Jackson school board dealing with sudden loss of state aid

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JACKSON – Under Gov. Phil Murphy’s initial proposal in March, the Jackson School District’s state aid package for the 2018-19 school year was expected to total $50.122 million. Using that number, district administrators crafted a $153.83 million budget for the upcoming school year.

However, that state aid amount changed on July 13 when a bill signed into law by Murphy after negotiations with leaders in the state Legislature trimmed Jackson’s state aid for 2018-19 to $48.770 million.

District administrators are now in the process of determining how to make up for the loss of $1.352 million they included in the budget for the upcoming school year. The Board of Education has until Aug. 1 to make that decision.

The reality of the situation was discussed during a July 17 board meeting.

Jackson Superintendent of Schools Stephen Genco said, “The bottom line is we received our revised state aid number (on July 13) and I say revised because we did get, in writing, state aid numbers in March with which we built the (2018-19) budget.”

District administrators are now reviewing the budget, which went into effect on July 1, to determine where reductions can be made. It is expected that a special meeting of the board will be held on July 31 to announce how the shortfall in state aid will be accommodated.

Genco said some of the reduction may be able to be made up using the district’s surplus funds (savings).

The superintendent said if Jackson’s state aid follows a similar pattern over the next seven years, as has been discussed by state officials, the school district would be looking at an $18 million reduction in state aid over a seven-year period.

Genco said he was disappointed with the entire process and said he is still trying to make “rhyme or reason” of the numbers. He was planning to address the matter with each board member and members of the administration to come up with a way to reduce the 2018-19 budget.

Board member Michael Walsh asked if the board could find out from state representatives if changes in Jackson’s population had anything to do with the change in the state aid allocation.

“I went through that list (of state aid) and it does not make any sense to me at all. Is it geographically stimulated?” Walsh said.

Genco said he does not believe Jackson’s population had anything to do with the state aid allocation.

Walsh said he wants to know what politicians are doing “with this little game they are playing with us.”

“I would really like to know how and where and when they get the numbers besides the crystal ball that is thrown up against the wall and seeing where it lands, because it does not seem to make any sense. I have spent hours going over that list, of who is getting money, who is not getting money, who is losing money, and it does not make any sense. No rhyme or reason at all,” Walsh said.

Genco said school superintendents in Ocean County will try to speak with their state representatives to get some answers.

Board Vice President Vicki Grasso said, “I wish we could make heads or tails of this so we can at least try to rationalize it; it is so frustrating.”

Board President Scott Sargent said he hopes Murphy is not looking at the issue based on a community’s political affiliation.

“I just hope this governor, and I do not want to indict myself here by saying one way or the other, I just want to say that if this governor is specifically looking at colors like red areas and blue areas and that is how he is adjusting this budget, that is pathetic. He should look at the success rate of these districts and not penalize them for their success.” Sargent said.