Gov.-elect Phil Murphy has promised to fully fund public schools, but a group of New Jersey school districts won’t wait to find out if he sticks to his word.
Declaring themselves overtaxed and underfunded, 10 districts announced legal action Friday, saying they will petition the state education commissioner to fix inequalities in state school aid in a potential precursor to a lawsuit against the state.
“We have been waiting a long time for answers,” said G. Kennedy Greene, superintendent of Newton Public Schools in Sussex County. “There are lots of things that have been promised. We want to make sure that school aid stays at the top of that list.”
The 10-district coalition is part of larger group of 96 districts receiving less than 70 percent of the state aid they say they are owed, Greene said. Because they are being shorted by the state, the districts say they must tax residents more than the school funding formula suggests is necessary.
The affected districts range from small to large and low-income to affluent, Greene said.
Districts participating in the petition to the education commissioner include:
- Emerson School District, Little Ferry Public Schools and Wallington Public Schools in Bergen County.
- Chesterfield Township School District in Burlington County.
- Swedesboro-Woolwich School District and Kingsway Regional School District in Gloucester County.
- Jamesburg Public Schools, North Brunswick Township Public Schools and Middlesex School District in Middlesex County.
- Newton Public Schools in Sussex County.
Sweeney backs districts in school aid fight
Dozens of residents from those communities have also joined the petition along with the Town of Newton, Swedesboro Borough and East Greenwich and Woolwich townships.
“We are tired of being grossly underfunded,” Kingsway Superintendent James Lavender said. “And our taxpayers are tired of being grossly overtaxed.”
The petition is the latest attempt to address the state’s decades-old school funding controversy, an issue that has rankled state lawmakers and infuriated homeowners.
Though New Jersey has a school funding formula designed to award state aid based on districts’ demographics and enrollment, it annually underfunds that formula by about $1 billion a year. The figure would rise closer to $2 billion if the state decides to remove a cap lawmakers imposed limiting how much a district’s aid can increase in a single year.
The petition asks the state to stop providing some school districts more aid than they are owed under the funding formula, something lawmakers have allowed to appease districts that would otherwise see a reduction in aid.
The underfunding of the formula plus continued overfunding of districts that should see a reduction in aid has left some districts, including Newton, reeling, Greene said.
Newton currently receives about $6 million of the $10.3 million it would receive if the the state fully funded the formula and lifted the cap on…