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Old Bridge school officials will discuss reduction in state aid at forum Jan. 24

OLD BRIDGE – The sudden reduction in state aid came without warning last July and has left school officials in Old Bridge reeling on how best to handle what officials have called a “catastrophic” situation.

“The state aid we have received over the six years I have been here has been between $44 to $45 million,” School Business Administrator Joseph Marra said.

With Gov. Phil Murphy’s revamp of the School Funding Formula, which was approved by the New Jersey Senate and the House of Representatives on July 21, the Old Bridge Township Public Schools will receive an approximate $12 million reduction in state aid over the next seven years from approximately $45 million to $33 million.

“Based on the [amended] formula, [the state says] we are overfunded,” Schools Superintendent David Cittadino said, noting the district does not apply for state aid. “[The reduction] came without warning and did not provide us the time to put a strategic plan in place. [The handling of the reduction has been] irresponsible and it is detrimental to our students.”

The school district has just under 9,000 students, 1,388 employees and 17 educational facilities.

The amended state School Funding Formula went into effect on July 24. Schools officials said they were notified in a phone call on July 13.

Cittadino and Marra sat down with the Suburban to discuss the situation on Jan. 8. On Jan. 24, Cittadino will hold a State of the District Superintendent’s Forum discussing the finances of the district at 7 p.m. in the Old Bridge High School Cafeteria. He said he urges the public to attend the forum.

The amended School Funding Formula repeals provisions, which prohibits a school district’s state aid from increasing from one year to the next by more than the state aid growth limit; specifies in the case of a school district in which the state aid received in the 2017-18 school year is less than the amount that the district would receive in the absence of the state aid growth limit; and a district will receive an increase in aid equal to its proportionate share of the sum of any additional state aid included in the annual budget and the amount of any aid reduction made to other school districts.

The amendment further specifies if the state aid received by a district in the 2017-18 school year is greater than the amount that the district would receive in the absence of the state aid growth limit, the excess aid is phased out over a 7-year period.

For the 2018-19 school year, Marra said the district anticipated $45 million in state aid. The district was notified it would receive a decrease of $1.1 million.

For the 2019-20 school year, the district anticipates a $2.6 million decrease, or 13 percent; for the 2020-21 school year, the district’s state aid will reduce 23 percent; for the 2021-22 school year, the district’s state aid will reduce 37 percent; for the 2022-23 school year, the district’s state aid will reduce 55 percent; for the 2023-24 school year, the district’s state aid will reduce 76 percent; and for the 2024-25 school year, the district’s state aid will reduce 100 percent.

“We had used the [state aid] funds to cover recurring expenses,” Marra said. “Salaries are our biggest costs of our $150 million budget.”

He said recurring expenses include collective bargaining contracts, a custodial contract, and health and medical benefits, which the district has no control over. He noted the collected bargaining and custodial contracts expire on June 30.

Marra said the district had to reject all the recent custodial contract bids because they came in $1.4 million higher than the existing custodial contract. School officials said the increase in cost is due to the New Jersey Affordable Care Act, which moved from the required single medical coverage to family medical coverage on Jan. 1.

Cittadino said officials have reached out to the New Jersey Department of Education and local legislators for help.

“They have denied our request to meet because some districts have filed a lawsuit due to the reduction in state aid,” he said. “We have not decided to join the lawsuit at this time.”

The superintendent said the district’s goal is to come out with the best case scenario and have the Old Bridge Township Public Schools continue to run efficiently. He said over the years, the district has been recognized for their full-day kindergarten offerings and has been a model character education district.

Cittadino, who has been superintendent for six years, said he was in the district when the major education state aid cuts occurred in 2009 made by then Gov. Chris Christie.

“This is worse,” he said. “The budget cuts [in 2009] were across the board and it was bad, the fiscal impact of the proposed charter school [last year] would have been bad, but this is 10 times worse.”

Cittadino noted the township school district is the only school district affected in Middlesex County from the amended School Funding Formula.

Marra said he was in another school district in 2009. He said at the time, the school districts had at least a two week window to deal with the cuts.

The district has received support from the Old Bridge Township Council, which passed a resolution in support of the Old Bridge Township Public Schools and against the amended School Funding Formula.

For more information, visit actionnetwork.org/petitions/restore-state-funding-to-old-bridge-public-schools

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