The decision to accept students from other towns is proving to be very profitable for local school districts in the state Public School Choice Program.
Gov. Chris Christie promised Tuesday that no school district would lose state aid for the 2013-14 school year, and that proved true Thursday when the state Department of Education released district school aid figures for how almost $9 billion in state funds will be distributed. The aid represents a $97.3 million increase from 2012-13.
But while some districts got a lot more money, state aid in others remained flat. South Jersey districts also benefited from changes to the funding formula’s geographic cost adjustment that added a bit more aid for many districts in Cape May and Cumberland counties.
The budget also includes $16.8 million in extra funds for 131 districts that are spending below what the state considers an adequate amount per student. Local districts that received those funds include Absecon, Egg Harbor Township, Hamilton Township, Hammonton, Mullica Township, Northfield, Somers Point, West Cape May and Bridgeton.
Hamilton Township school Business Administrator Daniel Smith said the increase of $149,159 or 0.7 percent in state aid will help close the budget gap but is less than officials there would have liked. He said the district is currently working on balancing the 2013-14 budget.
Among the biggest gains were in school choice districts. For the 2013-14 school year, 105 school districts will participate in the choice program — up from 70 during the 2012-13 school year. They will share $49 million in state aid, an increase of $16 million from 2012-13.
Hammonton is getting both additional school choice aid and under-adequacy aid, increasing its total aid by $1.1 million, or almost 8 percent.
Ocean City will get an additional $1.5 million in state aid, an 80 percent increase that brings the district’s total state aid to $3.35 million. Tiny West Cape May will get $175,578 more, an almost 60 percent increase, bringing its state aid to $480,000.
Mainland Regional High School in Linwood is joining the school choice program next year and will get an extra $357,624 in choice aid, a 5 percent increase to its aid. Without those funds, the district would have received no additional aid for 2013-14.
Ocean City is expanding its high school choice program to the elementary and middle schools next year and anticipates 170 choice students for the 2013-14 year, school Business Administrator Thomas Grossi said. The district budget will have no property tax increase for the second year in a row.
School Superintendent Kathleen Taylor said without the extra choice aid the district would have had to both raise taxes and make cuts.
“It is helping us maintain our programs,” she said. Choice aid will help pay for more technology, security and capital improvements.
West Cape May Superintendent Alfred Savio said he will recommend to the school board that the district use the extra aid to split one of its double-grade classes into individual grades, buy some electronic white boards and make some capital repairs.
Atlantic City will get the largest total school aid increase in Atlantic County, $2.26 million, or almost 15 percent, bringing its total aid to $17.4 million. The district lost almost $1.5 million for this school year, and Business Administrator Steve Moran said officials had not expected an increase for next year, so it came as a pleasant surprise.
But the district does have growing enrollment. Atlantic City School Superintendent Donna Haye said some of the extra funds will be used to reopen the Brighton Avenue School for 350 students in kindergarten through fifth grades to relieve overcrowding at Texas Avenue and Sovereign Avenue schools.
“We had planned all sorts of budgets not knowing what the state aid would be, so we are thrilled to get an increase,” Haye said.
School choice aid also provided extra funds to the small, rural Cumberland County townships of Downe, Lawrence and Maurice River.
A number of area districts will get no aid increase, including Ventnor, Weymouth Township, Dennis Township, Sea Isle City, Stone Harbor, Cumberland Regional, Deerfield Township, Stow Creek Township, Pinelands Regional and the Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland County Vocational Schools
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