SOUTH ORANGE-MAPLEWOOD, NJ - As you may have already heard, the South Orange-Maplewood schools are facing yet another multimillion dollar deficit for 2014-15. Even if we increase taxes by 2 percent, the school district is still going to have a $2.8 million to $3 million deficit in an operating budget of $114 million. Although this is not the biggest deficit the district has had, closing this deficit could be the most painful yet, since it's coming after so many years of cuts. At this point it is very difficult not to make cuts to programs with real educational merit.
The causes of the deficit are mostly things beyond local or state control, such as soaring health care costs, but one especially frustrating component of the deficit is how little education aid we get from the state. Out of our $114 million budget, only $4.1 million - just 3.6 percent - comes from the state, despite the fact that 19% of SOMSD students qualify for Free & Reduced lunch. The $4.1 million works out to only $593 per student. The $4.1 million is less money than we got in 1997-98.
In an attempt to address this extremely low amount of state funding, the Board of Ed passed a resolution at their last meeting regarding the School Funding Reform Act: http://nj.somsd.schoolboard.net/sites/nj.somsd.schoolboard.net/files/C.%203112%20School%20 Funding%20Reform%20Act%20-%20SFRA.pdf
Unfortunately, these sacrifices aren't shared statewide. Exurban (outer suburban) and rural districts get 2-6 times more aid per student than their economic peers in the suburbs. Certain cities that have gentrified also are funded at levels that are out of proportion to their needs.
The following examples are exurban towns that not only get far more money than South Orange- Maplewood, they get more aid than whole clusters of demographically similar (or even lower- resource) towns that educate many times as many students. These examples are random, yet representative and without current justification.
- Hamilton Township (DFG FG, 11,000 students) in Mercer County gets $73 million in state aid. Clark, Bergenfield, Dumont, Fort Lee, Hasbrouck Heights, Maywood, New Milford, Northvale, Rochelle Park, Wood Ridge, and Nutley together (all DFG FG, 24,000 students) get $27.5 million.
- Marlboro gets (DFG I, 5200 students) gets $11.5 million in state aid. Berkeley Heights, Springfield, Scotch Plains-Fanwood, Cranford, Mountainside, and Westfield together (DFG FG- I, 21,000 students) get $10.8 million.
- Hillsborough (DFG I, 7,200 students) gets $24.9 million. South Orange-Maplewood, West Orange, and Edison together (DFG GH-I 28,000 students) get $26.8 million.
- West Windsor-Plainsboro (DFG J, 9800 students) gets $7.3 million. Livingston, Glen Ridge, Verona, Oakland, and Summit together (all DFG I, 18,700 students) only get $7.1 million.
Exurban districts even get double the per student funding of districts that are 2-3 Factor Groups below them.
- Old Bridge (DFG FG, 9,000 students) gets $44.5 million. Clifton and Bloomfield (DFG CD and DE, 18,000 students) get $46.7 million. Aid per student for Old Bridge is $5,013 and is $2,262 and $3,286, respectively, for Clifton and Bloomfield, even though Clifton and Bloomfield's financial resources are smaller.
Although the following example is not typical, it exemplifies how the amount of aid a district receives does not keep up with its changes in wealth.
-Hoboken has $11.1 billion in property valuation, so $4.17 million in valuation per student. This is over double the per student valuation per student of wealthy towns like Millburn have, double the per student valuation of big retail towns like Paramus, and nearly five times the per student valuation of South Orange-Maplewood. Hoboken’s per capita income is also nearly $70,000 a year, which is about the same as Summit’s. Yet, despite this extremely high property wealth and income, Hoboken gets $10,712,191 in K-12 aid, or $4,120 per student (plus $9.7 million for "free" pre-K).
If you wish to see the distribution of aid it is available at the State Aid Summaries at http://www.state.nj.us/education/stateaid/. For more in-depth information on schools, see the Education Law Center's demographics page at http://www.edlawcenter.org/news/archives/other- issues/interactive-student-demographic-data-now-available-on-elc-website.html and school funding data page at http://www.edlawcenter.org/issues/school-funding.html.
Please take the time to write to state elected and appointed officials about the unfair distribution of state aid. You can talk about the pain of our property taxes on our community. If you have children in the schools perhaps you can talk about how budget cuts have affected your children’s educations.
To contact your district 27 representatives (Maplewood/South Orange):
To contact the governor: http://www.state.nj.us/governor/contact/ To contact the Essex County Office of Education:
To contact the Office of the Commissioner for the NJ Department of Education:
Please also share this information with your friends and neighbors in an effort to continue to advocate for the students in our district.
The state comes out with its distribution of K-12 aid at the end of February. Please do what you can to help.