Editor's Note: The original story said tax savings were $4. The revision states the savings are monthly.
FAIR LAWN, NJ – The average borough homeowner can anticipate a $4/month reduction in their tax bills next year, thanks to the Board of Education’s decision Thursday to allocate nearly half of its $2.1 million reward in additional state aid to tax relief.
The $1.2 million in tax relief for Fair Lawn homeowners reduces the potential tax increase for the 2019-20 school district budget by approximately $4/month on average, according to district officials. On the average Fair Lawn home valued at $328,749, taxpayers could save as much as $6-$7 if unallocated expenditures in the 2018-2019 budget are not fully expended.
The board approved the funds by a vote of 7-2 on July 26. Jeff Klein and Emily Cohen voted against the $2.1 million distribution.
“If you really wanted a policy that would provide actual tax relief to the Fair Lawn residents, we would be crediting Fair Lawn residents this year,” Cohen explained. “We would be giving back that 1.2 million immediately and not saying it’s tax relief because we’re going to spend it next year, and that we’re going to raise taxes to make up that part of the budget. It’s open to interpretation if it’s really tax relief.”
Board Secretary Brooke Bartley said the board’s current distribution plan is modeled so that both district children and taxpayers get the most value from the reward.
“The way we’re presenting it is what we believe gives us the most flexibility to get this dollar to stretch as much as possible,” said Bartley.
The board received $2.1 million in state aid after lawmakers passed the landmark school funding reform in June. Proposed by Senator Sweeney, the reform changes the state’s 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 also lifts the limits on funding increases for districts with larger enrollments. The Fair Lawn school district has suffered a crowding crisis in its schools in the last five years, and expects 500 new students in the next five. With the passing of its referendum in March to reconfigure the district to push the fifth-graders up to the middle school, district leaders are hoping to solve their enrollment issue with the expansions of Thomas Jefferson and Memorial middle schools and eventually scrap their troublesome soft borders policy which mandates new homeowners reassign their child to a different school not corresponding to their home address. In one of the district’s six elementary schools, it was revealed that kindergarten classrooms were up as many as 25 students, something that was most disheartening for some board members to hear.
In divvying up the rest of its reward, the board plans to allot $328,840 for tuition costs for unanticipated enrollments and special placements in 2018-2019, which would roll over into capital reserve if not utilized.
With the rest of the state aid, the board is appropriating $300,000 for salaries and benefits for additional teachers and paraprofessionals to address class sizes. On the topic of school safety, the board is appropriating $105,000 to enter a lease agreement for the purchase of two new school buses equipped with 3-point seatbelts, GPS’s and cameras and retrofitting its two other buses with the same. The investment in school bus safety was sparked after a tragic school bus accident in May that left one Paramus teacher and one student dead as the result of the driver’s illegal U-turn after he missed the exit to Waterloo Village for a class trip.
Also benefiting from the money are Fair Lawn music students. The board will appropriate $10,000 for music trips and another $30,000 towards instrument repairs and/or replacements, bringing the music budget up to $1.37 million, according to Superintendent Nick Norcia.
When the board first convened during a special meeting on Tuesday, many parents and band students implored the board to put a portion of the $2.1 million towards the music program, touting the benefits of music, such as raising self-esteem and helping children learn both time-management and social skills, among the enjoyment of playing instruments.
The board also plans to put $10,000 towards grants in each of the borough’s 10 schools. These grants, recommended by Board Member Emily Cohen, would give teachers opportunities to implement “innovative” programs beyond the current curriculum.