Monroe district in line to get $1M more in aid for 2019-20 after bill signed

BY Christopher Lang, Correspondent, @topherlang2 | MonroeNow | Aug 1, 2018

A new landmark school funding formula was signed by Governor Murphy last week that a high-ranking local education administrator said should result in the Monroe Township School District receiving even more state aid beginning with the 2019-2020 budget.

This is the first major change to the formula in 10 years.

District Business Administrator Michael C. Gorski, was one of three Monroe education officials who attended a ceremony at Cliffside Park School 3 on July 24 where Governor Murphy signed legislation removing caps on adjustment aid and growth limits.

For Monroe, Gorski said this means the district will likely receive an additional $1 million in state aid for its next budget, according to information he received, which would come on top of the nearly $2 million more the school system received for the 2018-2019 spending plan. In total, for the current budget, the district will receive $5.5 million in state education aid, up approximately $3.5 million for the 2017-2018 spending plan.

“This is welcome news to our board [of education]. We desperately need this money,” said Gorski this week. “We recognize that the taxpayers of Monroe have taken school funding on their backs and I believe the board will continue to provide tax relief.”

Gorski estimated that local taxpayers cover 80 percent of the district budget.

“We appreciate our legislators for making school funding more equitable and lobbying for more funding for Monroe in the future,” Gorski said. “Our cause is getting out there.”

Monroe’s rapid rise in student enrollment coupled with a projected increase of 1,500 learners in the next five years has heightened the need to lobby for more state funding. While the district did receive an additional $2 million in education aid for the current budget, which started on July 1, it is still short of its fair share that was established in the School Funding Reform Act of 2008.

However, even though the governor signed the new funding legislation, it will take six years before Monroe is at its full share, which Gorski said is, at a minimum, $9.1 million.

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For Monroe to get its fair share, it is coming at the expense of other districts like Old Bridge which had its funding cut by more than $600,000 for the current budget cycle.

It’s a tradeoff that, though unfortunate, Gorski accepts. The legislation reallocates money from larger, overfunded districts to public systems like Monroe.

“The law clearly defines how underfunded districts, like Monroe, will be the biggest beneficiaries because the 42-percent underfunded will get the largest amount of the reallocated money over a six-year time period,” Gorski said.

The new law takes effect with the Fiscal Year 2020 budget. The goal is to provide a more-equitable funding allocation by eliminating certain caps that have hampered many school districts. Under the law, all districts should be fully funded by 2025.

“New Jersey’s education system experienced eight years of neglect during the previous administration, which underfunded our public schools by $9 billion,” said Governor Murphy. “This legislation is long overdue. … The necessary adjustments we are making today will bring fairness to the system and ensure our school children receive the quality education they deserve.”

Monroe acting Superintendent Robert Goodall, who also attended the bill-signing ceremony, said he was “just thrilled,” that districts like Monroe are finally on track to get their fair share. “It’s been a long struggle,” he said.

He credited the local community and officials who have for years lobbied for changes in how state education funding is awarded.

“I know a lot of people, previous administrators, community members who fought the fight and made it clear that we were unhappy,” he said. “And now to be rewarded after all these years was great.”

Board Vice President Steven Riback, who also attended the bill-signing ceremony, did not respond for comment.

On July 13, the state announced modified aid awards to school districts. Monroe’s adjustment resulted in 60 percent more funding, $1.6 million increase. Board of Education members recently voted to use $1 million of those funds as direct tax relief to property owners. The move resulted in the property tax increase to be reduced by $20 to $31.73 based on a home assessed at $315,299. The remaining $656,602 was earmarked for the capital reserve account.