NEWTON, NJ (Sussex County) – Members of Sussex County’s Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted on a resolution at their Wednesday night meeting, in opposition to the cuts in state aid for the majority of schools countywide, recently announced by Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration.
The resolution urges the New Jersey Department of Education, Office of School Finance, to restore funding to the districts that were slashed.
According to the resolution, many of Sussex County’s schools have been subject to a sharp decrease in school funding, with 14 other counties in the state experiencing a climb in their school funding. The resolution cited the low and high end of that spectrum, with Gloucester experiencing a 5.4% overall funding increase and Bergen County a 16.3% jump in school state aid.
“The Sussex County Board of County Commissioners finds these state school aid decreases to be unacceptable and detrimental to our county’s school districts and will hinder their ability to provide the high quality of education that our students deserve,” the resolution read.
In Sussex County, only two school districts have been given a funding increase, with aid to 22 school districts reduced. Sussex County Technical School’s state aid distribution experienced neither an increase nor a decrease. The drop in state aid per district is as follows:
- Hopatcong, -27.2%
- Stillwater, -24.8%
- Sandyston-Walpack, -21.8%
- Kittatinny Regional, -20.1%
- Frankford Township, -17.8%
- Hampton Township, -17.4%
- High Point Regional, -16.3%
- Fredon Township, -15.6%
- Andover Regional, -15.2%
- Hardyston Township, -14.9%
- Green Township, -14.1%
- Stanhope Borough, -12.9%
- Hamburg Borough, -10.9%
- Wallkill Valley Regional, -10.9%
- Byram Township, -10.7%
- Vernon Township, -10.6%
- Sussex Wantage Regional, -10.6%
- Montague Township, -8.0%
- Sparta Township, -3.9%
- Ogdensburg Borough, -2.7%
- Lenape Valley Regional, -1.0%
- Lafayette Township, -0.3%
During the commissioner comments time period at the meeting, Deputy Director Anthony Fasano – former Board of Education President for the Hopatcong Borough Schools – read the resolution into the record.
“These funding cuts are detrimental to our school districts, are detrimental to our students inside of classrooms and they’re detrimental to our taxpayers,” Fasano commented. “If it isn’t addressed soon, our school districts are facing significant cuts in academic programming, and my fear is that Sussex County’s academic foundation is going to be nothing more than bare bones, which defeats the very purpose of the effort that we’re doing from an economic development standpoint, and our own taxpayer funding that we’re putting toward public education here at the county level.”
“We are not the only county that feels this way,” Fasano added. “There are students who are absolutely going to get shorted from their educational experience, for no other reason, than these state aid cuts, at a time when the state has announced billions of dollars in surplus.”
Fasano said the Warren County Board of County Commissioners has voted on the same resolution, in opposition to the state aid cuts in Warren County’s school districts, at their most recent commissioner meeting. He encouraged the public to get in touch with their state and federal legislators and Gov. Phil Murphy, to oppose the school state aid cuts, as well as the Department of Education, Office of School Funding, to “make clear that our students, our teachers, our taxpayers our businesses and our future deserve better.”
Director Dawn Fantasia raised the point of what she called a “common misconception,” that the school funding reduction is linked with population decrease, asking Fasano for some other potential factors in the decline.
“I have tried to ask a number of people and I still can’t understand the school funding formula and the variables that are being used to determine this, but there is a misnomer that these state aid cuts are correlated to reductions in student population,” Fasano replied.
Fasano cited Hopatcong as an example, having lost about a quarter of their students since he graduated in 2012 but having gained a small percentage back recently. Fasano said Hopatcong Schools is facing close to a 90% cumulative reduction of state aid, which amounts to a large percentage of their overall budget. Hopatcong, he said, was prepared for a funding reduction that corresponded to their reduction of student population and said he believes the district was even prepared for a 50% overall reduction of state aid, but not 90% which he
claimed was not sustainable.
“It’s unsustainable and for what reason in a state that prides itself on public education, has billions of dollars in surplus; and in a time when students really need to get into the classroom, this is really an important issue that we’ll feel today – and in the future – and I hope to God we’re heard,” Fasano said.
Fantasia, a school principal in a Bergen Charter School, said the School Funding Reform Act does not give consideration to rural school districts, which have limitations on development and expansion, with allowances instead often made for urban districts.
Sussex County’s full commissioner board addressed the topic on the cuts in school state aid in a March 8 press release, which received a response from the Sussex County Superintendents’ Roundtable Association, thanking the commissioners “for their statement and for their continued support.”
“As an association, SCSRA advocates for all of our districts, but there is only so much we can do as superintendents. It is with political support such as that demonstrated by the Board of Commissioners that we hope to make progress and change pertaining to school funding,” the group expressed in a March 9 email to the commissioners.
According to published news reports, over the last three years since Gov. Phil Murphy took office, Sussex County in particular has experienced a consistent drop in its state aid distributions for its school districts, especially between this past year and the coming year by an approximate $7.4 million overall difference, from $95.18 million down to $87.8 million.