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More Funding for Schools, But Only Some of Them

More Funding for Schools,
But Only Some of Them

The news has been flooded with feel-good reports about the State of New Jersey’s supposed boost in funding for schools. On the whole, it sounds like great news. Dig into the details, though, and the truth comes out: More money isn’t as much a reality as more money for some. And the boost for some was made possible by a ding for others.

The short version is: Ramsey was awarded a slight increase in state funding in early spring, but saw no additional benefit when new Governor Phil Murphy kicked off summer with a much-touted announcement about even more school funding.

Ramsey Public Schools have been underfunded for years. State leadership follows a sadly reliable practice of setting a formula that seems like a purposefully confusing potpourri of various numbers. To that mathematical result, they apply a few factors to consider what the local taxpayers can afford to shoulder. For districts like Ramsey, that number is further revised downward so everything fits into New Jersey’s embattled budget. That’s where the term underfunding comes from: The state doesn’t even fund its own slice-and-dice formula. Failing districts – and Ramsey is not among them – see the formula revised upward in an attempt to even the playing field. The problem is that without a big load of fresh dirt, you can only fill in holes by scraping a little bit from here and a little more from there.

The numbers tell part of this story. For the 2017-18 school year, the State of New Jersey granted Ramsey Public Schools $1,403,148. That might sound like a big number, but it was a mere 2.6% of our budget for the school year. The governor’s early spring budget message pledged to improve school funding and tagged Ramsey for a $197,014 boost. Eerily, the number stayed exactly the same with the summertime announcement that the state found even more money for education. Exactly. The. Same.

So yes, we’re getting more. But we’re not getting more plus more, and we’re certainly not getting our fair share by the sketchy funding formula.

The forecast isn’t rosy, either, because this fiscal year is only the beginning of a plan to continue scraping from one area to fill another. The governor’s office is crowing now about adding $340 million to public school spending but is silent on the counterweight: the seven-year phasing in of $600 million in reduced funding for certain districts.

Luckily for Ramsey taxpayers and students, the numbers only tell part of the story. The other part is much better. We have supportive parents who send us their bright, hardworking students. We have dedicated faculty who work more for passion than a paycheck. Those two factors alone make it easier to have the kinds of successes our district is known for: enviable rates of college acceptances, superstars on the athletic fields and performance stages, real-world skills that surpass anything on a standardized test. In addition to all that, we have administrators who have become experts in careful planning and prudent spending. 

As part of that management approach, we plan to push that extra million and change in ways of strengthening the systems and structures that contribute to school safety. The Bond Referendum proposed for Dec. 11 includes modest funding for security concerns, and the anticipated bump in state aid will provide the base. Speaking of that referendum, Ramsey taxpayers should note that the district is eligible to receive some state funding to offset local costs – but only with a voter-approved bond referendum, not for costs funded from the district’s standard operating budget.

This is how the New Jersey public school game is played.