The school tax levy is going up in Egg Harbor Township next year as the district plans to put an additional $4.2 million in school funding back into its operating budget for the 2019-20 school year.
At its March meeting, the school board moved to introduce a $146 million budget, including an $85 million tax levy, up $3 million over last year, that included the elimination of five positions.
“Because we are still significantly underfunded, the additional state aid helped us to be stable, but not replenish or expand our staff or programs,” said school business administrator Chandra Anaya. “The funds were used for increases in our fixed costs and to continue existing programs that support the district learning goals.”
Of all the districts in the Press coverage area, about a third received an increase in state aid thanks to the changes in the school funding law over the summer designed to help those considered underfunded. But Egg Harbor Township is one of few that are filtering back aid increases into the school. Many are putting it toward tax relief.
Hammonton is planning to use all of $1.5 million, and then some, to increase the total budget about $5 million to $56 million, but is keeping its school tax rate flat.
Hammonton school board President Sam Mento III said he would have liked to lower taxes with the additional funding if he could have. He said the board is “trying to give a first class education to our students for a price our taxpayers can afford.”
The Bridgeton school district, which received an additional $4.6 million in funding this year, also held taxes flat this year. The school board there introduced a $104 million budget — up about $3 million — with a general fund tax levy of $3.7 million. The resolution did not indicate the impact on debt service.
Atlantic City did receive a significant bump in its school funding this year, but ended up with a net loss of about $600,000 as the governor’s proposed budget reduced a special tax base stabilization aid by about $12 million. Despite the loss, school officials introduced a $186.6 million budget with a flat tax levy of $81.9 million.
That bump in categorical aid in Gov. Phil Murphy’s proposed 2020 budget creates a net loss of about $600,000.
“For us it was just a move from one line to the next,” Atlantic City School District business administrator Celeste Ricketts said.
Ricketts said the tax base stabilization aid came in one lump sum, so having the categorical aid increase was a better fit for the district because it’s paid monthly.
Over the next month and a half, school districts will hold budget hearings and take final votes on their school spending. But depending on how budget negotiations go in Trenton, the state aid figures will not be finalized until the 2020 budget is signed into law. The state has a June 30 deadline, and in the last two years, school budget figures have been adjusted significantly between then and now.
Legislators began meeting last month for budget hearings and to get feedback on the proposals. Egg Harbor Township was among those who submitted testimony, praising the additional funds but lamenting how long it took to get them.
“This year’s proposed increase of $4.2 million will still leave us at $28.3 million below full annual school formula funding. This increase, while welcomed and appreciated, barely allows us to maintain what we have in our current budget, and our students and taxpayers are still being shortchanged,” reads the district’s submitted testimony.
The testimony said the district’s drop in academic achievement was a direct result of the years of underfunding, and that its per-pupil spending is $1,000 below the state average.
Anaya said more than 100 people and many educational programs have been cut from Egg Harbor Township School District in the last decade due to underfunding.
“This is the first year in many that we didn’t have to cut double-digit positions due to lack of funding,” Anaya said.