WEST ORANGE, NJ – After years of being underfunded according to its current student enrollment, the West Orange Public Schools will receive approximately $3.5 million in equalization aid from the state this year, West Orange Board of Education (WOBOE) member Sandra Mordecai announced on Monday.
Mordecai explained that this additional funding is coming after years of advocating for full funding of the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) and attending many meetings on school funding.
“It is wonderful that we will be getting additional dollars from the state after years of our advocacy on this issue,” said Mordecai. “We advocate so our legislators are aware of our local needs and financial challenges when making their budgetary decisions.”
WOBOE President Ronald Charles said that receiving the $3.5 million will be helpful, but that West Orange is still “lagging behind” many of its neighboring townships that will be receiving more equalization aid this year. He said two examples include East Orange, which will receive approximately $134 million in equalization aid, and Orange, which will receive approximately $63 million in equalization aid with an additional $7.1 million in education adequacy aid.
In the last year, members of the board have gone above and beyond to advocate for additional funding in West Orange as well as other Essex County districts in need. In her role as president of the Essex County School Boards Association (ECSBA), Mordecai hosted a "Conversation on School Funding" meeting between Essex County legislators and Essex County school district leaders that was attended by Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver and several others from the assembly.
In May, she and board member Ken Alper attended a presentation called "Advocating for Your District's Funding" with Fair Funding Action Committee co-chairs Jennifer Cavallaro and Amy Jablonski leading the discussion. The event, hosted by the ECSBA and New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA), was held at West Orange High School to help school board members from "underfunded" districts advocate for the state aid their students and districts deserve.
West Orange passed a resolution to join with the Fair Funding Action Committee at the time, and also supported Bill S-2, which Sen. Stephen Sweeney spoke of in his speech at an event in Trenton that board members attended during the same month.
Charles explained on Monday that there is a seven-year phase in process to gradually increase the equalization aid funding for West Orange Public Schools.
During public comment, resident Adam Kramer said that these funds can and should go to provide tax relief to the residents of West Orange.
“I caution you on using this money on a spending spree,” said Kramer, who added that even with “taxes going up year after year,” test scores in West Orange are not where they are supposed to be.
Kramer called for greater accountability of how the education dollars are spent and the need for greater trust by the public that the superintendent, board and educators are doing everything possible to get test scores up.
Alper was joined by Superintendent Jeffrey Rutzky and other board members in saying that the board will look seriously at using part of the additional state aid to provide tax relief to West Orange residents.
Alper explained that West Orange was only receiving approximately 33 percent of its “fair funding” for education prior to the passage of the SFRA. He added that along with student enrollment increases being part of the criteria for increased state aid, educational adequacy criteria are also evaluated based largely on the ability of residents to pay taxes toward the township’s public schools.