Jamesburg joins school districts in suing for appropriate state aid

JAMESBURG – Along with 95 other districts, the Jamesburg Public Schools is suing the state commissioner of education for what its administrators assert is under-funded state aid on an annual basis.

“The district received about $5.3 million (in state aid) for the 2017-18 school year. For 2016-17, we received $5.3 million, which is $4.5 million less than we are guaranteed by law under School Funding Reform Act. We are underfunded by $4.5 million each year. In other words, we only receive 54 percent of what the law states we should get,” Superintendent of Schools Brian Betze said.

Betze said the school district has received about the same amount of state aid for nine consecutive years.

Representatives of the district participated in a press conference on Jan. 12 at the State House in Trenton and announced that Jamesburg, along with 95 other school districts, will file legal action against the commissioner of education to address continuing inequities in the distribution of state aid.

“The Board of Education and I just want our fair share. The state sets the standards for all schools and demands we meet these standards called a thorough and efficient education [that include] class size limits, grade levels, special education support, building specifications, legal service, classes in language arts, math, science, social studies, [physical education], etc., which comes with a cost,” Betze said.

“To be thorough and efficient, we are required to tax our local community to make up the difference, which is 121 percent over what (property owners) should be paying had the state just funded SFRA in the first place,” the superintendent said.

Betze said district officials initially discussed becoming a petitioner to suing the commissioner of education on Dec. 23 during a board meeting and voted to be included in the lawsuit that day.

He said Jamesburg is one of the original group of petitioners that also includes the Newton Board of Education, the Middlesex Board of Education, the Little Ferry Board of Education, the Kingsway Regional Board of Education, the North Brunswick Board of Education, the Chesterfield Township Board of Education, the Emerson Board of Education, the Wallington Board of Education, Woolwich Township, East Greenwich Township and Swedesboro.

Petitioners also include a core coalition of similarly situated districts, as well as individual taxpayers and community officials from their respective municipalities, according to a statement from the school district.

“We are asking that the state funding be designated according to the law. Many districts get much more as designated while the others 96 get less. All we want is for the funding formula to be applied the same for every district,” Betze said.

Led by Newton Public Schools Superintendent of Schools G. Kennedy Greene, the petitioners are being represented by Schwartz Edelstein Law Group, according to Jamesburg administrators.

The lawsuit was filed on Jan. 12. Jamesburg will be advised of the amount of state aid it will receive for the 2018-19 school year at the end of February, according to Betze.

“The ball is in the court of the state, our new governor and the new commissioner of education. We will wait and see what they do, and our next steps will be based on that,” Betze said.

If a resident wants to join the legal action, he or she should contact the superintendent in their respective school district, he said.

“We have the potential of receiving the $4.5 million owed to our taxpayers and our school district each year. We are tired of placing the burden of funding our school on our town members at a rate of 121 percent each year,” Betze said.

“While we get 54 percent, there are other districts receiving 100 percent, 200 percent, 300 percent and even 500 percent more than they are legally required to receive. We are asking that the disproportional funding end and a fair distribution be enacted,” he said.

Betze said he feels like Oliver Twist each year at about this time, having to annually beg for more funding.

“While others get a large percentage over what the law states they should be receiving, we get half of our amount and our students are made to suffer. No new textbooks, no field trips, no libraries, no clubs, not having all the supports needed to make our students competitive with other students in other districts,” the superintendent said.

“We tightly budget, pinch pennies, just to be able to make ends meet. I came in today and our middle school boiler from 1968 broke down yesterday. The part that is needed to repair it cannot be found due to the age of the boiler. I am tired of it. We deserve better. Our parents deserve better and most importantly, our students deserve better,” Betze said.

“As our standard policy, the New Jersey Department of Education does not comment on pending litigation,” said Michael Yaple, the department’s director of public information.

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