This is a letter from Robert Beers, Superintendent of Manville Public Schools (Somerset County) that first appeared in Central Jersey.
Another budget planning cycle has come and gone for New Jersey school districts as the May 15 submission deadline has passed. This task continues to be a herculean effort as Manville Borough remains one of the most underfunded school districts in the entire state of New Jersey.
The Manville 2018-19 budget was completed in the face of a $9.7 million state aid gap, which correlates to $6,400 per pupil. Currently, Manville students receive a paltry 40% of our state aid allocation according to the school funding formula. After listening to promises of full funding from Gov. Phil Murphy in November, Manville’s state aid funding gap is set to actually increase by $700,000 for the 2018-19 school year. The students of Manville are worth far more than 40%, but nevertheless the Manville Board of Education continues to work incessantly in an attempt to provide essential services for students.
Following the Manville Board of Education meeting on May 8, I received notice of a community meeting in Califon Borough related to a send-receive relationship with neighboring Lebanon Township. Califon is a wealthy district located in Hunterdon County that cherishes class sizes of less than ten while receiving 328% of their allotted state aid. That is right — 328% or an extra $2,823 per pupil in aid on a year over year basis.
I attended the community meeting on May 10 and witnessed Califon citizens whipped into hysteria about the idea of merging with a school district immediately adjacent to them. During this meeting I realized what a luxury this small town has where they can fund class sizes on par with those found in private schools. While Califon residents bicker over the preservation of low class sizes, students who reside in chronically underfunded districts continue to suffer.
My purpose is not to blame the residents of Califon as they are seemingly decent people who do not understand the injustice that exists a mere 25 miles from their bucolic, wealthy town. However, my experiences this week are yet another example of the savage inequalities resulting from state aid allocations.
The state of New Jersey has allowed Califon residents to support an unsustainable system due to overfunding while those in chronically underfunded districts face another year of doing more with less. This is not the “fairer” New Jersey promised by Gov. Murphy. Manville residents along with the other chronically underfunded New Jersey districts are waiting for concrete answers as to how this inequitable and discriminatory system will change. The students of Manville cannot wait any longer.