The city’s school district received $401.43 million – $1.6 million more than last year — in state education funding for fiscal year 2017, according to the New Jersey Department of Education.
“That’s a step. It’s an improvement, but it won’t cover six-percent of our cost that has gone up,” said school board member Jonathan Hodges. He said he appreciated the extra $1.6 million, but did not think it will assist in filling the $45 million hole in the district’s budget.
Hodges has been a vociferous critic of what he calls the state’s “illegal” underfunding of the city’s schools. The district last year received $399.83 million, according to the state. This year’s increase is less than half of a percentage point or 0.40-percent.
“It’s a blow to the district,” said board member Errol Kerr. Both Kerr and Hodges have warned the cuts will reverse the gains the district has made over the past half-decade.
State-appointed district superintendent Donnie Evans circulated a list of potential cuts the district may be able to impose in order to close the budget gap. Among those cuts include closing down at least three city schools, cutting an athletic program, and reducing central office staff, according to the list.
“We need more in the district,” said school board member Flavio Rivera, chairman of the board’s fiscal committee. “$1.6 is still $1.6, it saves some jobs. It’s better than nothing,”
Last year budget cuts forced the layoff of more than 300 district employees sparking protests. The district has been underfunded by $173.8 million over the past six years, according to the Education Law Center.
The Chris Christie administration is running the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) formula this year which will begin the process to bring districts close to their SFRA funding levels, according to the state.
School board president Christopher Irving said the district needs more than $1.6 million to cope with its budget crisis. The school funding formula guarantees much more funding to the district, said Irving. He said the school board will send letters to urge governor Christie and education commissioner David Hespe to provide the district with more funds.
“If they could find $1.6 million they could find more,” said Irving.
School board members worried about the long term consequences of flat funding and budget cuts on quality of instruction and programs in the district. For example, last year’s budget cuts saw a drastic reduction in library services which, many have said, will negatively impact literacy in a district where a third of third graders are not reading at grade level.
“While we understand the economy is terrible, unfortunately the outlook for our children is going to be even worse given these unfortunate numbers,” said Hodges.
Last Updated: February 19th, 2016 at 6:38 p.m.