LAKEWOOD – A funding hole stopped Lakewood schools from operating on July 1, and officials hope they will open the next day.
While most students are done for the year, it affects some special education students who require year-round educational programs. Parents of these students were asked to make other plans for them.
“We apologize for what Trenton has done,” school attorney Michael Inzelbuch said to parents during an early morning Board of Education meeting.
There is a hole of $30,050,890 in the budget. By law, Inzelbuch explained, the budget can’t be passed without allotting where all the money is coming from.
Additionally, there is about $5 million owed from previous loans. The State Department of Education has assured that the loans would be deferred by the Treasury Department but they have not received that in writing, he said.
One controversial part of the school district is the funding for transportation. By law, the public school has to fund transportation for non-public education.
There had been a Lakewood School District Transportation Authority to oversee busing, however that had expired on June 30, officials said. The Board of Education passed a resolution in support of continuing it for another year.
The board also passed a resolution supporting a bill crafted by Sen. Robert Singer that would create a regional consortium, so that all schools in the county would be covered, and that this would be paid for by the state.
Another resolution was passed that the township, through land use boards’ approval of development, has created the problem and should be responsible for it.
“It’s a great gig: It’s approved, and then we bus everyone,” Inzelbuch said.
The town’s land use boards are one of many things that the district is not responsible for, he said, but are still impacted by.
The district is also trying to get more information on a bill from the School For Children With Hidden Intelligence, a special education school in Lakewood that billed them more than $2 million for last year. SCHI’s founder had been indicted for stealing money from the school by laundering it through a fundraising organization.
Lakewood’s state monitor, David Shafter, said he wanted a detailed bill of every student and every day the child was enrolled. They also want more information about a summer camp that SCHI runs.
“We do not audit state approved private schools for the disabled. We wish we did,” Inzelbuch said. “We do not set their tuition rates. We wish we did.”
School officials said during the meeting that they hoped the issue could be worked out in Trenton, and that the funding would be made available so that schools can open on July 2. Gov. Phil Murphy just yesterday signed the state budget, narrowly avoiding a state shutdown.