BOE pleased to see increase in state aid

WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange School District will be receiving $3.5 million in state aid, Board of Education member Sandra Mordecai announced at the BOE meeting on July 16. The funding comes after years of advocating for increased state aid and for implementation of the School Funding Reform Act, a 2008 law that distributes funding to New Jersey public schools based on school enrollment and other factors.

“We’ve been fighting for years to get a couple more dollars,” Mordecai said at the meeting. “I’m grateful to everyone who has made the trip to Trenton to speak to legislators or made appointments to go to our local representatives’ offices to advocate for funds for our district. West Orange has changed over the years, but nationally the economy is very different and we want to make sure that our students get the best educational opportunities and resources that are available. But everything comes at a cost, so it’s always welcome to receive more funding.”

Even with the additional $3.5 million, BOE President Ron Charles pointed out that many other Essex County towns are receiving much more in state aid.

“We are getting an additional $3.5 million,” Charles said at the meeting. “But I wanted to point out some of the other towns in our area and the money that they are getting, and how West Orange is actually being shortchanged.”

Charles mentioned Belleville and Bloomfield, which will be receiving $28 million and $24 million respectively, and Irvington’s school district, which is receiving $117 million in state aid. East Orange is receiving $176 million, and Newark will be getting $787 million in state aid.

Charles also explained that there is a seven-year process in place to gradually increase the amount of state funding West Orange will receive.

“Hopefully next year the fair funding formula is a little more balanced,” he said. “In my opinion this is probably going to be the thing that impacts the West Orange School District the most over the next two or three years.”

According to Nicole Brossoie, the director of public information at the New Jersey Department of Education, the SFRA weighs unique factors of each district to determine the amount of funding they will collect.

“The school funding formula — or School Funding Reform Act — is a multifaceted rubric that weighs school enrollment, local funding, geography, special education and other factors that are unique to each district,” Brossoie said in an email to the West Orange Chronicle on July 25. “Each factor can adjust or shift funding, by district. Up until the new budget, districts were receiving aid based on old data for each of these factors. The FY’19 budget reconciled the state aid to the data and the formula.”

Resident Adam Kraemer advised the BOE to use the state aid money for tax-relief purposes.

“We haven’t gotten much state aid in recent years and it’s because sales tax revenue and income tax revenue for the state hasn’t been where it should be, so the state didn’t have it to give,” he said at the meeting. “If the economy cools down in the future we could be in the same boat. So use caution in thinking you’re going to have state aid and don’t go on a spending spree.”

Superintendent Jeffrey Rutzky said that the BOE is considering using the funding for tax relief.

“The board is looking at tax relief based on the additional state aid,” Rutzky said at the meeting. “There will be further conversation with the board to determine the best way that they can utilize that money.”