SOUTHERN OCEAN COUNTY – Almost all of the Ocean County school districts in the north and south will see decreased school funding – some serious – according to recently released state aid figures.
The numbers come as part of Governor Phil Murphy’s state budget proposal that includes an increase of $832 million as part of what is commonly referred to as K-12 formula aid.
The Barnegat Township School District is one of the two Southern Ocean County districts that includes all grades from K-12. Barnegat will receive the largest dollar amount boost in school funding to local districts. The $2,766,565 added to its existing state aid allotment of $22,927,806 equates to a 12.07 percent increase.
Barnegat’s preschool, located at the Dunfee School, is entirely state-funded and has been allocated $4,236,111 for the next school year.
Lacey Township, the area’s only other K-12 district, suffered the highest loss with nearly $4 million in dropped state aid. The cuts amount to 27.49 percent, diminishing the district’s total anticipated funding down to $10,470,890.
One of the two districts located within Stafford Township experienced the highest percentages of state aid reduction. Stafford’s school funding was cut by 30.79 percent and represents a difference of $2,357,904 for the K-6 district. The state will continue to fund the district’s Pre-K program with an allotment of $4,880,263.
Stafford Superintendent George J. Chidiac said that the news of the cuts was shocking despite knowledge that Stafford was already suffering from the S-2 school formula that went into effect into 2019.
“We were in the fifth year of six and our estimated projections for the decrease in school funding was about $360,000,” shared Chidiac. “The more than $2.3 million decrease is crazy and absurd. They didn’t even do it gradually, but all in one year. We’re in shock.”
Stafford has approximately $1.4 million in bank cap that can be utilized in the 2023-2024 year. The problem is that more shortfalls are also in store, with another $800,000 projected state aid deficits to hit next year. The loss of funds and depletion of bank cap could call for a special referendum next year asking Stafford taxpayers to contribute additional money to help face the district’s financial challenges.
“One of the things the state supposedly looks at is enrollment,” Chidiac said. “We went up 60 students so that’s a good thing. The more students you have, the more money you’re going to get. Our special ed numbers and ESL have all gone up.”
The loss in state aid could start with cuts in both the performing arts area and social emotional learning programs.
Ocean Township (Waretown) lost $367,264 in school funding, representing a 10.38 percent decrease from the prior year.
Changes to the school funding formula resulted in a seven year phasing plan that provided some districts with advance notice they would lose state aid. In 2019, Waretown learned they would be losing $5.7 million overall, what was then one third of their budget.
Despite the forewarning, the year-to-year declines have not been predictable. Waretown district leaders were taken by surprise last year when they lost nearly 34 percent of state aid for the 2022-2023 school year. In anticipation of this year’s state funding losses, voters passed a referendum last November raising $840,000. The school district’s 26.64 percent decrease from last year to this amounted to $635,051 from $2,384,000 they currently had in place.
The district will continue to maintain a totally state-funded preschool with an allotment of $1,597,456.
“We anticipated the state aid cuts that were just announced,” said Dr. Shawn Denning, President of the Township of Ocean Board of Education. “We fully planned for them when we asked for the referendum that was passed in November 2022. It was part of the multi-year strategical plan to maintain the district’s solvency.”
Denning confirmed that the district does not intend to introduce another referendum this year seeking additional tax dollars from local taxpayers.
Ocean County as a whole experienced the most significant cuts as the only county to receive double digit losses of 11.07 percent. The other school districts in Southern Ocean County experienced the following wins/losses in state aid:
- Beach Haven, $62,047, 22.15%
- Eagleswood, -$12,204 , -2.12%
- Little Egg Harbor, -$429,456, -4.64%
- Long Beach Island, $80,313, 10.59%
- Pinelands Regional, $10,664, 0.09%
- Tuckerton, -$74,087, -3.42%
“It appears in looking at the school districts that Monmouth and Ocean County school districts got hit with mass state aid reductions,” pointed out Chidiac. “Could it be that because these are Republican counties this was done with malicious intent and politics?
“Politics have no place when you are dealing with the education of children,” the Stafford Superintendent continued. “Would Governor Murphy and the Department of Education go to their own children’s schools and wipe them out with such a massive cut all at once?”
Toms River is also dealing with a massive cut. Read Chris Lundy’s story by clicking here.