A reduction in state aid for the 2019-20 school year has administrators in the Eatontown Public Schools questioning the ideology that determines which New Jersey school districts receive additional state aid which districts see a reduction.
According to state aid figures posted by the New Jersey Department of Education, Eatontown’s K-8 district received $3.647 million in state aid for the 2018-19 school year. The district is scheduled to receive $3.361 million in state aid for the 2019-20 school year – a reduction of $286,000.
The school district’s total budget for the 2018-19 school year was about $21 million. District administrators said the budget for the 2019-20 school year will total about $20 million.
The Board of Education was expected to introduce a tentative budget for the 2019-20 school year on March 19.
A public hearing on the budget has been scheduled for April 29. Residents may ask questions about the budget that night and the board may adopt the budget following the public hearing.
In an interview on March 12 at the district’s offices on Grant Avenue, Superintendent of Schools Scott McCue and Board of Education President Bob English called the $286,000 reduction in state aid for the upcoming school year “devastating and catastrophic.”
McCue said state officials are “fixing one problem and creating another” by provided additional state aid to some school districts and less state aid to other school districts.
“(Educators) really just want transparency in terms of what the funding formula looks like and how (state aid) is calculated,” McCue said.
He said the reduction in state aid could result in the elimination of programs, classroom materials and/or employees.
“An almost $300,000 cut on a $20 million budget is substantial. We need to reduce our budget now,” McCue said.
McCue and English said the methodology used to determine how much state aid a school district receives is unknown.
Because some school districts require additional state aid, McCue said, state officials are “depriving” other school districts of financial assistance that is also needed.
“We are not against other districts getting money,” the superintendent said. “In order for the state to give some districts additional money, (officials) took money away from 190 districts.
“When we get to the end of 2025, we are going to be where the districts the state sought to help were at when this process began (in 2018-19). By the time we get done cutting programs, materials and staff, our performance is going to go down.
“We are not going to have the ability to service students like we have been doing. (In 2025), we are going to be the one petitioning the state and saying (our district needs money),” he said.
By 2025, Eatontown will have lost $2.3 million in state aid over seven years, McCue reported. The reductions were mandated in a bill that was passed in the state Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy in the summer of 2018.
Eatontown anticipated receiving $3.97 million in state aid for 2018-19, but after Murphy signed the bill, known as S-2, into law, the district’s state aid was reduced to $3.647 million for 2018-19.
The district has four schools that educate about 970 students. There are about 160 employees, McCue said. Enrollment is down about 100 students from 2010.
To handle the unexpected reduction in state aid last summer, McCue said, classroom supplies were reduced, programs were cut and the employment of two police officers as in-school security was no longer an option because “we could not afford their salaries.”
“I guess the thought process is that some school districts have been overfunded, whatever ‘overfunded’ means, and there are districts that are underfunded. In order to solve this problem, the school districts which have been identified as being underfunded” receive more aid, the superintendent said.
McCue said the funding formula that determines the amount of state aid a school district receives could be determined by enrollment, but he said enrollment should not be the only factor the state relies on when providing aid.
He said when Fort Monmouth was fully functioning, hundreds of children who lived at the base were attending school in Eatontown. When the U.S. government closed Fort Monmouth in 2011, the school district began to see enrollment drop.
Regarding the demographics of the district, McCue said 43 percent of Eatontown’s students receive free or reduced price lunch; 20 percent of students require special education services; and 8 percent of students are English language learners.
“We also have 42 homeless students attending school in our district,” McCue said.
He said an ongoing reduction in state aid through 2025 could affect the district’s ability to assist students who require special services.
“Although our enrollment has decreased, the state expects us to provide a quality education for all different students. That costs money, resources, materials and staffing … A $2.3 million hit (in state aid) in the next five years will really hamper our ability to service students,” the superintendent said.
The district’s revenue for the 2019-20 budget are anticipated to consist of a $15 million tax levy to be collected from Eatontown’s residential and commercial property owners, state aid in the amount of $3.36 million and the remainder from the federal government, according to McCue.
“We are at the point where year after year we are tightening our budget, I think there is a misnomer that school districts are flush with cash. That money is not there at all. We are as tight as we can be and we have been tight for awhile,” he said.
In a notice posted on the school district’s website, administrators said closing one of the district’s four schools could be an option in the future.
McCue said closing a school “is a real possibility.”
In January, McCue said, the district received a $300,000 grant for additional pre-school funding. He said that money can only be used to develop full-day pre-school programs.
“It’s a real oddity that the youngest learners in the district are going to have a state-of-the-art preschool program and when they get to kindergarten the funding won’t be there to maintain that program,” McCue said.
On March 12, Mike Yaple, the director of public information for the New Jersey Department of Education, said, “Last year, a state law was enacted and aimed to eliminate years of funding inequities that overfunded some school districts, while failing to keep pace with funding needs in other growing districts.
“Some school districts have been overfunded since the start of the current school funding formula and some (districts) have seen decreases in student enrollment. The law was designed to eliminate adjustment aid and the state aid growth limit.
“The Fiscal Year 2020 budget proposal continues the phase-in to full funding that began last year with the passage of that law. Under the proposed Fiscal Year 2020 spending plan, nearly two-thirds of school districts will receive additional state aid,” Yaple said.
He did not provide the formula that determines the exact amount of state aid a school district receives.