NJ school districts get more state funding but with strings attached

July 12, 2011

TRENTON — Millions of dollars in additional state aid allocated to New Jersey school districts Tuesday will have strings attached, with school administrators saying they expect formal directives from Gov. Chris Christie’s administration about what the money can be used for.

But some officials said they don’t need instructions.

“I want to put the extra money toward tax relief for our residents,‘’ said Walter “Butch’’ Berglund, the school board president in Deptford. The new allocation doubled the total increased state aid for Deptford schools to $1.18 million.

“We were cut before and held back on things, like subbing out routes instead of buying two buses. We’re going to keep working things down to a leaner business model. This new money could help out if we need it but I want to get it back to people as tax relief,‘’ Berglund said.

The state budget for the new fiscal year signed by Christie last month contained $850 million in increased school funding, with $450 million set aside by court order for the poorest urban districts.

Department of Education officials said they want most of the districts to pass on the windfall to residents.

“Regarding Abbott Districts, the increased aid to these schools should be directed strategically toward areas of education as determined by each respective district,’’ said Allison Kobus, a DOE spokeswoman. “”For non-Abbott Districts, the additional education aid included in this year’s budget is an opportunity to reduce property tax burdens by lowering local property tax levies for this fiscal year or the next and move closer towards real reform in our schools. The Department of Education strongly encourages using this additional aid to lower taxes and make the important step towards new and effective management of our schools that focuses on improving student achievement, rather than increased spending.’’

Democrats were not successful in pushing the Republican governor to boost education spending by a greater amount.

Christie vetoed $412 million in supplemental school aid to suburban districts that Democrats advanced, which hinged on acceptance of a so-called millionaires' tax. That tax was also defeated.

Middlesex County’s school districts would get an additional $74.5 million in aid, a 16 percent increase over the original amount announced several months ago. New Brunswick and Perth Amboy, both Abbott Districts, are receiving the biggest increases $20 million and $39 million respectively. Other amounts range from $887,122 for Monroe, to $1.3 million for East Brunswick and $1.7 million for Woodbridge.

Richard O'Malley, superintendent of Edison Township schools, was in Columbus, Ohio, presenting at the 28th annual National Academy for Superintendents when he heard the news about the additional $1.9 million in state funds for his district.

This is good news, but the state legislature should get the credit for demanding that all schools receive additional aid,” O’Malley said. “Over the next few weeks, the administration and the board of education will work on plans of how to effectively utilize this non-recurring revenue source to assist our teachers in improving student achievement, creating taxpayer relief, and further improving our facilities infrastructure.”

The total of $530 million of aid to the county amounts to an increase of $92 million over the previous year.