After Governor Phil Murphy passed a new state funding formula in 2018, the Jefferson Township school district lost over $2 million in aid and is projected to lose millions more in the next five years.
These cuts brought an unexpected challenge to a district already facing problems from a decline in enrollment and have left the Board of Education, along with Superintendent Jeanne Howe, to struggle with passing a balanced budget that both maintains old programs and implements the district goals for 21st century learning.
“I’m going to be very honest with you. It’s going to be very difficult,” Howe told The Jefferson Chronicle about how losing state aid will affect balancing a budget.
But the board isn’t the only group involved in making up for these losses. When Howe and Supervisor of Social Studies, Fine Arts, and Technology Daniel Papa approached long-time residents Harold Ramirez and Paul Castimore about creating a group to raise funds for the district, the two heavily involved parents didn’t hesitate to take on the task.
Shortly after the state aid cuts were passed last year, Ramirez and Castimore created the Jefferson Township Education Foundation (JTEF), a non-profit organization that provides grants for support, technology, and educational facilities.
“I really enjoy giving back to the kids,” Ramirez, the president of JTEF, said. “I think it’s great when you walk into a school, and the kids have extra things that the school can’t produce for them right now because of the budget cuts that we have unfortunately had. It’s self-gratifying that we can give back.”
At the beginning of each school year, the group sends out a grant request form throughout the district and accepts a few projects to fundraise for throughout the year. In its first fundraiser alone, which was raffling off a Jeep Renegade donated to the non-profit, JTEF raised about $28,000.
With those funds, the group donated nearly $10,000 to the district, benefiting more than 1,000 students. The group plans to donate more in the future. The projects included tools that teach programming, a digital piano that replaced one that was no longer serviceable, a student ninja course for athletics, and educational resources for calculus.