FAIR LAWN, NJ – The borough's nine-school district is considering allocating nearly half of its $2.1 million in additional state funding towards tax relief for the 2019-2020 school year, among other ideas.
The board will take a final vote on how to spend the funds 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 26 at Thomas A. Edison School.
Last month, the state legislature passed the landmark school funding reform to change its current funding formula to redistribute hundreds of millions of dollars to New Jersey school districts more fairly, targeting the ones that have been shorted in the past.
The new legislation, passed in June, also lifts the limits on funding increases for districts with larger enrollments. Per two district demographers, Fair Lawn’s student enrollment has seen a steady uptick of roughly 100 students in the last five years – a trend the demographers predict will continue in the next five years and yield 500 new students in 2023.
During a work session meeting on Monday night, Superintendent Nick Norcia told the nearly two dozen residents present that the board plans to utilize $1.2 million of the $2.1 million state funds towards tax relief, which would lower the tax impact by $3.89 per homeowner.
Another option listed on a handout of five other recommendations is allocating $378,840 for the 2018-19 school year for unanticipated expenditures which would “roll into” capital reserve for tax relief in the 2019-2020 school year (if not expended in the upcoming year) yielding a $1.23 tax impact.
Other suggestions include allocating $300,000 towards the addition of teachers and paraprofessionals in 2018-19 and appropriating $105,000 to enter into a lease agreement to pay for two additional school buses equipped with three-point seat belts, GPS’s and cameras in addition to retrofitting the school’s three buses with the same. This idea follows the tragic bus accident on Route-80 in May that resulted in the death of a Paramus student and teacher and serious injuries among several other fifth-grade students. The driver collided with a dump truck after it made an illegal U-turn when it missed the exit en route to Waterloo Village for a school trip.
The district is also considering putting $75,000 towards a new program with Bergen Community College in which Fair Lawn High School students may earn college credit while in high school. The final $50,000 may be put towards collaborating with Bergen County Vocational Schools to offer Career Technical Education programs in 2019-2020 for interested students.
While some residents expressed their appreciation for tax relief, others said they weren’t impressed with the amount and asked the board to instead put the money towards bettering the music program. The funds would go to new instruments and lowering the cost to make the program more affordable for lower-income families to garner more participation. Many of the residents, which included parents and students, agreed with the idea.
Valerie Gonzalez, a parent whose son is in the music program, suggested putting money towards the music program’s repair budget to repair wonky instruments and purchase new ones if necessary.
Students part of Fair Lawn High School’s music program touted the program’s significance, with one saying being a part of the marching band changed his life. Another student, who participates in the orchestra, said instruments need replacing, as she noted the cellos, basses and pianos are in “terrible condition” and the students who have to “lug” their own instruments to school because the school’s instruments are in “terrible shape.”
Another mother attested to the positive impacts the music program has had on her child, as she said it strengthened her son’s self-esteem in addition to teaching him time-management and social skills.
“These programs make Fair Lawn students proud and help our students find and pursue their passions,” said Rebecca Graziano, a resident and mother.
“We will look into music," said Norcia. "We have to do our homework."