School districts across the state are working to adjust their 2017-18 school budgets before an Aug. 1 deadline, after final education aid figures were released earlier this month by the state Department of Education.
Some school districts were generously compensated in the final figures, while others have lost several thousand dollars.
“We’re fighting an uphill battle when it comes to state funding,” said Middle Township schools Superintendent David Salvo, whose district received the biggest cut in Cape May County.
Middle Township, which serves all local students as well as high school students from Avalon and Stone Harbor, is losing $271,801 in aid, a 2 percent decrease from the governor’s proposed budget in the spring.
Salvo said the school board Thursday night passed a resolution to adjust its budget, using money from surplus as well as supply line items to make up the difference in its $43 million budget.
“One of the first things you have to do is you have to think toward next year,” Salvo said.
He said the loss in the surplus will have an effect on the 2018 budget.
State aid has remained mostly flat for school districts since the school funding formula was revised in 2008. However, from this spring, when Gov. Chris Christie first introduced his proposed education aid numbers, to now, the amount of funding has fluctuated.
In early July, after a brief government shutdown, Christie signed into law a state budget that included $150 million in new school funding, reallocating $31 million in aid from districts considered overfunded.
In Cape May County, more than half of districts lose aid in the new figures. In all, the county lost $1.2 million in state funding from the governor’s original proposal. School districts in Cumberland County also lost significant aid.
Vineland’s aid will be cut $2 million, or 1.5 percent. Vineland schools Business Administrator Helen Haley said at a special school board meeting Monday that the board decided to cut its appropriations budget and not dig into surplus to make up for the lost funds.
Haley said a $900,000 capital line item for a synthetic turf field at Gittone Stadium will be deferred one year through a lease-purchase agreement, allowing the district to apply for an NFL grant and raise donations to help fund the field. Other items cut are: a bleacher replacement program at Vineland High School South, reductions in the tuition, health insurance and transportation funds, replacement of a vice principal, a new special education teacher and two new aides.
“When you’re working on a budget, it’s well in advance of the actual situation, so as you get closer to the end of the fiscal year, you get to see what the actual numbers are and you can refine them accordingly,” Haley said.
Other large cuts for the region are Millville, which will lose $811,983, and Pleasantville, where state aid will drop by $832,205. The Pleasantville district had already planned to eliminate more than 70 jobs, including that of the athletic director, to balance its 2017-18 budget.
State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, voted against the 2018 state budget specifically due to aid cuts to his districts. Although the original planned cuts were lessened, he was not happy with the overall outcome.
“We went from Armageddon to just a very bad situation,” he said. “They’re not as bad, but still very very difficult to deal with, most especially when everyone has put their budgets together on these districts.”
Van Drew said it was specifically hurtful and “distasteful public policy” that the budget reallocated money from some districts to others. He took issue with the funding cuts in economically hard-hit areas of the 1st Legislative District.
“I have some of the wealthiest towns in my district in the country and some of the poorest towns in my district in the state,” he said, describing many of the mainland towns as “blue-collar, working-class districts.”
He encouraged all his districts to apply for additional aid from the state Department of Education.
“Every single one of them should explain the challenges and disadvantages and some of the hardships we have in South Jersey,” Van Drew said.
Meanwhile, Atlantic City will receive a windfall $5.5 million in additional funding, bringing its total to $24.3 million. That is in addition to $32 million the school district will receive as part of “other state aid” to offset the severe loss of ratables over the years. Business Administrator Celeste Ricketts said the district is awaiting more direction from the state before adjusting its budget.
The Atlantic County Vocational School District, which includes the Atlantic County Institute of Technology, will receive a 33 percent increase in aid over last year, or $1.2 million. ACIT Superintendent Philip Guenther said previously they could adjust tuition to sending districts depending how the money is allocated, but Business Administrator Lisa Mooney said Tuesday the state has advised it is not possible for this year. At a special meeting July 31, the board is expected to vote on putting half the funds toward capital projects this year and reserving half for next year’s tax relief, Mooney said.
The Egg Harbor Township School District, which earlier this year passed a budget with a 6-cent tax hike and several layoffs, has not yet decided what it will do with its $1.5 million increase in state aid. The township has asked the district to apply it toward tax relief.