Jamesburg schools may continue lawsuit despite receiving more state aid

JAMESBURG – The Jamesburg Public School District will receive $236,000 in additional state aid, according to revised figures released by the administration of Gov. Phil Murphy.

On Jan. 12, with 95 other school districts, Jamesburg filed a lawsuit against the state commissioner of education asserting that the district is underfunded on an annual basis.

“We are in the process of reviewing the status of the lawsuit and how to proceed,” Superintendent of Schools Brian Betze said this week. “Although we received additional funding, it is far from what we should be receiving legally under the law and the constitution of New Jersey. I have advised my Board of Education members that we should continue to pursue the lawsuit.”

When the lawsuit was filed, Murphy’s commissioner of education was not yet appointed. Lamont Repollet has since been confirmed as New Jersey’s education commissioner.

“The district received about $5.3 million (in state aid) for the 2017-18 school year. For 2016-17, we also received $5.3 million, which is $4.5 million less than we are guaranteed by law under the 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,” Betze said.

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

After discussing the matter during the Board of Education’s meeting on July 19, Betze said, “We didn’t have a quorum to vote on the decision [on July 19]. My recommendation is to stay in the lawsuit and keep the momentum we’ve created. I will not have a final answer until my meeting with the board next week.”

Taking steps to begin the process of fully and fairly funding New Jersey school districts, the Murphy administration on July 13 released revised school funding distribution totals based on increased appropriations and modernizations made to the school funding formula, according to a statement from the New Jersey Department of Education. In total, almost $8.5 billion will be disbursed to the state’s 577 school districts, including an additional $68 million to bring aid in balance for underfunded districts, according to the statement.

“A stronger, fairer New Jersey means making sure New Jersey’s schools are receiving the funds they need to advance academic excellence for our students,” Murphy said. “After years of neglect, we are turning the page to bring a balanced approach to school aid by removing the growth cap on funding increases and finally beginning the process of fully implementing the state’s school funding formula that was established in 2008.”

Betze said that within the next month, Jamesburg will be receiving $236,000 in additional state aid from the Department of Education.

“We have been very confident we would have received additional funding. According to the data, we were slated to receive $230,000 in additional funding. Again, this is far from the $4 million (additional aid) we should be receiving each year,” Betze said.

Betze said district administrators are sensitive to the taxpayers of Jamesburg and may be providing some type of tax relief with the additional funds.

“Over the past 10 years, our district has cut basic skills support, clubs, sports, library, curriculum development, textbook procurement, and a host of other programs meant to help bolster the achievement levels of our students,” Betze said. “We are in the process of adding all of that back into our educational offerings.”

It has yet to be determined whether the additional funds received from the Department of Education will be considered the borough’s fair share of funding, according to Betze.

Betze said no student in the state should go without the proper funding and educational support so that he or she may reach their full potential.

“Unfortunately, money makes the difference on what additional items can be instituted and provide for all of the students. We have been very supportive of the governor’s efforts to properly fund school districts,” Betze said. “It is not an easy thing to do given the current state of our economy and restraints in the state. Yet we are very hopeful that we may continue to offer full-day preschool and the proper support for all of our students.”

The board’s next meeting will be at 7:30 p.m. on July 26 at the Grace M. Breckwedel Middle School Cyber CafĂ©, located at 13 Augusta St.

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.