Howell council opposes law that reduces school districts’ state aid

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HOWELL – The members of the Howell Township Council have put their opposition to a state law that reduces aid to school districts on the record.

The 2018 law, known as S-2, increased state aid to some New Jersey school districts and reduced state aid to other school districts, including the Howell K-8 School District and the Freehold Regional High School District.

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The reduction in state aid to certain school districts began in 2018-19 and is expected to continue through the 2024-25 school year under the terms of the legislation that was signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy in 2018. S-2 changed the way state aid is distributed among New Jersey’s school districts.

Although the Township Council has no control over either school district, Mayor Theresa Berger, Deputy Mayor Evelyn O’Donnell, Councilman Tom Russo, Councilman John Bonevich and Councilwoman Pamela Richmond passed a resolution objecting to the cuts in state aid during their Feb. 4 meeting.

Municipal officials said that after receiving $32.63 million in state aid for 2018-19, the Howell K-8 School District received $30.98 million for 2019-20.

The council’s resolution states that S-2 has fundamentally changed the way New Jersey distributes state aid to school districts and in doing so has applied unfair and devastating cuts that will cripple the Howell K-8 and Freehold Regional districts.

Council members said S-2 will ultimately result in crippling tax increases for residents based on the new formula that unfairly distributes state aid. They said S-2 will result in historic cuts to student education that will negatively impact Howell residents at the K-8 and 9-12 levels.

The resolution calls the ongoing reduction in state aid “unthinkable” and states that the loss of funding will result in massive changes at the K-8 and 9-12 levels, including but not limited to the elimination of certain after-school programs, the elimination of certain athletic programs, reductions to enrichment programs and programs for gifted and talented pupils, the elimination of basic skills teaching positions, reductions in general education staffing, increases in class size and the elimination of courtesy busing.

S-2 reduced the Freehold Regional High School District’s state aid by $3.8 million for 2019-20 and is expected to reduce the district’s state aid by $6 million to $7 million for 2020-21. Howell sends the largest number of students to the regional district and stands to be hit the hardest by the reduction in state aid, according to the resolution.

S-2 cut state aid by $1.6 million to the Howell K-8 School District for 2019-20, with further cuts expected going forward.

According to the council, the law will continue to force reductions in services in and out of  the classroom that will negatively impact students, unfairly impacting their ability to receive a fair and thorough education, and will ultimately force devastating tax increases at the local and regional levels that will become the burden of residents.

Berger, O’Donnell, Richmond, Bonevich and Russo are asking Murphy “to scrap the punitive funding and new aid formula” and to immediately return school aid to previous levels until such time as a new, fair and balanced formula can be enacted that more equitably distributes state aid.

“One of the main reasons why people decide to call Howell home and invest in Howell is due to our fantastic schools,” Russo said. “The millions of dollars cut from our state aid is simply egregious and cannot be sustained.

“S-2 will undoubtedly harm the educational experience for our children in extremely significant ways, including but not limited to big cuts to classes and programs, larger class sizes, (instituting) pay-to-play sports and yes, higher taxes. Busing will also be impacted.

“I, along with my colleagues on the council, call on Gov. Murphy and the legislators and government officials in Trenton who supported S-2 to reconsider this harmful law, or at the very least, work toward formulating and implementing measures to decrease the negative impacts S-2 will have on our schools.

“We also demand that the S-2 funding formula be immediately disclosed to the public so we can attempt to at least understand how these cuts were formulated,” Russo said.

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