Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney has proposed slashing Brick’s school funding by $22 million, an “impossible situation” for the district, its acting superintendent said Thursday.
Sweeney is battling Gov. Phil Murphy over school funding policies and has threatened to shut down New Jersey government if his plan is not signed into law by the governor. The $22 million in so-called “adjustment aid” would be cut over seven years, forcing either layoffs or tax hikes that could cost the average household about $1,000 per year.
Adjustment aid is provided to school districts whose tax rate is considered too low under a state formula. Sweeney’s plan would eliminate this funding, with the senator citing declining enrollment in districts such as Brick as the justification. Lawmakers are still debating the details on how districts can account for cuts, including a possible exception to the state’s 2 percent cap on tax hikes to allow for property tax increases. Other remedies include layoffs and cuts to programs.
“If the government concurrently doesn’t allow us another way to raise revenue – if they keep it a 2 percent cap – it would lead to cuts in programs, larger class sizes and all types of different things,” said Acting Superintendent Dennis Filippone.
The plan was blasted Thursday by Ocean County legislators, who said between Brick and Toms River, the two largest districts in the county would lose a combined $42 million. The 10th district legislators estimated the cuts would amount to $754 per year increase for Brick residents and $918 per year for Toms River residents, based on the average assessed home value.
Regardless of value, the cuts could raise Brick’s school taxes by 12 percent and Toms River’s taxes by 15 percent.
“Democrats in the statehouse think property taxpayers in Brick can afford to pay another $754 in school taxes,” said Assemblyman Gregory P. McGuckin, a Republican. “They think Toms River homeowners can afford to pay an extra $918 in school taxes. It’s clear that Trenton Democrats are out of their minds. I urge every concerned taxpayer to call Governor Murphy and tell him to kill this ill-conceived plan.”
“I think that we have to really lobby with our legislators to make them understand that that kind of a cut would be devastating to our district,” said Filippone.
Brick, he said, spends less per student than the average New Jersey district and is fiscally responsible.
“It is really, in my view, very unfair,” Filippone said, of the proposed cuts. “We are a fiscally responsible district and we’re not being treated that way.”
Brick spent $18,047 per student last year, below the state average of $20,385.
“While Governor Murphy often talks about making New Jersey a good value for the money, Brick and Toms River have succeeded in offering our children a great education for thousands less per student than other school districts,” said Assemblyman David Wolfe. “Rather than rewarding our achievement and holding us out as a model of efficiency for other districts to follow, Trenton Democrats want to slash our state funding and drive up our local property tax bills. It’s reprehensible.”
Murphy’s budget proposed a much smaller cut to Brick’s school funding. If Sweeney and Murphy cannot agree on a state budget, including school funding, by July 1, a shutdown of state government is automatically triggered.
At a short meeting of the Brick Township school board Thursday afternoon, no board members commented on the funding issue.