GLASSBORO — According to information from Kingsway School District Superintendent James Lavender, demands for fair school funding were prevalent throughout the March 22 Assembly Budget Committee’s Public Hearing on the Fiscal Year 2018 State Budget.
Parents, board of education members and superintendents took their place in the center of Rowan University’s Enyon Ballroom and delivered one testimony. The simple fact that school funding was the dominant and recurring theme emphasizes the state’s continual and deliberate failure to appropriately and fairly fund New Jersey’s public schools since the adoption of School Funding Reform Act in 2008.
In addition to parent testimony, Lavender explained how years of flat state aid and significant student enrollment growth (44 percent since the SFRA was adopted) is eroding the district from the inside out. Lavender continued by explaining that as a result of the state ignoring Kingsway’s funding plight, the District now faces a $2.4 million deficit for FY18 and has already executed a reduction plan that includes the layoffs of nearly 30 administrators, teachers, counselors, paraprofessionals, custodians and teachers.
“We are understaffed by two dozen teachers today, so, instead of hiring, we are laying people off. How does this make any sense knowing that we stand in the shadows of a number of overfunded school districts,” Lavender rhetorically asked.
“While we drive class sizes to over 30, cut middle school and freshmen sports, suspend PSAT testing to students in 9th to 11th grades, and terminate our contract with our local police department to provide a school resource officer, overfunded districts are hiring teachers, issuing laptops to every student, and adding more academic programs for their students,” Lavender continued.
Jennifer Cavallaro-Fromm, Co-Chair of Kingsway’s Fair Funding Action Committee (FFAC) and a parent of a middle school student, provided heartfelt testimony, telling the committee, “I’m seated before you in my treasured Kingsway sweatshirt, the one I wear to watch my daughter play field hockey at Kingsway. An opportunity I will not have again.”
Kingsway was not alone on Wednesday as Burlington County’s Chesterfield Township School District and Delran Public School and Camden County’s Cherry Hill School District were represented by a committed and fervent group of teachers, parents and school superintendents.
“We are working closely with a number of districts throughout the state, demanding change, and have generated considerable momentum on the school funding fiasco that has created a public school system of Haves and Have-Nots,” said Lavender. Some of the districts include Monroe Township (Middlesex County), Newton Public Schools (Sussex County), Chesterfield Township School District and Delran Public Schools (Burlington County), Red Bank Borough Public Schools and Freehold Borough School District (Monmouth County).
It’s been more than 20 days since the Governor’s charge to resolve the school funding crisis within 100 days of his Feb. 28 budget address, with little, if any, progress noted to date. An issue this network of underfunded districts is not about to let go.
“We have too much at stake,” said Lavender. “If we don’t resolve this problem now, it gets worse for all of us. By 2022, assuming no changes in state aid, my budget deficit will grow to $3.6 million. We don’t have any choice but to continue this fight.”