The Brick Township school district has retained an influential North Jersey law firm to file a lawsuit against the state over what will amount to a cumulative $42 million funding cut over the next seven years.
The district was one of several that saw its state funding drastically reduced under an agreement hatched between state Senate President Steve Sweeney and Gov. Phil Murphy last summer. The district will see incremental cuts over the next seven years until the district is de-funded by about $22 million. The state will also impose mandatory property tax increases on Brick residents to make up the bulk of the difference. The cuts include a $1,913,022 for the current school year, which resulted in the elimination of numerous positions across the district.
The lawsuit will challenge the constitutionality of the state’s funding formula – long criticized by suburban communities for directing the bulk of state education funding to urban districts and leading to the state’s highest-in-the-nation property tax bills. The action will also argue that the state violated Brick residents’ rights to due process and imposed unreasonable tax increases on the town.
Mayor John Ducey called the cuts “arbitrary and unreasonable” at a meeting of the township council Tuesday night, before council members voted to provide their consent to be named as an interested party in the suit. The Board of Education, the plaintiff in the matter, will vote to authorize the measure on Thursday.
“Why is a kid in another district worth more than a kid in Brick Township?” asked Ducey. “It’s a total abomination of our constitution here in New Jersey. The district has no choice but to pursue litigation.”
The board is planning to hire the Weiner Law Group, of Parsippany, Morris County, to represent the district. The Weiner firm, which was co-founded by former state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, who recently announced his retirement. The firm, aligned with the Democratic party, is widely considered one of the most influential in the state. A proposed contract authorizes the district to spend $10,000 to retain the firm.
“We need to pursue all avenues to protect our schools and to obtain our fair share of funding,” said Board President Stephanie Wohlrab.
Brick school officials have held meetings with other districts that are experiencing similar funding cuts and tax increases. Some of those districts may also take legal action.
“Our district along with others must make our voices heard on behalf of the students and our community,” said Superintendent Gerard Dalton.
The suit will first be heard by an administrative law judge, Ducey said. It then may find its way into the trial court system.
“The Board feels that some additional factors that were overlooked by the current formula include: an increase in English Language Learners to the district, the high percentage of special needs students and the loss of ratables due to Superstorm Sandy,” a statement from the district said.