Brick Schools continue the fight for funding and answers
Brick Township Schools like Toms River, Jackson, Lavallette, Little Egg Harbor, Manchester, Point Pleasant Beach and Point Pleasant Borough in Ocean County and many others across the state are being directly impacted by the S2 legislation or school funding formula in a negative way.
There are 200 school districts said to be overfunded by the state of New Jersey are losing state aid while 361 districts who are said to be underfunded are receiving additional aid all to what Senate President Steve Sweeney says to make every district set at 100-percent funding.
Brick Schools are losing $24-million in state aid overall due to the school funding formula.
The district lost $2.4-million in aid just before the current school year Acting Superintendent Sean Cranston said which led to cuts in every building in the district.
"We decided to cut five-percent across the board and so every principal and program manager was set to cut five-percent and this affected some schools more than others, some of the bigger schools were able to cut less staff percentage wise," Cranston said.
This also led to a 15-20 percent and sometimes even up to 33-percent increase in class size in some cases to between 30 and 40 students in a room in elementary schools.
"When you walk in and you have a 4th or a 5th grade classroom with over 30 kids, the kids are already out to the door," Cranston said.
More troubling waters can be seen ahead as cuts to certain classes may be next at the middle and high school levels as well as having enough staff certified to teach a given subject.
"Our middle schools are in teams, so we can't just cut a teacher here or there, we have to fit certain certifications," Cranston said. "We have teaming, so we have a math/science teacher and a language arts/history teacher so if we need to cut we almost need to cut an even number so we can still have matching teams."
It's not clear yet how classroom size would be affected by such a move but another troubling spot for high school students would be having A-P courses be no more.
"We're going to look at some of those classes that have under 10 students and we're not going to be able to run them next year which is going to affect our high schools being able to offer many A-P courses for the students," Cranston said.
The cuts are determined in continuous meetings held within the district where they figured out what cuts they have to make next in terms of a priority list.
"Keeping kindergarten and first grade a little lower than 4th or 5th grade was a priority last year, keeping certain AP classes might not be a priority compared to keeping class sizes at the younger elementary levels lower," Cranston said.
Brick Schools are one of the districts looking for transparency and funding from the state.
Following a December rally at the statehouse in Trenton, 10th District Lawmakers made their case to their fellow lawmakers and Senate President Sweeney that the school funding formula needs to be released.
The 10th District (Ocean County) State Lawmakers cited numbers from the US Census Bureau that state the median income for the entire state is $76,475.
Brick Township has a median income of $73,051.
Assemblyman Greg McGuckin said those numbers are a clear indication that these townships are middle class and 10th District Lawmakers have introduced a bill seeking action.
“We have introduced legislation to require the Department of Education to disclose the school funding formulas for all schools throughout the state," McGuckin said. "This legislation is our only option to ensure full transparency by the DOE with our school districts and taxpayers.”
Cranston said it's imperative the school funding formula be released because without it the future of the district is unknown.
"There is uncertainty. We have teachers, staff members that are uncertain about their future. Even we don't know what Brick's going to look like in a few years because of this," Cranston said.
Next school year Brick Schools expect to lose another $4.2-million in state aid leading to a $2.1-million deficit in revenue explains Brick School District Business Administrator James Edwards giving them less funds to spend on education.
"We're already, according to the state, $12-million below adequacy. The School Funding Reform Act that was passed in 2008 determined how much a school district needs to spend in order to provide a thorough and efficient education, or adequate education," Edwards explained. "When you run that formula against Brick Schools, it shows that we're $12-million dollars below adequacy so we don't spend, according to the formula, what we should be spending on education."
That brings on clouds of confusion and doubt in the actual formula.
"If we're not spending what we should be spending on education then how is the Department of Education telling us via S2 that we need to lower our expenses by another $2.1-million going into the 2020-21 school year," Edwards said.
He explains that they're looking to also learn what goes into the formula which tells towns how much their local share is towards wealth calculations.
"When they do the wealth calculations how much do they determine Brick should be paying? Those calculations that are being used, and they apply them statewide, determine a communities ability to pay shows that Brick and towns like Toms River have a greater ability to pay than what we're currently paying on our local tax levy."
The big question is how is that amount determined for each town and district.
"We've asked for that information, 'Can you show us how you're arriving at that?', and the answer we get is that it's proprietary or it's confidential or deliberative and that we're not entitled to that information," Edwards said. "When someone tells you that....it's hard to trust when they won't show you the devil in the details. That's been our big argument...'okay, if you truly think we should be paying more, prove it...show it to us'."
Learn more about how the school funding formula is impacting Brick Schools: