JACKSON – Members of the Jackson Board of Education recently approved its 2020-21 spending plan following a virtual public hearing. The budget was hit hard by the S-2 state aid funding formula.
The recent meeting offered residents an opportunity to view and participate remotely. They were able to view the meeting through the district’s JTV Youtube Channel at jtvlive.org or on the township’s public access Channel 77 for Cablevision customers.
School Superintendent Stephen Genco, like many superintendents in the state, has been highly critical of state aid funding formula referred to as S-2, and has been involved in efforts to persuade Gov. Phil Murphy and Senate President Steve Sweeney to review and revise it.
Genco said, “this is the hardest budget I have worked on in many, many years. When you lose $3.6 million over two years, and are now losing another $3.5 million this year, it becomes impossible to handle without feeling the pain.’’
Board member Sharon Dye said, “Each year it has been getting more and more difficult. I’ve been on the Board of Education for over 12 years and unfortunately every year I’m starting to see things we worked very hard on to build we are seeing every stitch being pulled and pulled by our elected officials of the state. I want to thank the Mayor and Township Council for really coming through.”
Dye was referencing the million dollars that the township transferred to the school district to aid its spending plan. “You came to help us in our time of need and we thank you very much.
“I would urge the governor to look beyond his little circle and start supporting all the towns and all the school districts because you are dismantling many. It is very frustrating as a parent and resident to watch this continue to happen,” Dye said.
She added, “$1.3 million the first year, $2.3 million last year, $3.5 million this year and possibly $4 million next year. This is becoming impossible to sustain.”
Board President Michael Walsh added, “I thank the mayor and council for helping us during our time of distress and I hope they keep that ear open in the future because that distress is not going away.”
The Approved Budget
The total school tax rate under the now approved budget is $1.390 per $100 of assessed home value, which is an increase of .0171 cents from the previous year’s budget.
It will cost the average homeowner approximately $56 more per year in school taxes, based on the average home assessment of $328,520, as provided by the tax assessor’s office.
The $152,661,707 tentative budget is up a total of .76 percent from the previous school budget. The general fund tax levy is increasing by 2 percent, or $1,723,423. The district will receive $44,291,564 in state aid, which is a reduction by $3,281,504 from last year.
This marked Genco’s last budget as he is retiring as superintendent on July 1. He noted that the district’s position would have been even more dire if the Township Council had not voted on March 24 to utilize $1 million in surplus funds to help preserve certain elements of the district’s programs and services.
Earlier Budget Would Have Cut Deeper
Prior to the Council’s transfer of surplus funds, the district’s tentative spending plan featured numerous losses such as: class sizes that would increase in every school; greatly diminished staffing for interventionists, who serve educationally at-risk students; ending all before- and after-school enrichment programs; and eliminating all freshmen sports.
Genco was concerned about those cuts. “After having made so many other reductions and cuts, those losses would have forever altered the course of our instruction for next year, and years to come,’’ he said.
“We are so grateful to the Township for stepping in and helping ensure that Jackson students do not lose these vital supports, programs and opportunities,” he added.
Mayor Michael Reina said in March that the funding losses being experienced by the district were “atrocious and the programs and services that were on the chopping block would have been devastating. During times like this we are not the township and the district, we are one Jackson.”
There Will Still Be Deep Cuts
Even with the township’s intervention, the district’s budget will include reductions in positions, including in the area of administration, across-the-board reductions in all budget areas and the elimination of all capital improvement projects except for those included in an Energy Savings Improvement Program (ESIP) that will provide energy savings.
The spending plan maintains current investments in curriculum and technology, but does not allow the district to make needed capital improvements or significant curricular advancements.
“This is a very lean budget,’’ Genco said. “There is no way around that. We cannot survive S-2. If these cuts continue, it will be insurmountable.”
“Save Our Schools”
Genco said the district will continue to battle for changes to this school funding formula, which he said is categorically unfair to Jackson given the district’s level of efficiency and responsible spending. He said the district is part of the SOS or Save Our Schools coalition and is also involved in a lawsuit to try to force a change in this law.
Board members and administrators maintain that Jackson’s School District spends below the state average and is efficient and responsible with the monies entrusted by the taxpayers of Jackson. It is not “overfunded.”
The district wants the state to freeze the implementation of this school funding law so that the true impact to districts like Jackson can be understood and corrected.
The Board would like to see a state task force formed to address the flaws of the school funding formula, so it can be applied fairly to all.