$102M Deal Set To Ease NJ School Funding Cuts, Gopal, Murphy Say

2M Deal Set To Ease NJ School Funding Cuts, Gopal, Murphy Say

NEW JERSEY — New Jersey school districts facing potentially crippling state funding cuts are set to get some relief under a $102 million deal reached late Thursday, State Sen. confirmed. Vin Gopal on Friday.

The deal would restore 66 percent of the funding set to be cut for more than 150 school districts slated to be cut under Gov. Gov. Phil Murphy, said Gopal, who chairs the state Senate Education Committee.

According to a statement released by Murphy’s office Friday, districts that see cuts in state funding under S2 will be able to request up to 66 percent of the difference between the aid they received for 2022-23 and the aid amounts proposed for 2023-24 .

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“All eligible districts that submit a request to the Commissioner of Education will receive this additional funding, and must include a written plan indicating how they intend to fund operations in future years when the aid it is no longer available,” the statement said.

The agreement is spelled out in bill S-3732, which is scheduled for introduction and a vote on Monday beginning in the Senate Budget and Appropriations committee.

Find out what’s happening in Toms Riverwith free, real-time updates from Patch.

“Our schools have come under tremendous pressure in the last three years due to the pandemic, from uncertainty about resources, learning recovery and a growing teacher shortage,” Gopal said. “Now is not the time for more uncertainty, or the time for districts to be asked to do less at the exact moment they are trying to regain some sense of normalcy.”

“As we work toward ensuring equal access to the high-quality education that every student deserves, this additional funding will support districts in adjusting to changes in aid under the funding formula of our state’s school,” Murphy said. “I am grateful to our legislative partners for their cooperation in reaching this agreement on behalf of educators, students, and their communities this upcoming school year.”

Gopal, in an interview with Patch, said the next step is addressing the S2 funding formula that led to aid cuts for 2023-24 that were more than any district expected or planned for and created crisis for districts less than two. weeks from submitting their tentative budget for the coming school year.

S2, signed into law in 2018, targets districts that are said to be overfunded and losing enrollment, specifically districts receiving so-called “adjustment aid” when the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 took effect .

The S2 cuts, which were supposed to be spread over seven years — the 2024-25 budget will be the last year — eliminated adjustment aid for most districts receiving it in the 2020-21 budget. The focus has shifted to the “local fair share,” which the state defines as what it says school district residents must pay in property taxes to support their schools. It is determined by a complex algorithm that is still the subject of litigation under the Open Public Records Act lawsuit.

The S2 aid cuts are set to end in the 2024-25 school budget year, but there is no indication of what will happen after that.

“We unanimously passed a bill in the Senate to re-examine the funding formula,” Gopal said, “but the Assembly didn’t hear it. We need the Assembly to pass that bill so we can move forward. “

Efforts to address the cuts have been underway since state school funding numbers were released in early March.

Gopal said lawmakers are putting pressure on Murphy to address the drastic cuts that have sparked outcry across the state, especially given the short time for districts to respond. Gopal also confirmed that he refuses to support Murphy’s proposed budget unless and until the severity of the cuts are addressed.

One of the hardest hit this year is the Toms River Regional School District, which is slated for a $14.4 million cut in aid, a 31.77 percent cut that would otherwise be devastating, Superintendent Michael Citta said. At Wednesday’s school board meeting, Citta said the $14.4 million cut would leave Toms River unable to provide a well-rounded education — a violation of the state constitution and state law.

Freehold Regional High School District, hit hard by S2, is slated for $6.7 million in cuts for 2023-24, Superintendent Charles Sampson said the district was caught off guard because they expect a $2.1 million cut, which is called “catastrophic.”

“This district has never seen a cut of this magnitude,” Lacey Township Superintendent Vanessa Pereira said in a March 14 letter to parents, saying the nearly $4 million in aid cuts would create a budget crisis with “drastic cuts to our operating budget that would be painful and widespread.”

“This sad news was not seen because we were working on a schedule provided by the state,” said South Brunswick Superintendent Scott Feder, whose The district is saddled with a $4 million cut, a 20.6 percent decrease from 2022-23. “Basically we’re being asked to run a $160 million organization with anonymous information.”

In Hillsborough, the only district in Somerset County to lose funding, a cut of $913,103 is “… more money than we expected to lose,” said Superintendent Michael Volpe. While the cuts don’t force his district to lay off staff, “If we continue to go in a direction where we continue to lose state funding something will eventually have to give.”

The cuts were heavily criticized as Murphy announced a statewide education funding increase that included more than $836 million in funding for K-12 schools, and as the state sits on a $10 billion surplus.

“These cuts will devastate our schools, and I’m thankful that we’ve come up with a solution to ensure that the quality of education for all New Jersey students is not compromised,” said Sen. Andrew Zwicker, who was part of the group negotiating the change.

School officials across the state also said the cuts are particularly damaging as districts continue to struggle with the effects of the pandemic in terms of mental health issues and addressing academic deficits.

Gopal said municipal officials, including Toms River Mayor Maurice Hill and Brick Township Mayor Lisa Crate (who is also a teacher and president of the Jackson Township Education Association) have met with lawmakers and state officials and are upset over the detailed impact that cuts can have. in their hometown districts, which Gopal said helped move officials to soften the blow.

“The two mayors really did a great job of teaching everyone,” Gopal said. “We were able to show them how devastating the cuts are.”

Citta, the Toms River superintendent, said the 66 percent adjustment, which would leave Toms River with a $4.9 million cut, is a welcome start.

“We are proud of our state for recognizing the impact of State Bill S2 on our district, and we recognize the extensive work done by our local and state representatives to provide relief to Toms River and other affected districts from the latest round of reducing state aid,” he said. “While we plan to continue diplomatically working to bring back the additional $4-plus million we need to adequately fund the 2023-2024 school year, this latest step leaves us more optimistic that, through working together, we can do what’s best for our children.”

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