Lawyer Hired To Fight School Aid Cuts

Attorney Mark Tabakin of the Weiner Law Firm made a presentation to the Board of Education about the lawsuit against the state. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

BRICK – The Board of Education hired a lawyer to challenge the New Jersey Department of Education plan to cut millions in state funding.

The township could be forced to raise school taxes after the Murphy administration agreed to a $37.4 billion budget that would cut adjustment aid to districts that are considered to be overfunded, which includes Brick.

The lost adjustment aid would be re-appropriated to other districts that the Senate President Stephen Sweeney said were underfunded.

The Board of Education voted recently to retain the services of attorney Mark Tabakin of the Weiner Law Firm of Parsippany and Red Bank. The cost is not to exceed $10,000.

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The cost of litigation is subject to change after consultation with other potential litigants. In the event there is a need for additional funds, the proposed expense would be considered by the Board of Education.

“Our district along with others must make our voices heard on behalf of the students and our community,” Superintendent of Schools Gerard Dalton said in a press release.

Current funding patterns use weighted formulas to steer money to districts based on the number of high-need students, and the ability to raise revenue through property taxes. The Board believes other factors have been ignored by the current formula: an increase in English Language Learners to the district, the high percentage of special needs students and the loss of ratables due to Superstorm Sandy.

Brick Township Board of Education. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

The district and township believe the Commissioner of Education “has ignored the legislative mandate of the New Jersey School Funding Reform Act of 2008 and the determination of aid was arbitrary and inconsistent in determining the distribution of aid therefore in violation of the SFRA,” a school district press release said.

The governing body of Brick is also fighting against the change.

In June, Mayor Ducey called on Governor Murphy to veto Senate Bill 2, that cut the funding to over 100 school districts, but during the Oct. 9 council meeting, Mayor John G. Ducey said the governor was unresponsive.

“Unfortunately, the governor didn’t listen to us, so our kids are getting a bunch of money stolen from them by our state government and given to other towns,” Ducey said. The Township Council passed a resolution in support of the board of education’s lawsuit.

The Brick Township School District is receiving less than the state aid it should have otherwise received, the mayor said. This year alone the loss is $1,913,022.

“That’s a crazy amount of money,” Ducey said. “Two million dollars directly out of our children’s education.”

The seven-year incremental plan calls for Brick losing $23,244,000 by year seven, but that’s not the worst of it, Ducey said.

“If you don’t replenish that money, it’s not there, so this year we’re definitely not getting $2 million and that $2 million turns into more than $2 million next year, so the cumulative loss for the district from the 2017-2018 school year through 2024-2025 school year is going to be over $42 million,” he said.

The New Jersey Constitution provides funds for the support of free public school to be annually appropriated for the equal benefit of all people of the state, including Brick Township, which the legislature is violating, explained Ducey, who is an attorney.

An additional constitutional basis for the lawsuit is the violation of due process rights of the Brick taxpayers – who are unfairly and without due process of law – being imposed an arbitrary and unreasonable property tax burden, he said.

“It doesn’t make any sense. Why is a kid in another district worth more than a kid here in Brick Township?” Ducey asked. “They’re not. Every kid should be equal funded, and it’s just a total abomination of our constitution here in New Jersey.”

The district has no choice but to pursue litigation to have this matter heard by the administrative law judge, he added.

Resident Cathy Erickson said that Toms River is in the same boat as Brick (The Toms River School District stands to lose some $71 million over the course of seven years).

“Are we working in conjunction with them to get more people? I realize that Trenton doesn’t really listen to us, we’re not the cities, we don’t have the voter base,” she said. “I’m tired of my taxes going up to pay for people in North Jersey.”

Planner Retires

In other news, the mayor announced that long-time township planner Michael Fowler would retire on November 1 after serving the township for 25 years.

“Michael leaves a remarkable legacy of kindness and true stewardship for our township. The hallmarks of his legacy include a commitment to protecting parklands and open space with an overall goal of making Brick more accessible through pedestrian paths, bike trails, pocket parks, and conservation areas,” said Ducey during the council meeting.

Fowler has driven the land use policy for Brick, and has balanced the constant demand for development with the need for pedestrian accessibility, the mayor said.

Retiring planner Michael Fowler (white shirt) is presented the key to the city. (Photo courtesy Brick Township)

Part of Fowler’s responsibility has been planning for the township’s affordable housing obligation, which has been to scatter affordable homes throughout neighborhoods instead of constructing large apartment complexes, as many other townships have done, the Ducey said.

Fowler was the driving force behind the farmer’s market, the community garden, bicycle racks in parks, and much more, including paying for shopping carts in the Costco parking lot, preventing runaway carts.

“Mike has always done what is best for Brick,” the mayor said.

The next Board of Education meeting will be on Thursday November 15 at 7 p.m. in the Professional Development Center at the Veterans Complex.

– Jennifer Peacock contributed to this article