JACKSON – Stephen Genco, the superintendent of schools in the Jackson School District, knows that developing a budget for the 2019-20 school year will be “a little bit different” than in previous years because of a looming reduction in the amount of aid the district will receive from the state.
“This year’s process is going to be a little bit different. Typically in February we will still have our supervisors and department heads doing budgets … We always started basically from the ground up, what (supervisors) need and what they want. We are being a little bit more realistic,” Genco told Board of Education members on Jan. 15.
As a result of decisions made on the state level in July 2018, the board was forced to accommodate a $1.35 million reduction in state aid two weeks into the 2018-19 fiscal year. The school district is facing a $1.3 million reduction in state aid for 2019-20.
“We will be short $1.3 million in state aid. Moving forward, (raising taxes to the limit allowed by law) allows us to raise approximately $1.6 million. You (board members) are looking at going to the (tax) limit, losing $1.3 million, we can raise the basic budget by $300,000 when I know contractually we have at least a $2.2 million contractual obligation with everybody,” Genco said. “Our salary obligations, because our contracts are negotiated, are not unreasonable contracts, they are very reasonable contracts.”
The superintendent said administrators must pay attention to staff members that could be lost as the 2019-20 budget is developed.
“As much as we talk about programs and we want to protect programs, programs are only as good as the staff you have. If you are watching the news, we are a far cry from where teachers are walking out in Los Angeles, but really, we are teaching classes of 40 (students) and you do not have the supplies you need and all of those things. That is what this will eventually be because this is year two” of a planned multi-year reduction in state aid, Genco said.
He said if the law that was enacted in 2018 remains in place, five years from now the school district’s budget will be $4 million less than the budget that administrators and board members are currently working on.
“Does anybody believe we are going to be able to function with $4 million less five years from now? No,” Genco said.
He said it is important for parents and teachers to write to state legislators to discuss the impact the reduction in school aid will have on Jackson.
“I am meeting with legislators … we are obviously part of a lawsuit suing the (Department of Education) and the state to get our funding back,” Genco said.
Under Gov. Phil Murphy’s initial proposal in March 2018, Jackson’s state aid for 2018-19 was expected to total $50.122 million. Using that number, administrators crafted a $153.83 million budget.
However, the state aid amount changed in July 2018 when a bill signed into law by Murphy changed the way school aid is allocated and trimmed Jackson’s state aid for 2018-19 to $48.77 million.
District administrators suddenly had to find a way to accommodate the loss of $1.35 million and they did so by reducing appropriations in dozens of line items by $752,000 and by appropriating $600,000 from surplus funds (savings) and adding it as revenue in the budget.
With a scheduled reduction of $1.3 million, Jackson’s state aid for 2019-20 would decrease to $47.47 million. Genco has said Jackson will lose more than $17 million in state aid if the law remains in its current form through 2024-25.