment decreases, but that is not true for Brick, with an enrollment having only decreased 10%,” Farrell said in his report. “Brick’s current budget can only generate $2.4M due to the State mandated 2% tax levy cap. Thus, as we further fall below adequacy, it would take Brick over seven years to catch up to other districts.”
Despite increasing class sizes and reducing staff, the school district’s budget rose from $153.2 million to $163 million.
“With inflation, cost-of-living increases, and other costs increasing substantially, we are in the ‘perfect storm’ fiscally. State aid to the affected S-2 districts has been reduced at an exorbitant rate that far outpaces what these districts can replenish annually and put back. These are dire times financially and Brick Schools is bleeding budgetarily. Where is the money going? Not to Brick!” Farrell wrote.
Brick Mayor Lisa Crate and the Township Council wrote a letter to Senator Vin Gopal opposing to the $2.54 million reduction in school funding.
“As a public-school educator for over 30 years, Mayor Crate is intimately familiar with the need for this funding and the harm these reductions will do to our school district and our taxpayers. Mayor Crate has sent a letter to State Senator Vin Gopal, Chair of the Senate Education Committee voicing her opposition to the funding cuts,” the Township said in a statement.
The Council also created a resolution opposing the cuts, which was approved unanimously. In the resolution, the Mayor and Council “demand that Governor Murphy and the State Legislature revise the school funding formula.”
Farrell discussed the short- and long-term solutions as S-2 continues to affect the district.
“A short-term solution is for the State to utilize some of the unspent billions in federal dollars received and in reserve, and re-allocate monies to those districts negatively affected by S-2 and that are way below adequacy. In addition, the State can re-look at Adequacy Aid and how it is dispersed presently and possibly re-purpose that money based on change is school aid funding over the last few years,” Farrell said.
“A long-term solution is that the State must re-evaluate the school funding formula so as to provide a thorough and efficient education for all students in New Jersey by striving to bring all public-school districts to adequacy – the State’s base threshold established for a constitutional ‘T&E’ education for students,” Farrell added.
Have their voices been heard? Well, it seems that the state may be handing out additional aid to districts who were hit hard by S-2.
On March 20, the Senate passed S-3732. It states that if a school district suffered from a reduction in aid under S-2 for the 2023-2024 school year, they would receive 66% of the cut aid back. It appropriates $102,784,455 toward that goal. The money is coming from the Property Tax Relief Fund.
The Assembly version, A-5328, has only just been introduced. An official said that this version will go to a vote on March 30 and that the governor has said he will sign it if it goes to his desk. The results were not known by deadline.
This additional money would be Supplemental Stabilization Aid, and it would only be a one-time award. A district will have to write to the Commissioner of Education with a plan on how they will use the fund, and how they will manage in future years if they don’t get the same kind of stabilization again.