Pressure on state’s finances may cost Freehold Borough schools $1.4 million

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FREEHOLD – Administrators in the Freehold Borough K-8 School District expect to see the total amount of state aid the district was promised for the 2020-21 school year reduced by $1.43 million.

In February, administrators were informed by state officials that the district would receive $17.35 million for the 2020-21 school year. Using that amount, administrators crafted a $33 million budget that was adopted by the Board of Education on May 4.

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However, on May 29, state officials announced that as a result of the financial impact the 2020 coronavirus pandemic was having on New Jersey’s finances, state aid to schools for the upcoming academic year is being revised.

Freehold Borough now expects to receive $15.92 million in state aid for the 2020-21 school year. During the 2019-20 school year, the district received $15.25 million in state aid.

“We are disappointed Freehold Borough is being cut $1.43 million from the amount of state aid originally designated for the 2020-21 school year,” Superintendent of Schools Rocco Tomazic said.

“This yet again delays the day we can achieve our goal of receiving 100% of the state aid guaranteed our students by the New Jersey State Constitution.

“While we recognize the fiscal realities the coronavirus has had on our state economy, it remains unexplained why the district was allowed to pass its final budget on May 4 based on state aid numbers that were reversed just three weeks later.

“We can plan better for difficult times when we are not constantly reacting to unpleasant surprises,” the superintendent said.

The school district’s state aid has increased each year since the enactment of state legislation known as S-2 in 2018. According to district administrators, Freehold Borough is among the most underfunded school districts in New Jersey.

Assistant Superintendent of Business Joseph Howe said the district, although aware of the looming reduction in state aid for 2020-21, has not officially received a revised notice regarding the change.

District administrators anticipate a notice regarding the reduction in state aid to be issued shortly after Gov. Phil Murphy presents his revised fiscal year 2021 budget address on Aug. 25.

“Since becoming aware of the potential of an impending cut, the administration and school board have been working diligently to review all options now that this news comes just shortly after our final budget (for 2020-21) had been adopted on May 4.

“With this potential cut in mind, the administration is taking steps now, such as eliminating positions through attrition, to reduce the deleterious effects of cutting a budget while the school year is in progress.

“No final decisions on a revised budget can be made until a revised state aid notice is received, along with guidance from the Department of Education of the terms and conditions under which we must adjust our budget.

“We are appreciative of the significant investment the state has made in K-12 education and in the meantime, it is our hope some alternative will be found to keep our budget intact for this coming year,” Howe said on June 1.

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