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Millstone officials plan to seek relief from projected reduction in school state aid

The Weston Mill Dam will be removed from Millstone River in an effort to clear the way for local aquatic life.

MILLSTONE – Municipal officials hope to appeal the revised way in which school state aid is being distributed; a revision that may result in the Millstone Township K-8 School District losing $2 million in state aid during the next several years.

During a Township Committee meeting on Aug. 15, Mayor Gary Dorfman spoke about a meeting he and Bernard Biesiada, the school district’s business administrator, attended with New Jersey Commissioner of Education Lamont O. Repollet to discuss a revised distribution of state aid that resulted in the school district receiving less aid than was initially expected for the 2018-19 school year.

Under Gov. Phil Murphy’s initial proposal in March, the school district’s state aid package for the 2018-19 school year was expected to total $4.95 million. Using that number and following the directives of state officials, district administrators crafted a $38.7 million budget for 2018-19 (July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019).

However, the district’s state aid allocation changed following negotiations between Murphy and leaders in the state Legislature resulted in a bill – which was signed into law by the governor on July 24 – which trimmed the district’s state aid to $4.7 million, a decrease of $255,316.

As a result of the decrease, school district administrators reduced appropriations for 2018-19 to account for the state aid that was lost.

At the Aug. 15 Township Committee meeting, Dorfman said the initial $255,316 reduction may eventually lead to a $2 million reduction in state aid for the school district.

“This (reduction) was not received well by the Board of Education nor by the governing body here as we represent the interests of the citizens in town and the school district,” Dorfman said.

“We are a little perplexed to understand why we as a relatively low-cost per student, high-performing district would receive a reduction in funds while perpetually failing, very high-cost districts receive (an) increase in their funding,” the mayor said.

The meeting with Repollet was facilitated by state assemblymen Rob Clifton and Ron Dancer (both R-Monmouth, Ocean, Middlesex, Burlington) and attended by officials from school districts that are facing a reduction in state aid during the next six years.

Dorfman said Repollet spoke of an appeals process Millstone Township would pursue.

“The school board and the school administration are doing what they can to contest (the reduction in state aid) with the municipal government assisting,” he said.

The mayor also said he and Biesiada informed Repollet about the impact the current and projected reductions in state aid will have on the school district and noted that the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA), the basis of the funding formula, dates back to 2008.

“Some of us in the rural districts spoke to some of the changes that have occurred since that funding formula (was put in place),” Dorfman said. “Things that we may have not anticipated as costs back then that are part of what we need to do to provide services [include] certain transportation issues, certain school security issues [and] certain programs that are now required that may not have been required at the time the funding formula was created.”

Concerns about SFRA dating back to 2008 were shared by John J. Marciante Jr., the superintendent of schools in the neighboring Manalapan-Englishtown Regional School District, in a letter to Repollet dated on Aug. 14.

For 2018-19, Manalapan-Englishtown’s state aid was reduced from $19.94 million to $18.77 million, a decrease of $1.17 million.

“I am a strong supporter of the intent of SFRA and believe its appropriate implementation is long overdue,” Marciante wrote to Repollet. “Unfortunately, [the Senate bill revising the distribution of aid] did not accomplish a fair and equitable distribution of state aid.

“The current funding formula is significantly flawed since it is based on a standardized 2008 school district. State aid decisions which have a significant impact on the education of children throughout the state are being made through the implementation of a formula which is not consistent with the intent of the law.

“It is imperative that this situation be corrected before the 2019-20 budgets are developed,” he continued. “The education of far too many children will be negatively impacted if we allow the 2008 cost model to be the basis of school funding for another year.”

Marciante said he was a member of a committee in 2010 that developed an Educational Adequacy Report which was completed, but never submitted to the state Legislature. He is now requesting to have a new Educational Adequacy Report developed.

“I implore you [Repollet] to immediately establish a committee to develop the Educational Adequacy Report and submit this report to the Legislature on Jan. 1, 2019,” he wrote.

According to Marciante, Millstone Township Superintendent of Schools Christopher Huss is among the superintendents who support the request to establish a committee to develop the Educational Adequacy Report.

In addition to Huss, according Marciante, other superintendents who support the request are Tami Crader of Neptune Township, where state aid was reduced from $32.20 million to $31.48 million; Stephen Genco of Jackson, where state aid was reduced from $50.12 million to $48.77 million; Scott McCue of Eatontown, where state aid was reduced from $3.9 million to $3.65 million; Deb Mercora of Neptune City, where state aid was reduced from $2.06 million to $2.01 million; Scott Ridley of Hazlet, where state aid was reduced from $12.91 million to $12.55 million; and James Stefankiewicz of Ocean Township, where state aid was reduced from $8.08 million to $7.47 million.

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