Brick schools officials dropped a bombshell at a Board of Education meeting Thursday when asked if layoffs might be required if a bill proposed by the state legislature cuts Brick’s school funding by $22 million. The answer was ‘no.’
The latest version of the bill, according to Business Administrator James Edwards, carves out a special category for several towns, including Brick. Under the terms of the bill, which has not yet been signed by Gov. Phil Murphy, Brick would be legally barred from cutting expenses. Instead, the state would force Brick to raise taxes by $22 million in seven years.
“They’re not going to let us cut our budget or our expenditures,” said Edwards. “They’re going to make us raise $22 million over the next seven years. It’s going to be a state-mandated tax increase. Every year that we lose [aid], the taxes will go up at that same amount.”
Brick, Edwards said, falls into a category under the state’s funding formula that finds the township’s taxes are too low to support the school district. Simultaneously, the formula finds Brick to be a wealthy community that can afford an increase. When a district falls under both of those categories, a tax increase is mandated. The funding gap can only be bridged by raising taxes – not by cutting expenses.
“We are not going to have a choice,” said Acting Superintendent Dennis Filippone. “They are not going to allow us to cut our budget.”
The news caught some taxpayers off guard since they were under the impression that cutting expenditures, utilizing layoffs or other cost-saving measures, could cushion the blow.
“They’re not only crippling us as a school district, they’re crippling us as a community,” said Board President Stephanie Wohlrab, who cited Brick’s high foreclosure rate and the potential for more residents to be priced out of town. “What they’re proposing will cripple Brick as a community.”
There are about 1,800 homes in Brick that are at risk of being foreclosed upon, or are already in the process, an expert in the field said this week at a township council meeting. Brick’s foreclosure rate is well above the national and state averages.
“Does that seem like a large number to you, because it does to me,” said resident Vic Fanelli.
The budget bill that would slash Brick’s school funding and raise taxes is being backed by Senate President Stephen Sweeney. Gov. Phil Murphy has refused to sign it, but the conversation in recent days has mainly focused on whether to raise the state’s “millionaires’ tax” or the corporate business tax. The school funding realignment was part of a compromise bill that was proposed this week, but not signed by Murphy.
The state’s fiscal year ends July 1. If no budget is in place by then, Murphy could order a shutdown.
District officials said if the funding is cut, there are no easy answers.
“We don’t really know how we would start to make up that shortfall,” said Filippone.