Shore Superintendents weigh in on ‘School Funding Formula’
Governor Chris Christie's plan to provide the same amount of aid per student is drawing opinion from both sides of the proverbial coin among New Jersey school superintendents. Here at the shore, they're weighing whether the proposed fairness funding formula is fair or not, for their districts, and for taxpayers.
Should this proposed plan take effect it potentially would be a smoke screen for taxpayers in nearly all of these Jersey towns.
Why? Simply because any downtrend in school taxes potentially faces an offsetting rise in municipal taxes.
This could have a steep impact on the budget of the municipalities because of possible deferred funding from school districts.
Economies in School Development Authority (SDA) districts - formerly known as Abbot districts - could see a detrimental impact towards the budget which may result in layoffs because those municipalities will be in such a financial hole, they would be scrambling to find funding.
Deferred funding from the school districts should this proposal get voted in, could present a challenge to a number of municipalities who may be forced to raise taxes for residents to keep things afloat.
Superintendents are doing their homework and prepping in case the funding formula actually changes,and are considering its possible merits and drawbacks, for tax payers as well as for students and teachers. Some at the shore have cautious optimism.
"It would be a tremendous value, Central has 90 percent of its budget come from taxes through the taxpayer," said Superintendent of Central Regional Schools Tom Parlapanides. "We only get about 10 percent state aid. With this new funding formula it would increase our state aid."
He believes it would be instant tax relief to their constituents.
Superintendent of Point Pleasant Borough schools Vincent Smith echoes similar beliefs on the plans fairness while also keeping mind on what the formula could do for other NJ schools and their taxpayers.
"It's fair depending on how your going to come out in this thing," said Smith. "Obviously for the taxpayers of Point Pleasant and our school district, we would certainly benefit from it based on the numbers my business administrator put together for us."
However the amount of state aid being provided currently or if the plan gets voted through, a number of districts will be affected in their own unique ways.
"We're looking at an increase of almost 12 million dollars in state aid based on the simple formula of number of students enrolled," said Smith. "We certainly come out on a good side of this. Our homes taxpayers would be seeing an average of $1,370 in savings based on a home assessed at $381,000."
Smith, who had 25 years of experience as a Business Administrator before spending the last 15 years as a Superintendent, says the board believes this formula to be fair while acknowledging possible road blocks for other districts.
Yet the tax issue for Central Regional Schools has Parlapanides aware of the effects this could have on his district.
"When you look at Central, we are ratable wealthy," said Parlapanides. "We're actually District Factor Group B so we're right above an [SDA] district. We're considered a wealthy district yet we get so few kids because of our senior communities. You have high ratables but no kids so we don't get a lot of state aid."
He says that's been the biggest problem at Central, and adds the aid isn't proportional when you look at median-income houses, because they don't get any of the money the abbot districts are getting.
The plan for the new school aid formula cost per student would be $6,599 and Parlapanides has growing concern on what aid may be coming their way.
"You have to be fiscally responsible with the money and that's why these [SDA] districts are getting tremendous amounts of funds," said Parlapanides. "So you'd have to gradually wean them off, I believe, to be fair to the kids. You'd have to use the money properly and make sure your getting the most bang for your buck."
Among conversations inside the Point Pleasant Borough School District, optimism but caution are the vocal tone at meetings.
"Obviously we said it would be something that could certainly benefit Point Pleasant, the town and the school district," said Smith.
Smith also believes the SDA districts have been getting a lot of the money and they're not receiving their "fair share," but doesn't think that means those schools districts don't deserve the aid either.
Smith said while he doesn't know what they would be getting it in any possible aid, it may be unfair to some of the surrounding SDA districts because they would be taking a big hit.
At Central Regional the formula would have an effect on everything running through the veins of the district, curriculum, and students.
"We've been fortunate with...we're a school choice district so we get about $1.3 million each year from the state," said Palapanides. "We're also an international school so we get additional international funds."
He has some goals in mind should this plan go through on how it can benefit them.
"My biggest thing would be tax relief right now," said Parlapanides. "We are starting new academies here at Central Regional, so maybe they use some of that extra money for some of our academies here at Central."
He adds that Central's been able to take care of their own infrastructure without going out for a referendum because they have the school choice money.
However in order for effective tax relief to happen he believes it should go to the municipality first because it goes instantaneously towards tax relief.
"It's going to have a lot of obstacles in the way but it sounds like a plan," said Parlapanides. "I think you have to tweak it a little bit but if it helps tax relief here in Jersey because it's a great place to live."
Should this plan heading to vote trend the way it has been, there could be more than a couple short term and long term effects hatching.
"The short term is it's going to drop the tax rate right off the bat and I think it will certainly help us," said Smith. "Over the years, if they keep the 2 percent cap it's going to help us there too. I don't know how long term you can go with it because something could change but certainly in the short term we're definitely going to be seeing a decrease in taxes."