The projected state aid for Lacey Township is up $612,488 from last year, the Department of Education has announced. Although any increase in aid may seem like a plus, school officials said the budget is slim and the plan will be a struggle financially.
“This is certainly good news for the students and taxpayers of Lacey Township. It is about what could be expected given that $250 million dollars in additional state aid is being distributed among almost 600 school districts,” said, Jack Martenak, vice president of the school board. “Unfortunately this represents restoration of less then a 20 percent of what was cut last year so were not out of the woods yet.”
After a $4.6 million cut last year, all employees of the Lacey Township School district accepted a salary freeze.
The 2010-11 budget was reduced by more than $1 million before going to the voters.
The district had to use $1.1 million in free balance savings because the state failed to make the final payment of State Aid for the 2009-10 school year. The school district then suffered another $3.3 million reduction.
The 1.5-megawatt Solar Energy Project began producing Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SREC). The district received approximately $1.1 million in SREC sales and electric usage was reduced by more than 35 percent. This resulted in approximately $1.6 million in generated revenue.
Even with the increase in state aid and the revenue the district is gaining from the solar panel project, Superintendent Richard Starodub would have liked to see more.
“The aid allocation for Lacey students and taxpayers continues to be below what the state has established as thorough and efficient levels for districts like Lacey,” Starodub said. “Because of the salary freeze initiative and solar project, Lacey has been able to keep the lights on and the doors open.”
Because of the circumstances the district has been operating under and the lack of state aid, the school board passed a resolution in support of the restoration of state school aid.
According to the resolution, the district is asking Gov. Chris Christie and legislators to do the following:
- Restore State school aid to $4.6 million so that it is based on residential value and income.
- Require the New Jersey School Employee’s Health Benefits Program (SEHBP) to freeze premiums for the 2011-12 school year and impose a 2 percent cap that is consistent with the state-mandated cap for school budgets.
- Require the SEHBP to provide an explanation as to why health-care costs have increased on an annual basis and explain its charges for coverage in the future.
- Require the New Jersey Public Employment Retirement System to provide an explanation to school districts when local pension contribution increases occur.
- Create state aid financial rewards for districts that have already saved local taxpayers money by entering into local shared service agreements, transportation jointures, and energy savings programs.
Martenak wants to see schools rewarded for being proactive in managing costs, he said. Martenak added that the income tax does not come back to the Lacey Township School District.
“The taxpayers of Lacey are still losing out because a fair share of the state income tax we pay is not coming back to the local school district. We get hit twice, first on payday and then on our property tax bills,” Martenak said. “As it did in 2007, the board will continue to advocate during the upcoming year for a more equitable distribution of education funding on behalf of our taxpayers and students.”
Starodub added that the increase of health-care costs, regardless of what percentage employees contribute, would limit the finances necessary to remaining current with technology, teacher training, and proper teacher evaluation.
“Money does matter and any reform initiative administered correctly requires training and professional development. Lacey will continue to work with all stakeholders in our important mission of educating our next generation,” Starodub said.
Although the township and school district are separate entities, Mayor Gary Quinn said any additional money from the state is a plus.
“The school has $612,000 more; that is going to be a lot more of a plus than a negative as far as the school district goes. That money, depending on where it’s appropriated to, is certainly going to give relief to taxpayers one way or another,” Quinn said.
Since 1971, the school district’s budget passed 37 times and was defeated 18 times.
The school board will send the proposed 2011-12 budget to the county superintendent for review within the next week. A public hearing on the budget will take place in the Lacey Township High School Lecture Hall at 6:30 p.m. March 28.
Below is the projected state aid for the Lacey Township School District:K-12 2010-2011 Total Aid $19,555,245 Equalized Aid $17,815,116 Transportation Aid $0 Special Education Aid $2,353,617 Security Aid $0 Adjustment Aid $0 K-12 2011-2012 Total Aid $20,167,733 One-Year Aid Change $612,488