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FRHSD superintendent warns residents about next state aid decrease

The issue of state funding for the Freehold Regional High School District was a topic of Superintendent of Schools Charles Sampson’s regular report during a recent meeting.

The Board of Education held its 2020 reorganization meeting on Jan. 6 at the district’s offices in Englishtown.

The board oversees the operation of high schools in Colts Neck, Freehold Borough, Freehold Township, Howell, Manalapan and Marlboro. Those six communities, plus Englishtown and Farmingdale, comprise the FRHSD.

According to district administrators, 10,575 students currently attend the six schools. The district’s enrollment was 10,640 students in January 2019.

During his report, Sampson once again raised the specter of a reduction in state funding as district administrators are working to develop a budget for the 2020-21 academic year.

The budget will be introduced and adopted by the board during the spring. Residents of the eight sending municipalities will learn how much each municipality will pay in property taxes to support the operation of the six high schools in 2020-21. Residents will have an opportunity to comment on the budget during a public hearing.

Since 2018, the FRHSD has been impacted by a state law known as S-2, which reduced state school funding to almost 200 school districts and increased state funding to other school districts.

State officials have declined to explain to school district administrators and the public how the funding formula assigns an aid amount to a district. That issue is now being litigated by school districts asserting they have been negatively impacted by S-2.

Under S-2, the FRHSD saw its state funding reduced during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 academic years. State funding is expected to continue to be reduced each year through 2024-25.

For the 2018-19 school year, the FRHSD received $50.3 million in state aid. For the 2019-20 school year, the district received $46.52 million in state aid.

District administrators have said another multi-million dollar reduction is scheduled for the 2020-21 school year.

The board is fighting S-2 in a legal action with other school districts that have been similarly impacted.

“There will be cut after cut after cut for the next several years,” Sampson told board members and the public. “We are trying to bring our message about the impact of the cuts to our student experience and our communities to our legislators and the community.

“Folks are going to notice when things are reduced. That’s an unfortunate reality. No one has taken a step back (since S-2 became law in 2018) to examine what the impact is going to be,” Sampson said.

The superintendent said the issue of state funding is complicated because school districts that are being hit with an annual reduction in funding are feeling the impact in different ways.

“It’s not so simple to say we are undertaxed. It’s much more nuanced than that,” Sampson said.

FRHSD lost $1.4 million in funding in 2018-19 and $3.8 million in funding in 2019-20. The impact of the anticipated reduction in state funding for 2020-21 is expected to be detailed when the board presents its budget for the upcoming school year in the near future.

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