By Matthew Sockol
FREEHOLD – The Freehold Borough K-8 School District Board of Education has adopted a preliminary budget of $25.7 million to fund the operation of the district from July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017.
The $25.7 million budget, which can be amended prior to its final adoption, will be supported by a tax levy of $11.89 million to be paid by Freehold Borough’s residential and commercial property owners, plus $9.7 million in state aid and $823,414 from the district’s surplus funds (savings), according to district administrators.
The school district’s 2016-17 budget totaled $25.19 million and was supported by a tax levy of $11.58 million. The average home was assessed at $247,410, the school tax rate was $1.12 per $100 of assessed valuation and the owner of that home paid $2,771 in K-8 school taxes.
District administrators are still determining the tax impact of the 2017-18 budget and said they will have a definitive number in the near future.
School taxes are one component of a property owner’s tax bill, which also includes Monmouth County taxes, Freehold Regional High School District taxes and Freehold Borough municipal taxes. Individuals pay more or less in taxes depending on the assessed value of their home and/or property.
The amount of state aid being delivered from Trenton is a source of concern to district administrators, who say Freehold Borough is the third most underfunded school district in the state.
Each New Jersey school district is assigned what is referred to as an adequacy level of funding and Freehold Borough administrators say their district is $9 million under its adequacy level.
The district has seen an increase in student enrollment at the same time administrators have said appropriate state funding is not being provided. During the past seven years, enrollment has increased by 387 students, according to district administrators.
The $9.7 million in state aid that will be received by the district for 2017-18 has remained flat from 2016-17.
“It is unfortunate the Governor has once again flat funded districts like Freehold Borough while other districts receive more state aid than their fair share,” Superintendent of Schools Rocco Tomazic said. “This has put us in a position where we have a budget shortfall of $380,000. In the initial 2017-18 budget that was passed, the shortfall was addressed through the use of reserves and an assumed savings in health benefit costs through cooperation with the Freehold Borough Education Association.”
Tomazic and Red Bank Borough Public Schools Superintendent of Schools Jared Rumage, whose district is also considered to be underfunded, have advocated for a readjustment of the state school aid formula to reallocate money from what are considered to be overfunded districts to underfunded districts.
Both superintendents testified before the state Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on March 21.
The amount of state aid delivered to Freehold Borough’s schools has been discussed by members of the Borough Council.
“Enrollment has increased and the Board of Education has to cut (funds) somehow out of their budget,” Councilman Ron Griffiths said during a meeting on March 7. “Our schools are short 50 teachers and our residents are $2.3 million overtaxed.”
“The Board of Education is facing difficulties,” Councilwoman Sharon Shutzer said. “We want to call on our residents if we have to go to Trenton.”