Local school officials are making the rounds of school funding hearings as the state Legislature works to revamp a school-funding law.

The most common local theme is the chronic funding shortage local districts have experienced.

While the state’s fiscal crisis has been the primary cause of flat state aid, there has also been no attempt to adjust the aid formula or redistribute the money to reflect enrollment or other changes among districts.

The result over several years has been that some districts are overfunded and others underfunded.

Leading the charge is Egg Harbor Township, a Pinelands growth town that has never received funding to match its enrollment. School officials testified at both the Senate and Assembly hearings.

Officials from Hammonton and the Atlantic County Institute of Technology have also testified.

Hammonton School Superintendent C. Dan Blachford told the Assembly Education Committee at its hearing Tuesday the district is one of the lowest-spending in the state and is struggling to maintain programs and quality. He provided a copy of the testimony to The Press of Atlantic City.

Blachford said the amount of money the district is underfunded according to the state school-funding law has grown from $8 million in 2003 to more than $11.6 million in 2015, based on Department of Education calculations.

He cited the broad range of programs the district offers, including 3D animation, graphics, music theory and a materials class that allows students to work in vacuum plastic molding, sheet metal and ceramics.

“This may come to a screeching halt,” he said. “We are severely underfunded, and it is harming the students.”

He said classes are getting too large and the district is short about 30 teachers and eight supervisors. He said the district is the lowest-spending of K-12 districts its size, spending about $11,149 per student in 2015-16.

“We are highly efficient and effective,” he said. “We need extra help this year.”

Egg Harbor Township sent a team to the Assembly hearing, including board members Peter Castellano and Justin Riggs, school Business Administrator Chandra Anaya and interim Superintendent Fred Nickles.

Castellano, who also testified before the Senate hearing last month, reiterated the district’s underfunding woes Tuesday, noting the growth district has never been adequately funded and has lost about $250 million since 2000.

“This difference has to be made up by property-tax payers,” he said. He said that in 2000, state aid made up 60 percent of the budget. It is now about 35 percent.

Castellano said Thursday the senators for the most part, didn’t ask questions, but, Senate President Stephen Sweeney was familiar with the district from having made a trip there to promote his school-funding plan.

He said the Assembly members asked more questions. “They seemed to have done some homework on us, and they asked us about our efforts to try to implement full-day kindergarten this year,” Castellano said in an email.

He said he told them the district would like to add full-day kindergarten and preschool, but is not able to even consider new programs with the current fiscal constraints.

Atlantic County Institute of Technology Superintendent Philip Guenther testified at the Senate hearing that while enrollment has more than doubled since the school expanded, state aid has dropped. As a result, the school cannot accept many of the students who apply.

Guenther also cited the declining ratable base in Atlantic County and the importance of teaching students skills that can translate into jobs.

Hearings will continue around the state as the Legislature awaits Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed FY2018 budget at the end of the month. Christie has proposed his own formula that would redistribute aid on a strictly per-student basis. The current state formula provides extra funding for at-risk, bilingual, special education and other categories.

After several years of virtually flat funding, legislators promised to review the process this year and work to revise and implement the formula. So far there is little consensus on how to do that. Meanwhile, school districts are preparing their own budgets for 2017-18 with little guidance on what to expect.

Contact:

609 272-7241 DDamico@pressofac.com

Twitter @ACPressDamico

Load comments