Budget concerns brought upon by the school funding bill S-2 took center stage at the Jefferson Township Board of Education’s monthly meeting on February 17. The ongoing crisis was covered in a presentation hosted by superintendent Jeanne Howe.
Enacted in July 2018, S-2 calculates a difference between the school district’s total state aid allocation in the current budget year and the pre-budget year. Districts with a positive differential are labeled “overfunded” and receive reduced state funding. Cumulative estimated losses to Jefferson Township in state aid could reach over $38 million by the 2024-25 school year.
“The taxpayers and the community should be most concerned about the state decreasing the amount of school aid that is given to our district,” Howe told The Jefferson Chronicle after the meeting held at Jefferson Township High School. “This will have a significant negative impact on our schools and students.”
S-2’s passing ended aid previously provided by the School Funding Reform Act implemented in 2011, three years after its passing. Under the SFRA, state aid was based on enrollment and equalization aid was consistent from 2013 through 2018. In a retrospective piece on the bill for New Jersey Policy Perspective, Rutgers University professor Dr. Bruce D. Baker referred to the SFRA as “never a perfect law” but “a model state school finance policy.”
Among the steps already taken in combatting the crisis include closing Robert F. Drummond School in Lake Hopatcong and a yearly review of health benefit provider costs. New sources of revenue have also been sought, including tuition being charged for the general education preschool program.
More recent cutdown responses include delaying or postponing several upgrade projects, such as those to facilities and technology (i.e. student laptops). There are more dire consequences feared in the long-term, such as the elimination of non-core programs and increased costs to already beleaguered parents.
Howe, flanked by Assistant Superintendent Roger Jinks and School Business Administrator Rita Giacchi, showcased a potentially more constructive plan against the crisis, introducing a plan for in-house academies at JTHS. The first such endeavor would be a Multimedia, Broadcasting, and Journalism Academy. Among the courses offered would be Communications, Broadcast Journalism, and Video Production. The initial plan hopes to involve at least 15 students in the inaugural edition of the program.
The academies would combat the problem of losing students to Morris County School of Technology. The district does not receive state aid for students who attend one of MCST’s academies, leading to expenses of $1.5 million toward tuition and transportation.
“We do not receive aid for students who attend Morris County School of Technology, yet we must pay tuition and transport the students to the various academies across the county,” Howe said when asked about the academies project. “By providing this great opportunity and keeping students in the district, we will be augmenting our academic program, increasing our school aid, and decreasing the costs of transportation.”
Howe called the community to action, hoping they will be able to convince lawmakers to review S-2 and find a more balanced budget plan. The ultimate goal, as expressed during the meeting is to “fairly fund all 1.4 million students in New Jersey.”
“Community members can use this information to contact their representatives to ask them to slow down or suspend S-2 until the funding formula is reviewed,” she said. “Additional information and action steps will be communicated through the district’s Facebook page and Twitter.”
The BOE’s next meeting comes on March 16.