WARETOWN, NJ – The inevitable is becoming a reality sooner than expected. As far back as last summer, Ocean Township Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Christopher Lommerin, shared his concerns. According to Lommerin, the state planned to substantially cut financial aid to the district.
Reduced funding creates problems in the best of circumstances. However, in this case, the timeline changed. While the numbers remain the same, the state has accelerated the loss to come quicker. This means a revision in this year's proposed budget to make sure there’s money is there to cover it.
Today, Lommerin sent a letter to parents explaining the district’s predicament. He started by sharing his love for the district, while also outlining the impact of losing approximately six million dollars in a seven-year period.
Describing the situation as “dire,” Lommerin said the district plans to mitigate the negative impact on students by cutting everything possible before dismissing educators. He hopes to avoid losing “precious” student-ratios and services.
“According to our advanced budget planning, beginning the 2021-2022 school year, our district will endure massive cuts in after school offerings, teachers, assistants, administration, support staff, related services, libraries, and facilities,” wrote Lommerin. “The result will be traumatic…to put it plainly, we will lose our people that make this a special place for children to learn and grow.”
Lommerin’s letter also provided insight into the state’s formula, which results in a nearly a third of the township’s school budget of $20M. Almost half of the money is allotted to the Southern Regional School district for tuition and transportation of students in grades 7-12.
Despite his concerns, Lommerin attempted to suggest variables that could change the grim outlook. If Waretown’s new housing brings in additional students, the district would be entitled to additional per-pupil funds. The state might even change its funding formula. Additionally, there’s a possibility that Ocean Township could qualify for Equalization Aid to replace lost Adjustment Aid.
According to Lommerin, the reduction in aid would necessitate a twenty percent increase in taxes to keep things as they are in the district.
“Our two percent tax levy cap is roughly $250,000,” wrote Lommerin. “It would take decades for us to recover unless we go over the cap each year, not practical, possible, or fair.”
During last night’s Board of Education meeting, Board President Shawn Denning acknowledged that the state cuts and encouraged everyone to contact state legislators to complain about them. However, he also offered words of encouragement and asked that no one panic at the news.
“I do want people to be confident that we are going to provide a thorough and efficient education,” Denning said. “We knew the cuts were coming and didn’t expect them to speed up the process.”
According to the board president, the reduction in state aid announcement came in just two weeks before approval of the district’s preliminary budget.
Lommerin reiterated his views that the district would do everything it could to keep employees. “Without people, we’re not a school,” he said. “The one positive thing is that everyone will be in the district for the next school year.”
The superintendent admitted that he could not make any promises concerning the need for layoffs in the year after next.