CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Concerned about the impact of state aid cuts to their school districts, administrators and board members from around the region met at Sen. Jeff Van Drew’s office on Thursday to strategize.
Representatives from Weymouth Township in Atlantic County and most of the school districts in Cape May County met with their 1st District legislator looking for help to lobby for assistance after cuts in aid due to last-minute changes to the state budget.
“Do we have a strong enough voice to fight this?” asked West Cape May Interim Superintendent Robert Garguilo.
West Cape May received an aid increase of about $17,000 in this year’s state budge, but Garguilo said he has worked at many schools in the area and was concerned for all the districts that lost aid.
Candidly, Van Drew said they didn’t have the votes in the Legislature to get the funding changed, but they have to try.
“What choice do we have?” Van Drew said. “You’ve got to fight the fight.”
Last month, Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law Senate President Steve Sweeney’s bill to remove growth caps and phase out adjustment aid from the school-funding formula. The result was districts that were considered over-funded based on the formula, and that were set to receive a slight bump in aid for the 2018-19 school year, were cut. Those cuts were transferred to underfunded districts, such as Egg Harbor Township, Absecon and Hammonton, as boosts in aid.
Weymouth lost $80,286 in state aid over 2017-18. Middle Township lost $155,537. Upper Township was cut $168,138.
Upper Township Board of Education President Michele Barbieri said that by year seven of the adjustment aid phase-out, Cape May County school districts will have lost about $25 million in state aid.
Van Drew said he would like to see the state offer additional aid this year, in the form of grants, to the districts that lost it, just like it did last year. Guidance sent out from the New Jersey Department of Education to districts in July states emergency aid would be available to districts that demonstrate fiscal distress and instructs districts to contact their county offices.
Van Drew is also hoping to help his constituents by arranging a meeting with Department of Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet in Wildwood and Commercial Township schools at the end of the month in order to show how the districts aren’t wildly overspending.
“We’re all in bad shape to one degree or another,” he said, adding that Commercial Township is the ultimate example of that.
That district is losing nearly $1 million in state aid out of its $12.9 million budget for 2018-19.
“I’m hopeful that we get some decent news about it,” Van Drew said.