BERKELEY – As a lot of towns are fighting cuts in state funding for school districts, Berkeley officials are mounting a case for aid they never get.
The issue comes up from time to time in town, but the controversial S-2 law has brought this to the forefront again. S-2 has cut millions of dollars from local towns including Toms River, Brick and Jackson. As these districts lose students, they lose funding to districts that have increasing enrollments.
Councilman James Byrnes opened up a discussion about it at a recent Township Council meeting. He said Trenton has been unfair in how it doles out aid for years, and S-2 is just a small segment.
In Berkeley, half their taxes go to school districts, but in some cities it’s closer to 3 percent, he said.
This is because some districts are designated as Abbott districts. This stems from a lawsuit, Abbott vs. Burke, where the state courts declared that the way schools were funded was unfair. In essence, poor towns couldn’t afford a “thorough and efficient” education for their kids, which is required by law. So, state funding had to fill in the gaps. Now, there are 31 districts throughout New Jersey that qualify for such assistance.
However, times change and some of those districts are not poor anymore, Berkeley officials said. For example, Hoboken has become gentrified. According to 2018 census data, the median household income is $136,402.
Mayor Carmen Amato said Berkeley’s median income is $43,588. He also said that according to census data, 11 of the 31 Abbott districts had a higher average income than Berkeley.
A half-joking discussion came up about why not petition to make Berkeley an Abbott district. Officials said the case had been made before, but being an Abbott district gives a connotation that it’s a bad neighborhood.
Resident Fred Bekiarian came up to the microphone during the public portion of the meeting and talked about some of the research he’s done. He said the money is allocated by political strength. It appears as though communities where there are more Democrats get the money from the Democrats in office in Trenton.
“I don’t know how to take money out of those districts” without hurting them, he said.
There is not a very strong accounting for where that money goes, Byrnes said. There should be programs to keep kids out of gangs and off drugs. Instead, city schools are spending this money but kids are still dropping out.
The governing body reiterated their support of a bill that had been written some time ago that put an equal dollar amount on each student. The state would give aid per child.