Edison BOE proposes to give $11.4 million increase in state aid back to taxpayers

HOPEWELL BORO: Homeowners given five extra days to settle their property taxes

EDISON – With a significant increase in state aid for the 2021-22 school year of $11.49 million, school officials are proposing to give the increase back to the taxpayers.

Schools Superintendent Bernard Bragen announced the decision at a Board of Education (BOE) meeting on March 18. He said the board’s Finance and Facilities committee made the recommendation to provide the relief and he supports the decision.

“I have been in this game for 32 years, I’ve never been a part of that,” he said. “It’s a monumental event and it will significantly impact our tax rate.”

The Edison BOE approved the preliminary $274.23 million 2021-22 budget, which is the same amount of the 2020-21 budget resulting in a zero tax increase.

“We were able [to propose a zero tax increase] through efficiencies going over several ways to save money,” Bragen said.

The proposed school tax bill for 2021 will decrease by $34. The proposed tax levy decreases from $235.01 million in the 2020-21 school year to $223.64 million at an average assessed value of $178,300 for 2021-22.

Bragen said the administration and BOE are committed to the programs and staff members in place and looking forward to continuing to provide “nothing less than excellence.”

The superintendent said contingencies are in place if the anticipated increase in state aid falls through, which includes working with the district’s health provider and health broker to potentially save as much as $5 million in a self-insured plan.

Also, Bragen said there is $10 million within the budget capital reserves – some $2 million set aside for roofing repairs and $6 million for the upgrades to Lincoln Elementary School, which could offset a reduction in state aid.

The BOE approved its $277.19 million 2020-21 budget at a meeting last May with the expectation of receiving $27.82 million in state aid, an increase of $4.46 million from 2019-20. However, the state reduced state aid last year, which left the district with $24.35 million, a $2.97 million reduction for the district.

Some members of the public asked whether or not the district was making the right decision with where to put the increase in state aid suggesting splitting the funds between the taxpayer as well as addressing the overcrowding issues in the district.

Board President Jerry Shi said he understands the logic of putting the money back into the schools. He said with a population of 100,000-plus people, they felt it was the right decision to give it back and have residents decide if they want to donate funds back to the district.

He said if residents want to donate funds to the district, the board has a policy to accept donations.

Bragen said for many years Edison has not received its fair share of funding from the state and taxpayers are entitled to the funds. He said the board wrestled with the decision with the increase in state aid.

“I don’t envy their position,” he said. “They are elected officials representing all of you, the public, and have to make that decision whether or not to give money back to the taxpayers as the intent of [Gov. Phil Murphy’s] increase of the S-2 funding formula or use [the funds] for capital improvements. I don’t have an answer, I see both sides. The board made their position and I support it.”

Murphy unveiled his administration’s budget proposal in February.

The proposed $18.1 billion fiscal year (FY) 2022 budget furthers the governor’s historic commitment to education, with $578 million in additional K-12 school aid and nearly $50 million in additional preschool funding. When paired with additional investments in extraordinary special aid and stabilization aid, the FY2022 budget increases school funding by $700 million.

Murphy’s four budgets will have increased direct pre-K through 12 spending statewide by nearly $1.5 billion.

School districts will be able to use state funds in conjunction with federal resources to address COVID-19-related learning loss, stand up mental health programs, train educators, and remediate buildings, among other uses.

“The budget proposal unveiled this week furthers our commitment to ensuring that school districts have the resources they need to the unique needs of their students and educators, an especially critical priority as districts manage challenges caused by COVID-19,” Murphy said. “I have long believed that investments in our students are investments in the future of our state, and now more than ever I am proud that our students continue to be a priority.”

Final adoption and presentation of Edison’s 2021-22 school year budget will be held the first week of May.