Monroe Board of Education wants the NJ Legislature to craft a new school funding formula

BY Christopher Lang, Correspondent, @topherlang2, MonroeNow, Sep 10, 2019

MONROE – Education officials are calling on the state to develop a new school funding formula that would reduce the local tax burden and provide more financial resources to the district.

“There’s an inequitable representation in terms of funding and even under S2, the pathway to full funding, according to the state, we’re only expecting about another $3 million over the next five years,” said district Business Administrator Michael Gorski. “That is not keeping up with enrollment growth. That is not keeping up with facility needs. …”

At the Sept. 4 Board of Education meeting, Monroe trustees unanimously passed a resolution asking the state Legislature to create the new formula because the increases under the current plan are “insufficient,” and “will not keep pace with enrollment growth and other needs in the district.”

“What we need is another state aid school funding formula,” Kathy Kolupanowich, school board president, said. “We spend more than we’re going to get from the state.”

The resolution states that 86 percent of the district’s funding comes from the township tax base, but only receives $850 per student from the state. According to state Department of Education documents, the per-pupil cost for Monroe is approximately $19,200 based on total spending or $13,300 based on budgetary cost.

“The state has said that we will be getting our fair share of money when it comes to funding,” Kolupanowich said but added it will take years before that is realized.

The Pathway to Fair Funding, also known as S2, increases funding to some school districts over a five-year period, which started with the 2018-2019 fiscal year, assuming no cuts are made to the state budget.

Educators had initially praised the increased funding announcement, with some even participating in an Oct. 12 event at the high school with lawmakers, including District 14 representatives and Senate President Steve Sweeney. The funding change resulted in Monroe receiving an additional $2 million in the previous budget for a $5.29 million total in state aid.

“We cannot thank Senate President Sweeney and Senator [Linda] Greenstein enough for fighting for our teachers and students,” said then-acting superintendent Robert Goodall about the Oct. 12 event.

However, despite the increases, trustees have also said that it is imperative to continue lobbying state leaders for more funding.

The resolution cites grievances the school board has with the funding formula and how it is hurting operations including depleting district surplus funds by 50 percent in the last two years; and $30 million spent on special education while receiving $3 million for those students from the state, among others.

“… The state just does not recognize the pressures that our citizens are under to meet these tax bills,” Steven Riback, board vice president, said at the Sept. 4 meeting.

Riback also questioned if the state will keep its plan to increase funding each year.

“They’ve cut money [in the past]. They promise us money. They give us less, much less than what they promise if they give anything at all,” he said. “I’d like to see some action now from this Legislature and this governor and correct the ills that they caused in the past.”

Following a suggestion from trustee Patricia Lang, the school board will also present the resolution to New Jersey School Boards Association in hopes that the organization will lobby for the measure during its delegate assembly meeting in November.

“I think it’d be very powerful and there would be many other school districts in the same boat that would take a hold of a resolution saying that we need to speed up this process of getting fair funding,” she said.