Freehold Borough school district sees state aid increased for 2018-19

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FREEHOLD – The Freehold Borough K-8 School District has received an additional $2.63 million in state aid for the 2018-19 school year, with $1 million to be dedicated toward lowering the 2018-19 tax levy that will be paid by the borough’s residential and commercial property owners.

Under Gov. Phil Murphy’s initial proposal in March, Freehold Borough’s state aid package for 2018-19 was expected to total $11.23 million. Using that number, district administrators crafted a $27.46 million budget for the 2018-19 school year.

After negotiations with state Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester, Salem, Cumberland) and other legislative leaders, Murphy signed a bill into law that increased Freehold Borough’s state aid for 2018-19 to $13.86 million, an increase of $2.63 million. The revised state aid figures were announced on July 13.

Following the state’s announcement, the Board of Education passed a resolution on July 17 to accept the revised state aid amount for 2018-19. The board appropriated $1 million of the additional $2.63 million to reduce the district’s 2018-19 general fund tax levy from $11.89 million to $10.89 million.

The resolution authorizes school district Business Administrator Joseph Howe to negotiate a revised tax schedule with municipal Chief Financial Officer Richard Gartz and Business Administrator Joseph Bellina.

Because the tax levy has been lowered, district administrators will need to recalculate the school tax rate for 2018-19. Once that calculation has been made, property owners will be able to determine how much they will pay in K-8 school taxes during the next year.

The remaining $1.63 million of the additional state aid was appropriated to increase the district’s general fund for 2018-19.

According to district administrators, $814,368 of the $1.63 million will be dedicated to personnel, $594,000 will be dedicated to facilities/finance, and $219,396 will be dedicated to programs.

The amount of state aid received by Freehold Borough has been a concern for administrators, who have stated that the district has been one of the most underfunded school districts in the state since the 2008-09 school year and ranked as the third most underfunded district in the state for the past four years.

Under the School Funding Reform Act of 2008, according to district administrators, Freehold Borough should receive $21.32 million in equalization aid from the state. Nevertheless, they said the $13.86 million in state aid for 2018-19 marks a noted increase from previous years for the district, which received $10.7 million for 2017-18 and $9.7 million for 2016-17.

In recognition of three state legislators’ efforts to help Freehold Borough receive an increase in state aid, board members passed a resolution formally recognizing Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth), Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling (D-Monmouth) and Assemblywoman Joann Downey (D-Monmouth).

Gopal and Houghtaling were in attendance at the meeting; Downey was unable to attend due to an emergency.

“Freehold Borough has been in a long and bruising fight to obtain the proper amount of aid established by state law,” Superintendent of Schools Rocco Tomazic said. “This year, largely through the efforts of Senate President Sweeney and Senate Conference Leader Gopal, and with key support from Assemblywoman Downey and Assemblyman Houghtaling, Freehold Borough received over $3 million in increased aid, bringing us from 45 percent to 58 percent of what we should be receiving.

“With the pending approval by the governor of bill S-2/A-2, Freehold Borough and all the other underfunded districts in New Jersey will see a clear way to 100 percent state aid funding in the coming years,” he said. “Our students and local taxpayers will be the beneficiaries.”

Borough Council President Sharon Shutzer also thanked Gopal, Houghtaling and Downey for helping Freehold Borough to receive an increase in state aid.

“From the bottom of my heart, as a taxpayer, as a councilwoman, as a former educator, I want to say thank you,” Shutzer said. “More importantly, I want to say on behalf of my two grandsons and all of their classmates, thank you.”