When Gov. Phil Murphy swore Mayor John Ducey into his second term in office in January, the incoming governor quipped about how he wanted to find out why Ducey won overwhelmingly in the previous November’s election while he did so poorly. Ducey, a Democrat, won overwhelmingly while Republican Kim Guadagno did the same when it came to the gubernatorial race.
Now it is up to Murphy to either accept or veto a plan to slash $22 million in school funding from Brick, which officials say would be disastrous for taxpayers and employees. Ducey on Thursday called on the governor to reject the state legislature’s budget which he termed “an affront to our community, our schools and our taxpayers.”
“Eliminating aid from our schools will have a severe impact on Brick Township in terms of higher taxes and poorer education for our schoolchildren,” said Mayor Ducey. “I implore Governor Murphy to do the right thing and veto this bill.”
Murphy is embroiled in a public rift with Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a fellow Democrat from Gloucester County. The dispute is nominally over revenue generation – whether to impose a “millionaires’ tax” surcharge or raise the corporate business tax – but most significantly hinges on school funding. Under Sweeney’s plan, districts such as a Brick, which receive so-called adjustment aid, would have the funding cut over the next seven years. Adjustment aid is provided to districts whose tax rates are not considered high enough under a state formula. The funding makes up the difference. Sweeney has argued that the funding should be redistributed to schools with growing student populations.
“Our schools are trying to provide our students with a great education in as affordable way as possible and this bill is going to make that task even harder,” said Ducey, noting that the blow would be worsened by a tax base that has still not fully recovered from Superstorm Sandy.
“Our ratable base is still down over $309 million dollars from before the storm which is still impacting the taxpayers of our town,” said Ducey. “To add this to their burden is quite frankly unacceptable.”
Sweeney’s plan, identified as bill S-2, was passed by the legislature, however it is widely speculated that Murphy will veto it. But in Trenton, observers say, any last-minute deal is possible.
This week, Brick and Toms River school officials led an effort in the state capital to try to save the funding, pleading with legislators to keep it in place and warning that tax hikes, staff layoffs and program cuts would result. Even before the funding cut, Brick schools eliminated nearly 40 positions this year through attrition to balance its budget.
“Cutting aid through a formula that identifies districts that are ‘overfunded’ or ‘underfunded’ based on calculations that are materially flawed doesn’t make sense,” said Toms River Regional Business Administrator William Doering. “Before taking money away from our students, let’s make sure we correct the formula.”
Ducey warned that the Sweeney plan could hit the township’s senior citizens especially hard. According to the last census, here in Brick Township there are 18,067 residents ages 60 and over – nearly 25% of the entire community.
“A significant number of our older residents are retired or are on fixed incomes,” said Ducey. “The massive school tax increases that will be caused by this legislation will have a severe impact on their quality of life,.”