BOE votes to join Fair Funding Action Committee

WEST ORANGE, NJ — The Board of Education voted unanimously at its June 18 meeting on a resolution to join the Fair Funding Action Committee, a school-funding activist organization, in an effort to bring more funding to the students of West Orange. Joining the committee will allow the West Orange School District to connect with other underfunded districts in the state to advocate for state funding for public schools in New Jersey.

According to the resolution, West Orange is an underfunded school district, receiving $8,793,832 in uncapped aid versus the $26,124,668 recommended by the School Funding Reform Act, which amounts to 34 cents on the dollar.

The resolution’s objective is “to achieve full and equitable school funding for all of New Jersey’s Public Schools through the allocations of state school aid in accordance to SFRA, without applying adjustment aid” — also called ”hold harmless aid” — “or enrollment growth caps in time for Boards of Education to strike their next school budgets.”

The committee is spearheaded by the Chesterfield Board of Education, according to BOE member Sandra Mordecai. At the meeting, BOE President Ron Charles read a letter from the BOE to state Sen. Steve Sweeney, president of the Senate, in support of his bill that would redistribute New Jersey school aid.

Bill No. NJ S2 seeks to eliminate a state aid increase cap mandated by the SFRA. According to the SFRA, a district’s state aid may not increase from one year to the next by more than the state aid growth limit, which is 10 percent for districts spending above their adequacy threshold and 20 percent for districts spending below that. The bill seeks to eliminate this cap beginning in the 2018-2019 school year.

According to the bill, it also “transitions school districts towards the amount of State aid that the school district would receive in the absence of the State aid growth limit and the adjustment aid that the school district received under the SFRA.”

BOE member Ken Alper said at the meeting that he has attended several meetings about school funding, and is happy to join the committee.

“We’re happy that we’re going to become a member of the Fair Funding Action Committee to work toward fair and equitable school funding,” Alper said.

“We’ve had parents come up to the mic before, and taxpayers as well, to talk about the need for the board to participate,” BOE Vice President Mark Robertson said at the meeting. “This is actually lobbying and doing greater advocacy work, and this is going to be that avenue for us.”

Mordecai pointed out that individual board members have been lobbying for more state aid for the district for some time, adding that she has been to New Jersey legislative days in the past and that she and Alper had attended a state aid meeting in West Orange earlier this year. Mordecai and Robertson also attended a school funding meeting hosted by Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver last year.

“We have, in fact, been attending and engaged in conversation,” Robertson said. “But I feel like this move helps to take us to a higher level in terms of a concerted effort in advocacy, versus some of the meetings that felt like we kept recirculating the same issues around, trying to divide up the same pie. This to me represents a paradigm shift and a much more concerted effort and commitment in that direction.”