Stafford School District Loses State Aid While Southern Regional Gains Some

Aug 15, 2018

A couple of weeks ago, the politicos in Trenton released the numbers regarding state funding for New Jersey school districts. For many, the news was not good, particularly in Ocean County, as more than half of the districts will receive less aid for the 2018-19 school year.

But while several Ocean County districts are losing massive amounts of funding – to the tune of millions – the Stafford Township School District hasn’t been whacked too hard.

“The frustrating part of it is our timetable is different than the state,” said Stafford Business Administrator Dan Smith, who has had to make some adjustments to the district’s budget because of $182,432 less coming in from Trenton. “Our budget deadline is March 20 so the county can approve it, and then we approve our budgets in May. The state doesn’t figure out what it’s doing until July, when its budget is done.

“So, we had already factored in a loss of state aid, but it’s changed a few times since then. And now we get the final number and we have to make further adjustments right before the school year starts.”

Fortunately, the Stafford district is in good financial shape right now. The larger loss in state aid, compared to the initial projection back in March – set at just over $48,000 – has meant tweaking the specifications on how many new buses are purchased for this year.

However, this year marks the first of what is expected to be a seven-year process, and districts that lost funding now likely will continue to see losses each year and, even more likely, in greater dollar amounts.

“Who knows? Next year, the state could cut us by $400,000, and the following year even more,” Smith said. “Any loss hurts, but bigger losses eventually will result in more cutting on our end. But the problem really is that we have no way of projecting how much those cuts might be so we can prepare better for them.”

Despite the cut of some $180,000 this year, Stafford stands to be granted just over $9.4 million in state aid, which includes almost $1.3 million in special education aid.

As for the Southern Regional district, it will be receiving more state funding compared to a year ago – $254,648 to be exact, a 12.29 percent increase. In total, Southern will receive $2,325,842.

“What we were projected to get in March is exactly what we’re getting,” said Southern Business Administrator Steve Terhune. “So, for us, unlike in other districts that are facing bigger losses, the new numbers aren’t shock. Even if our aid was less than what we had anticipated, we were probably going to see an increase anyway.”

In 2010, soon after former Gov. Chris Christie took office, Southern was hammered by a cut of some $4 million in state aid. During the past few years, Southern’s aid had increased. In his budget presentation to the school board in May, Terhune said the district was looking at continual increases during the coming years.

“We’re nowhere near the amount of aid we were receiving before 2010, and we’re probably never going to see numbers that high again,” he said. “But I’m not going to complain with what we’re getting now, because at least we’re going in a positive direction and we’re able to use that money for some tax relief to our taxpayers. We’re entitled to more than we’ve been getting, but we’re just happy the numbers are going up.”

Of course, that may not be the case a few years from now, Terhune said.

“Our student population is expected to increase a bit during the next few years, so we should keep getting a bit more than the previous year,” he said. “But beyond that, I don’t have a lot of faith in the state’s projections. Theoretically, we should go up in state aid for the next six years. But with the way things are in Trenton, I’m not expecting that.”

— David Biggy

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