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Freehold Regional administrators ask Gov. Murphy to review school aid reduction

Representatives of the Freehold Regional High School District are asking Gov. Phil Murphy to review an ongoing mandated reduction in the amount of aid the district receives from the state.

Superintendent of Schools Charles Sampson, Board of Education President Carl Accettola and Sean Boyce, the assistant superintendent for business administration/board secretary, wrote to Murphy on Jan. 31 and discussed the negative impact they said an ongoing reduction in state aid is having on the district.

A 2018 bill that was passed in the state Legislature and signed into law by Murphy redistributes state aid among New Jersey’s school districts. The law is referred to as S-2. As a result, some school districts have seen an increase in the amount of aid they are receiving and some districts have seen a decrease in their state aid.

The FRHSD lost state aid in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years and is expected to continue losing state aid through the 2024-25 school year under S-2. Administrators have said between $6 million and $7 million will be cut from the district’s state aid package for the 2020-21 school year.

In their letter to the governor, Sampson, Accettola and Boyce wrote, “We ask that the phasing out of state aid under S-2 is extended until the magnitude of its impact is fully understood and that the phasing in of state aid to the districts who saw sharp enrollment increases continues on the current schedule established by S-2 with new revenue for state aid earmarked to those districts.

“Otherwise, thousands of children, many of them your youngest constituents, will be negatively impacted in the short and long term. It is time for the funding formula to be completely redesigned through a transparent process that benefits every student in this state,” they wrote.

The FRHSD administrators are developing a budget for the 2020-21 school year. In anticipation of receiving a smaller state aid package than what the district received in 2019-20, administrators have informed the public that busing for thousands of students who live within 2.5 miles of the high school they attend could be eliminated, and that fees could be instituted for student participation on sports teams and in extracurricular activities.

The district’s sending municipalities are Colts Neck, Englishtown, Farmingdale, Freehold Borough, Freehold Township, Howell, Manalapan and Marlboro. The district educates 10,600 students in six high schools.

“S-2 has had and will continue to have a direct negative impact on the high school students in (the district) and will adversely affect all the taxpayers in these (eight) communities,” Sampson, Accettola and Boyce wrote.

“We are certain it was not the intent of those in the Legislature to create divisive legislation that will have damaging long-term consequences for the children of New Jersey. We doubt any elected official would support such outcomes, but unfortunately, that is exactly what is occurring,” they wrote to the governor.

Sampson, Accettola and Boyce went on to write, “The belief that this district has somehow lived ‘high on the hog’ for years – a sound bite and talking point often stated by supporters of S-2 – is a dangerous misrepresentation of the Freehold Regional.

“The repeated refrain we hear is that our enrollment is declining, that we should have been downsizing accordingly all along. The answer is we did and continue to downsize. On average our enrollment declines approximately 1.4% each year.

“With our enrollment being close to 10,600 students you can see how minimal that decrease is each year. With that slight decrease in students each year, we worked to eliminate positions to keep our ratio of staff to students efficient.

“In 2010 alone, 81 staff positions were cut from across the district. In addition, since 2014, we have eliminated an additional 36 positions of faculty, staff and administrators to match the decline of student enrollment. That is 117 positions eliminated over a decade; an average of almost 12 positions a year.

“We recognize the challenge of generating revenue to adequately fund education in New Jersey, but we implore you to work toward a solution that ensures every student in the state receives the education he or she deserves. S-2 in its current form is not that answer.

“Helping some students at the expense of others is the opposite of providing a fair education for all. Before we begin to dismantle the educational programming with negative consequences for every child in the Freehold Regional, we respectfully ask that you reconsider your stance on S-2 in light of the severe negative consequences it will have for thousands of children and families in New Jersey,” Sampson, Accettola and Boyce wrote to Murphy.

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