Still No Answers To School Budget Crisis

Parents expressed concerns about the Herbertsville Elementary School at the most recent Board of Education meeting.( Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

  BRICK – Could Brick schools benefit from a payroll tax to recoup some of the millions of dollars that are being cut in state aid?

  NJ Senate bill S-2, first proposed by Senate President Stephen Sweeney in 2017 and then signed into law by Governor Phil Murphy in 2018, cuts “adjustment aid” to school districts that the state has deemed to be overfunded, including Brick Township schools.

  During a recent Board of Education meeting, Herbertsville Elementary School parent Cindy Cory asked the payroll tax question since there have been rumors that her children’s school – or another township school – might be closing since increasing amounts of state aid are being cut each year from the district.

  She asked if the administration is familiar with Jersey City’s one-percent payroll tax that goes directly towards funding their school district, and asked if Brick could do the same thing.

  “If that would be something Brick could possibly do, with all the businesses in Brick benefitting from all of us shopping here, it seems like it could be a profitable thing to put a half a percent payroll tax,” Cory said.

Business Administrator James Edwards discusses the funding hole the state created. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

  She asked if the administration has come up with any ways to “fix the revenue problem” since the August meeting aside from “begging the state to give us emergency funding.”

  School Business Administrator James Edwards said since the August Board of Education meeting, the administration has been busy dealing with the emergency aid application, answering questions to the state about why the Brick School District is entitled to the aid, and other state aid litigation.

  “The payroll tax issue was actually written into the S-2 legislation, that [Jersey City] could have a one-percent payroll tax imposed upon the employers of that city,” Edwards said.

Brick is losing some $24 million over seven years, but Jersey City is slated to lose some $140 million over the same time period, Edwards said.

  “So they gave them a…vehicle to try and raise additional revenue, but they didn’t give that opportunity to anyone else to do what you’re suggesting,” Edwards said to Cory.

  The state legislation would have to pass a law in order for Brick to add a payroll tax, he added.

  Anything is possible, said Board President Stephanie Wohlrab. “I think that based on the conversations I’ve had, [legislators] are looking at avenues to assist us – some concern me greatly, because I think we’re in a state where we’re taxed a lot.”

  Wohlrab said she thinks the state is “looking at a lot of things,” and that “some things are going to be coming out, especially as the amounts we are losing each year are getting greater and greater.”

  New Jersey school districts are required to produce balanced budgets, Wohlrab said, so her biggest concern is the avenues the legislature will be forced to go to since the district has to cut $4.2 million from the 2020-21 school year budget.

  “You’re cutting out people, buildings, facilities…it’s a vicious cycle, that as we try to cut, to meet our budget, the bigger ticket items we have to cut from actually plummet us further into not meeting adequacy,” she said. “How do we do that?”

  Herbertsville Elementary School PTA President Chrissie Arif said that rumors continue to swirl that the school building is being sold by the district to people who are interested in making it a private school.

  “Once again, this rumor sent the parents of Herbertsville School into a spiral of emotions,” Arif read from a prepared statement during the Board of Education meeting.

Budget concerns are on the minds of district officials, including (from left) Board member Victoria Pakala, Board Attorney Ben Montenegro, Board President Stephanie Wohlrab, Acting Superintendent Sean Cranston, and Director of Planning Research and Evaluation Susan McNamara.( Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

  “I ask you tonight to please give the parents a more transparent look into what is in the future,” she said. “We all understand the budget cuts and we are ready and able to do what is needed to not only save Herbertsville but to save the Brick School District.”

  She said that closing Herbertsville Elementary would result other district schools becoming overcrowded, learning conditions would plummet, teachers and staff would lose their jobs, and families would move out of the district.

  Acting Superintendent of Schools Sean Cranston said that the administration has not made any decisions on school closings, but the process would be totally transparent.

  “We were looking at several options, possibly, not just Herbertsville but other schools,” he said. “We have to keep our options open.”

  With a new budget season approaching, Cranston said “we’re going to have to have an answer pretty soon.”

  The next Board of Education meeting will be a special meeting on Tuesday October 15 at 7 p.m. at the Professional Development Center.