All North Jersey counties will see an overall increase in state aid for education if Gov. Phil Murphy’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2023 is approved – with the exception of Sussex County, where 19 of the 25 school districts lost nearly 8% of their aid, and Hudson County, which lost about 5% of total aid.
Bergen County schools will receive the most aid in North Jersey, 15% more than this year; Essex County to receive 11% Morris County – 9.8%, Passaic County – about 6.7%, Union County – about 12% and Warren County – an increase of 2.6%.
Other more rural New Jersey counties, including Cape May, Ocean and Monmouth, have also lost state aid, but not as much as Sussex County.
State aid to Sussex County has fallen by nearly $ 8 million – from $ 87.8 million in the current fiscal year to $ 80.7 million in 2023. The same thing happened in 2021, when the northernmost county of the state lost $ 5 million.
“Twenty-three million have been confiscated from Sussex taxpayers in three years,” said Craig Hutcheson, head of the Kitatini Regional School District and a resident of the county. “It’s excessive.”
The cut in Sussex County is due to a drop in registration. County schools have seen the biggest drop in entrants nationwide since 2009, at about 29%.
But this cut in aid is happening at the end of the pandemic and will hurt students more than ever, school principals Kitatini and Stillwater said. The cuts needed to be postponed or weakened using the state’s federal aid reserve from the U.S. Rescue Plan, said Sen. Stephen Oroha of Sussex.
Enrollment stimulates funding, said Senator Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth, the newly appointed chairman of the Senate Education Committee. “It has been in force in the law for many years, so there are no surprises at any time,” Gopal said. “The problem with freezing these layoffs is this: What are you doing with an area that has a significant number of students?”
Gopal and Oroha are members of a task force set up to revise the state formula for funding schools, as part of a bill sponsored by them to review how public schools are funded.
Gopal said the task force was “re-learning” the formula to make sure the factors it takes into account are in line with the latest figures, including the 2020 census, free and reduced lunches and poverty levels.
“I think we’re looking at as many areas as possible,” he said. Funding for public schools is calculated under the 2008 School Funding Reform Act.
Hutcheson said the drop in entrants in 13 years does not coincide with the fall in state aid to Sussex County by 55% over the past four years. “Our state aid is much ahead of the loss of applicants,” he said.
“We hoped that after the pandemic, when the situation with state financial aid is rich in cash, it would be recognized that school districts that received significant or any reduction in state aid from the Ministry of Economy funding formula will receive at least a year where they did not feel would be cuts, ”Hutcheson said.
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Regional Kitatini has lost 70% of its aid in seven years, Hutcheson said. The state is going through a process of correcting historical imbalances in how the state’s school district funding was calculated, according to a law passed by state democrats in 2018.
Murphy could consider using federal aid or surplus revenue to prevent cuts to state aid to K-12 schools in rural and suburban areas, Hutcheson said.
Murphy’s budget also provides a one-time funding of $ 20 million, called stabilization assistance, for which schools that have lost assistance can apply.
Help other areas of North Jersey:
BERGEN ACCRETE – Hackensack School District received $ 7 million; The Little Ferry School District lost $ 630,000; Lodz schools received $ 5 million; New Milford received $ 1.7 million; North Arlington received $ 1.4 million; Fair Lawn, New Milford and Lyndhurst schools have seen significant increases in state aid.
GAZAN District – Hoboken schools lost about $ 700,000; North Bergen schools lost $ 2.7 million.
MORIS COUNTY – Dover schools received $ 8 million; Jefferson schools lost $ 2.6 million; Randolph’s schools lost $ 1.4 million; Parsippany-Troy Hills schools received $ 1.4 million; Mount Olive schools received $ 5.4 million.
PASAIK EDGE – Clifton schools received $ 12 million; Haledon schools received $ 1.5 million; Pasayka schools received $ 10 million; Passoy County Vocational High School received $ 14.5 million; Patterson Schools received $ 18.6 million; Wayne Schools received $ 1.4 million; West Milford lost $ 2 million.
The largest increase in state aid came from the poorest areas, and the formula is expected to work. The city of Elizabeth received direct state aid of $ 37 million more, reaching $ 486 million. Plainfield also received about $ 37 million.
However, Jersey City lost $ 68 million in aid from the state, while Newark received the most aid, nearly $ 121 million.
Sussex County Schools:“Really emotional”: Sussex County teachers condemn more cuts in state aid to schools
Superintendent George Salter of North Bergen said he did not expect to lose nearly $ 3 million in aid. “We are obviously disappointed,” he said. “Many other similar areas have risen in government allocations.”
Salter said his school is studying the numbers and expects to ask the state why this happened. He said the number of students in his district had dropped by about 200 over the past two years.
Failures in the rural schools formula
Six Jersey Shore districts have joined forces in a lawsuit against the Murphy Department of Education in July for failing to provide them with the codes and formulas used to determine how state aid is distributed. The judge ruled in their favor and ordered the state to provide funding data and formula codes that determine how assistance is provided to the state’s 600 school districts.
Hutcheson, whose county signed a lawsuit as a participant from both Hampton and Kitatini, said he had not received the formula, but hoped it would help reveal why these Sussex County schools are suffering losses along with schools in Cape May, Ocean and Monmouth County.
Kitatini Regional High School has not been hit hard in the first three years by cuts from the 2018 law because the school has been able to absorb losses through the retirement of staff and joint positions. “Last year was the first year of great change,” Hutcheson said.
Last year the classes were united, almost 12 positions were eliminated. The school lost its printing program. Hutcheson expects to lose 10 additional positions due to recently announced cuts. “We are being cut,” he said.
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The cut in state aid has affected the school district of Stillwater, which shares its head with Sandyston-Walpack County, also in Sussex County. The loss of aid of nearly $ 300,000 will affect staff and programs this year, which is an additional problem as schools emerge from the pandemic, said superintendent William Cochis.
“It has also become extremely difficult to budget and plan because the full funding formula is not distributed to the districts,” he said.
Kitatini serves 800 students from 7th to 12th grades. Another law, S3488, provides financial incentives for school boards that are exploring ways to share facilities and “regionalize” or merge their districts.
Hutcheson said he could not explore this option for his school because the state has not yet established a process to enforce the law, and that it is now too late to consider it.
“We are on fire for the budget season,” he said. Hutcheson said four other school districts in the area are interested in considering regionalization. This could cut losses from government cuts by about half a million dollars.
Taxpayers in China and Hampton will now be responsible for 90% of school budgets versus 70%, he said. The maximum that China’s school budget can earn in taxes this year is $ 300,000, although the actual amount will eventually be around $ 245,000, he said. The district lost nearly $ 1.1 million.
Another setback that has affected rural counties is inflation, which will increase transport costs for China and elsewhere. A large surge in bus costs is expected in the 135-square-mile school district. “I don’t think it was recognized,” Hutcheson said, noting that some students spend an hour on the school bus.
School care calculations are also affected by the cost of living in the county, another factor that rural schools are willing to consider.
“Training in Sussex County is no cheaper than anywhere in the state. I would argue that given the transportation costs, this is probably more expensive for a regular student of a general education course “apples to apples,” Hutcheson said. Kitatini receives $ 630,000 in transportation assistance. That’s not even 25% of the school’s total transportation budget, he said.
Mary Ann Corut covers education for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to the latest news about New Jersey schools and how it affects your children, sign up or activate your digital account today.