JACKSON – Township Council members voted to utilize $1 million in surplus funds to help the Jackson School District avoid several deep cuts to its programs and services.
Many local districts have been hurting after a law named S-2 redirected state aid away from schools that are losing enrollment and gave the aid to schools with increasing enrollment. Local officials have pointed out a number of issues with S-2, and have been fighting it for a few years now.
“Since Governor Murphy took office, most of the local school district budgets have been under constant assault. It baffles me how he can strip our school districts of such needed funding, leaving the community to figure out how to either make up the difference or live within our district’s shameful new budget but then offer free college tuition at the same time,’’ Mayor Michael Reina said.
The mayor asked, “where does his commitment to serving the needs of all K-12 New Jersey school children lie exactly?”
“The funding losses being experienced by the district are atrocious and the programs and services that were on the chopping block would have been devastating,” the mayor said.
He added that there was a state law that “allows us to help the district offset some of these losses, and we followed it to do what we could to help.”
Reina added, “through sound financial responsibility in Jackson, we are in a position to help our school district continue to provide the needed programs. During times like this we are not the Township and the District, we are one Jackson.”
Due to S-2, the Jackson School District has lost $3.6 million in school aid over the past two years. For this coming budget year, the district is looking at another $3.5 million loss. Over the full seven years of implementation, the district stands to lose more than $18 million in state aid.
As a result of this funding loss, the district’s tentative budget included the following losses: 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.
Responding to the Council’s action, School District Superintendent Stephen Genco said, “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.”
“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 said.
While the township’s support was vital, the district’s tentative budget will still 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 other than those included in an Energy Savings Improvement Program (ESIP) that will provide energy savings.
First Online Meeting
In response to the COVID-19 restrictions that limited public gatherings to 10 people, something that would be problematic to a meeting of the council, the governing body’s most recent session was held online.
That public meeting embraced some modern technology in the form of a free computer program called Zoom that allowed public officials and residents to interact online.
“While we navigate through this difficult time, you will continue to see changes made to standard operating procedures in order to comply with guidelines set forth by Governor Phil Murphy,” Reina said.
Reina added, “these guidelines are not put into effect as mere suggestions, they are to be taken seriously in order to stop the spread of COVID-19. If we all do our part, we can curb this threat – as a community, state and nation.”
Reviewing some of the changes already implemented, Reina said they included increased sanitation of internal and external public facilities, employing social distancing, restricting public building access and more.
Council President Barry Calogero said the municipality must continue to operate and provide the necessary services residents expect. This includes the important work during council meetings. “A hallmark of good government is openness and transparency. We now plan to take this traditional commitment further.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing has significantly restricted the ability to attend meetings. So, we are going to bring the meeting to you. Log in from the comfort of your home, view the meeting and provide comments via the ‘chat’ function,” Calogero said.
The council president added, “your questions and concerns will still be heard and addressed through this remote means of communication. This is your government at work, ensuring stable municipal management, brought directly to you and your family.”