FRHSD superintendent: District facing ‘devastating’ reduction in state aid

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Freehold Regional High School District Superintendent of Schools Charles Sampson focused his comments during a recent meeting on an issue that will be a factor in the development of the 2019-20 school year budget.

Sampson spoke during the Board of Education’s annual reorganization meeting held on Jan. 7 at the district’s headquarters in Englishtown.

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“The district is facing a devastating aid reduction over the next seven years. An avenue we are pursuing is suing (the state) as a result of how the (funding) formula has been interpreted. The district has moved forward with … other districts in the state that are facing significant reductions,” he said.

The playing field for some school districts changed significantly in 2018.

Under Gov. Phil Murphy’s initial proposal in March, the district’s state aid for 2018-19 was expected to total $51.564 million. Using that amount, administrators crafted a $206 million budget for 2018-19.

However, the district’s state aid amount changed in mid-July when Murphy and leaders in the state Legislature renegotiated New Jersey’s school aid funding and trimmed Freehold Regional’s state aid to $50.296 million – a loss of $1.27 million from what the district had been told it would receive for 2018-19.

That action in Trenton left district administrators with the option to reduce funding for certain line items in the budget or to add revenue without raising additional funding from taxpayers for 2018-19.

On July 23, board members appropriated $1.27 million from the surplus fund to account for the loss in state aid without reducing the $206 million budget. However, that decision will not conclude the matter for board members.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Administration Sean Boyce said the plan put in place by Murphy and the Legislature will continue to reduce state aid in the following manner: $48.27 million for 2019-20; $45.73 million for 2020-21; $42.18 million for 2021-22; $37.62 million for 2022-23; $32.29 million for 2023-24; and $26.21 million for 2024-25.

Sampson, in July, said a $24 million reduction in the district’s state aid from 2018-19 to 2024-25 “will destroy the school system. We are going to take steps to make sure that is not going to happen. Our leaders have to take a deeper look at all of this rather than pandering to political factions across the state in terms of how they problem solve this.”

During the Jan. 7 reorganization meeting, the superintendent said the projected loss of state aid “is a financial cliff for the school district. We are pursuing legal remedies. We are working with our local legislators to bring our case forward and hopefully to have people look at the funding formula itself and some of the difficulties with it.

“In addition to taking a look at matters such as special education, extraordinary aid is the funding the district (receives) to help some of our neediest students, that was funded at approximately 56 percent during the last budget year. That means we were shorted $2.5 million in funding some of our neediest students,” Sampson said.

“We are going to address the funding formula itself and we hope our local legislators will take action to pull us off the path we are on. We have formed a group with 70 other districts across the state to directly lobby Trenton.

“I cannot in my heart of hearts believe the intent to fund school districts that had been underfunded over the past decade was designed to come at the expense of other districts,” he said.

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