UPPER TOWNSHIP — Cape May County school districts losing funding due to a 2018 law are banding together to file an Open Public Records Act request to the state to gain insight into how education aid is distributed.
“All we are looking for is the information on how the (Department of Education) created, utilized and executed the current funding formula and factors. As of today, that information has not been released to the public, nor to any of the school districts in New Jersey,” Upper Township Superintendent Vincent Palmieri said.
The Upper Township, Wildwood, Lower Cape May Regional and Middle Township school districts all passed resolutions over the past two months to join the OPRA request. The resolution also included language in anticipation of “future related litigation against the State of New Jersey concerning the calculation and allocation of state aid.”
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“It is designed to get the state to explain the specifics of the school funding formula, which in many respects is a mystery to many of us in the public school community,” said Lower Cape May Superintendent Joe Castellucci. “The decision for our district to join this request was to be in solidarity with all of the districts facing these cuts and perhaps finding solutions to this issue somewhere in the specifics of the application of the school funding formula.”
Castellucci and Palmieri both said districts are not confident the OPRA request will be honored, which is the reason for the language regarding litigation.
The OPRA request originated in the advocacy group Support Our Students, which includes membership of about 90 school districts.
Wildwood, Toms River and Brick were among the first late last year to pass the resolutions, just a few months after the commissioner of education dismissed a legal challenge to the state’s school funding formula.
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Under the 2018 school funding reform law, dozens of districts, including most of the districts in Cape May County, were notified that their adjustment aid would be phased out over a period of seven years.
For school districts that were considered underfunded — Egg Harbor Township, Absecon and Hammonton among them — the reform was a blessing after years of receiving less aid than was needed to sustain their budgets. But to districts like those in Cape May County, Weymouth Township in Atlantic County and Commercial Township in Cumberland County, which have seen enrollment decrease over the years, the loss of aid is translating into hard decisions and budget cuts.
This year, Upper Township lost 6.1% of its state aid, down $602,522 from the 2018-19 school year. Lower Cape May Regional lost 8.3%, down $787,031. Wildwood lost 4.6%, or $230,590.
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Wildwood Superintendent J. Kenyon Kummings, co-chairman of SOS, said the Weiner Law Group, which is handling the state aid lawsuit against the state, has already tried to get the funding formula information and was unsuccessful.
Kummings said knowing exactly how aid is calculated would help school districts be better able to prepare for the future cuts associated with the funding law change, but also provide transparency.
“The predictability would hinge on knowing what all the variables are in the equation,” he said.
Kummings said he hopes other school districts consider passing the resolution.