School district’s state aid lawsuit rejected at initial level

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An administrative law judge has recommended that a lawsuit filed by school districts regarding reductions in school funding be dismissed.

Speaking during the Aug. 20 meeting of the Manalapan-Englishtown Regional School District Board of Education, Superintendent of Schools John J. Marciante Jr. said, “The district received Judge Ellen S. Bass’s initial decision and recommendation to the commissioner of education on Aug. 13.

“Judge Bass recommended that the petition be dismissed. This was anticipated by the district’s attorneys and was not a surprise. The next step will be to file exceptions to Judge Bass’s initial decision, after which it will reviewed by the commissioner.

“It is unlikely the commissioner will rule in our favor. It has always been our expectation that the case will be resolved in the Appellate Division and in the Supreme Court. Based on the allowed timelines, I would expect the commissioner’s decision by early November,” Marciante said.

The district is taking on the New Jersey Department of Education in a fight for additional state funding. The litigation addresses what the board has called “the unequal and disparate results caused by the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) of 2008’s distribution of available state aid and its impact upon its local taxpayers.”

The district is represented by the Weiner Law Group.

By way of background, a resolution passed by the board states that Senate Bill 2 (S-2), which was passed in the state Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy in 2018, reflects the current application of the SFRA that provides state aid to public school districts.

In its resolution, the board said the Legislature “has appropriated limited monies to fund such state aid for public school districts,” that “the arbitrary and inconsistent determination of the local fair share as determined by the state will negatively impact the taxpayers who support the district,” that “the arbitrary and inconsistent determination of the adequacy amount as determined by the state will negatively impact the students who attend the district,” that “other school districts are receiving more of their state aid allocation pursuant to the SFRA, based on the arbitrary and inconsistent determination by the state; and that “such disparate treatment is neither ‘equal’ nor ‘equitable’ and is without a rational basis.”

Marciante has said that state aid to the Manalapan-Englishtown district will decrease by almost $13 million over six years. He has said the reduction in aid would “lead to devastating cuts to our academic programs, increased class sizes, the possible elimination of courtesy busing, increased taxes and the introduction of significant fees that parents will need to pay for extracurricular activities.”