WARETOWN, NJ - The Ocean Township Board of Education has already dispelled the rumors regarding the possible dissolution of the school district. That said, the loss of state aid remains an issue. Meanwhile, the district not sure why it lost funding in the first place.
From all appearances, the issue isn’t unique to Ocean Township. School districts throughout New Jersey want answers. Many have accused the state of arbitrarily determining allocations without sharing the methods used to calculate state aid funding.
At last night’s board of education meeting, members unanimously passed a resolution that begins with an open public records (OPRA) request to the state. Its initial purpose is to secure “data and records as to how the state calculates and allocates state aid to each district.”
Other communities throughout the state have already passed similar resolutions to pursue the information as a collective entity. Toms River is the most local municipality that wants to understand the rationale behind making the cuts.
If the state doesn’t appropriately respond to the OPRA request, the next step is litigation. According to George Gahles, business administrator and board secretary, Ocean Township’s maximum contribution would not exceed $1K, as the lawsuit would become a joint effort from several communities.
“I think when you’re looking at spending a $1K when you’re losing millions of dollars, it just makes sense,” said board member Brian Tart.
Board Vice President Sue McDowell presented information regarding failed legislation that would allow districts to make adjustments to their two percent budget cap. Governor Phil Murphy vetoed the law that could have provided additional property tax dollars for funding for schools that lost state aid.
In passing on information she received at a New Jersey School Board Association meeting, McDowell shared the group’s disappointment with what they felt was the governor’s misinterpretation of the intention of the law. The confusion appeared to be an attempt to connect a potential millionaire’s tax with state aid funding. The association called the two “unrelated.”
“Under the state school funding law, any additional revenues generated by a millionaire’s tax cannot be used to provide additional funds to districts that were losing school aid,” reported McDowell.
During the public comments portion of the meeting, Waretown resident Ashley Ernest expressed her concerns that the board seemed disappointed that Murphy decided against raising the cap for local school funding.
“At a previous meeting, I questioned the board about the legislation about going above the two percent cap,” Ernest said. “Mr. Denning (BOE board president) said that even if the legislation did pass, the district would not go above the two percent cap.”
According to Ernest, it seemed that the board was sending a mixed message in sharing how unfortunate it was that the legislation did not pass.
“Mr. Denning did say we would not go above the two percent cap,” clarified McDowell. “I was reporting the New Jersey School Board Association’s disappointment in it not going through. Other school districts that planned to go in that direction, now cannot.”