Local state legislators said Tuesday they will work to reduce or cap the increased payments school districts are expected to make in 2013-14 for construction grants they received from the state Schools Development Authority.
The announcement came after a meeting between state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, and Assemblymen John Amodeo and Chris Brown, both R-Atlantic, and school officials and school board members in Egg Harbor Township.
The district has been especially hard hit by state school funding allocations in Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed budget.
Whelan said that while they don’t have a solution yet, the fact that many districts are affected statewide will make it easier to get support from other legislators.
“This gives us strength to go to our colleagues,” he said.
Whelan said the total impact of the increased SDA debt payments statewide is about $7 million, not a huge amount in the $30 billion state budget.
“This is not a budget-breaker,” he said. “Maybe we can freeze the payment at last year’s level or put in a cap.”
Local districts facing large increases in their debt payments include Barnegat Township at $367,981, Egg Harbor Township at $264,402, Greater Egg Harbor Regional at $215,398, Buena Regional at $146,126, Cumberland Regional at $121,841 and Egg Harbor City at $69,020.
In the case of Egg Harbor Township, Barnegat and Cumberland Regional, the payment increase is more than the extra state formula aid they receive to run the schools, effectively giving them a state aid cut for next year. Egg Harbor Township would lose almost $194,000, Barnegat almost $234,000 and Cumberland Regional almost $122,000.
Amodeo said the larger problems Egg Harbor Township has with the school funding formula will take a long-term solution, but the additional debt service payment on construction projects is an issue that could be addressed in this budget.
Egg Harbor Township School Superintendent Scott McCartney said there is some discussion statewide about challenging the SDA payments because they would seem to violate the contracts the districts had with the SDA for the original grants.
State Department of Treasury spokesman William Quinn said earlier this month that districts have been assessed 15 percent of the cost of the debt repayment since 2011, but that refinancing of the debt in previous years had kept payments lower.
Egg Harbor Township school board member Peter Castellano said a lot of progress was made in the township’s situation. Amodeo said they do understand that the school financing burden in the township has been disproportionately funded by local taxpayers.
Castellano has testified before the Senate Budget Committee on the issue, noting that Egg Harbor Township schools did not get sufficient state aid when enrollment was growing, and now is about $33 million behind where it should be in state aid. District spending is $15 million below what the state considers adequate.
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