FLEMINGTON, NJ - Two Hunterdon County Freeholders recently commented on the proposed $40.9 billon State of New Jersey Budget for Fiscal Year 2020-2021, delivered by Gov. Phil Murphy in late February, and the apparent cuts in aid to county school districts for next year.

Under Murphy’s newly proposed state budget, the Flemington-Raritan Regional School District will see a decrease of 4.5 percent – $261,037 – in state aid for the 2020-2021 school year. The district would receive $5,560,650.

The Hunterdon Central Regional School District would see its state aid for 2020-2021 decrease by $224,082, a 4.06 percent drop, bringing its state aid total for next school year to $5,292,935.

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Other Hunterdon districts could see more dramatic cuts in their state aid allocations, led by the potential for Delaware Valley Regional High School District to see a 15.4 percent decrease, a net of $538,467 less from a year ago, and
Bethlehem Township Schools to receive 13.3 percent less, a drop of $183,478 from last year.

A total of $2.1 million in state aid cuts to Hunterdon County schools were proposed in the State’s FY 2020 budget – this year, that amount swelled to $2.7 million.  

Freeholder John Lanza said that he’s had to address this same issue many times in the past, as 2014 was his first year as a county freeholder.

“We must give Gov. Murphy credit for consistency as last year (with the state’s Fiscal Year 2020 Budget) he proposed cutting aid to 19 of Hunterdon County’s 30 school districts and his new budget also proposes cutting aid to 19 out of 30,” he said. “The continued proposed cuts to Hunterdon schools comes while increasing education across the rest of the state by $440 million. Despite the governor’s proposal to raise the income tax to generate $600 million new dollars to be dedicated to school property tax relief, Hunterdon County’s state aid is still being cut by a total of $2.7 million.”

“More money for everyone else’s school aid and less for Hunterdon County, it doesn’t make any sense to me,” he added. “School aid cuts directly affect property taxes, the quality of our education, our schoolchildren and the jobs of our teachers."

In 2019, Lanza initiated an online petition drive that the county says was successful in calling attention to the issues of school aid cuts with state legislators. In its March 5 “Morning Report,” the county indicated that nearly 1,000 Hunterdon County residents, taxpayers, parents and teachers signed the petition a year ago.

At the March 3 meeting, freeholder director Shaun C. Van Doren said he appreciated Lanza’s comments on the cuts to school aid ahead for 19 districts in the county.

“We point out the negative impacts of again cutting school aid this year in Hunterdon County,” he said. “Nineteen school districts, $2.7 million in aid cuts on top of $2.1 million cut last year. The online petition was part of the reason there was an add-back in the state budget before it was taken out by the governor. We are advised there is a $50 million fund in the proposed budget that can go to help alleviate state aid cuts around the state, though there are no details about this account yet.”

Lanza said that, in 2019, due to the dedication and input from Hunterdon County school districts, taxpayers, parents and the county representatives in state legislature during the state budget process, “the legislature made efforts to restore some of those cuts.”

He said it is time again for Hunterdon County to mount a lobbying campaign to restore state aid for FY 2020-2021.

“This rank unfairness has to stop,” Lanza said.

Van Doren agreed that it is time for Hunterdon County officials to work to “reinvigorate” stakeholders in state school aid cuts again this year in order to fight and gain a share of the $50 million fund he referenced in the proposed state budget.

“I look forward to working together with my colleagues as we bring awareness to this issue to our property taxpayers, our parents and students and teachers in Hunterdon County,” he said.

An updated online Hunterdon County Freeholders’ petition targeting the proposed cuts will be made available for signatures on both the county website and its Facebook page.