More state aid helping Jamesburg schools get back on solid financial ground

BY Christopher Lang, Correspondent, @topherlang2, MonroeNow, March 26, 2019

JAMESBURG – After years of state aid cuts, Jamesburg schools are receiving more state aid that is helping to fund a new budget with no tax increases and repaying debt owed to Monroe while not sacrificing programs.

State aid awards for education were announced earlier this month after Governor Murphy gave his budget address for Fiscal Year 2019-2020. If there are no changes to education aid, Jamesburg will receive approximately $600,000 more for the district’s 2019-2020 budget.

The approximate $600,000 increase to Jamesburg raises the district’s 2019-2020 total to $6.45 million in an overall proposed budget of $15.6 million – not including debt service.

Though state funding to the district has increased in the previous two fiscal years, it comes after years of decreases.

“We were cut drastically over the past 10 years [in state aid] and over the past two years with the new governor [Phil Murphy] we are getting more state aid,” said Superintendent Brian Betze in a previous interview about state aid and the proposed budget.

Betze appreciated the additional state support for the K-8, two school district, but also noted that based on their estimates the system is “underfunded $3 million per year.”

The lack of money caused the district multiple problems compounded by the Great Recession that saw deep declines in home values and a rise in foreclosures in Jamesburg and communities across the nation.

To compensate, the district had to raise taxes to the highest allowable levels and also said Betze, cut “many programs.” It lead to falling behind on its required financial payments to the Monroe Township Public Schools District for the sending-receiving relationship.

But the last two years of state aid increases have helped the district get back on track. The additional funding will help the district repay $1.64 million still owed to Monroe for tuition in four or five years as of June 2018, administration officials said. For the current budget, Jamesburg pays Monroe approximately $4.1 million for student tuition – which includes owed past debt. Transportation is a separate charge and is up to date.

The back payments, Business Administrator Nick Mackres said, are based on an “over estimated cost per child and an over estimated number of students [attending],” to help repay Monroe faster. Plus he said if financial situations change, the district would likely remain on track to repay Monroe.

In 2010-2011 the district received $4.4 million in formula aid, which was an 11.5-percent decrease from the previous fiscal year. Now, it will receive $6.45 million and based on the new funding formula and promises from the Murphy administration will see that continue to rise over the next few years.

In the governor’s proposed budget, education aid is up $206 million for $15.4 billion total.

The state aid increase has also lead Jamesburg to drop its suit against the state for more funding, the superintendent said.

“The lawsuit was dropped last year when the state reallocated aid to those underfunded districts,” Betze said. “But we, all the districts on the lawsuit, reserved the right to start it again if the state figures have fallen short.”

The district will hold a public hearing on the budget May 6 at 6:15 p.m. at the middle school, 13 Augusta St. Jamesburg.