Trenton should foot the bill for the problems Trenton causes, Assemblyman Alex Sauickie says.
Specifically, the state should shoulder the costs foisted on local school districts by the commissioner of education to pay for state monitor salaries and associated costs. On Monday, Sauickie, joined by three members of the Jackson Township Board of Education, filed a bill (A3589) that would require the state, and not local school districts, to cover those expenses. Jackson BOE President Giuseppe Palmeri and members Megan Gardella and Brian McCarron accompanied Sauickie.
The Assemblyman said that school districts in northern Ocean County are facing financial crises caused by progressive statutory state aid cuts, under a law known commonly as S2, and skyrocketing student transportation costs.
The state has appointed monitor Carole Knopp-Morris, who will earn a $160,000 salary and other compensation, to oversee the Jackson Township School District. Her authority extends to overriding the superintendent and vetoing the democratically elected school board’s votes, all in the name of fiscal responsibility.
“Now the state wants to pour salt in the wound by making the same struggling district pay the $200,000-plus salary and expenses of the monitor for an issue the state caused,” Sauickie (R-Ocean) said.
From left to right: Jackson Township Board of Education member Brian McCarron, Assemblyman Alex Sauickie, Jackson BOE President Giuseppe Palmeri and Jackson BOE member Megan Gardella.
In Sauickie’s legislative district, Jackson schools serve nearly 7,600 students but must provide transportation for an additional 3,800 nonpublic school students, a fivefold increase in less than a decade that now accounts for more than 10% of its $165.8 million budget. Under state law, the district must provide busing for students or pay aid-in-lieu-of transportation to each family.
At the same time, S2 has chopped $18 million in state aid over the last six years, which has led to the loss of more than 200 educator and staff positions. For the first time, the district requested a state loan of $10.2 million to plug its 2023-24 budget hole caused by state policy.
“It’s the state that needs monitoring,” Sauickie said. “The same state that school districts had to sue to get any information about the secret funding formula that’s driving districts like Jackson to financial ruin. The same state that refuses to update its outdated student transportation policies to meet the changing demands in my district and others’.”
Sauickie is currently sponsoring a spate of other bills to address the school funding crisis: a bill that will make permanent two school funding programs that have been used to mitigate S2-caused problems (A1284); a bill that will provide additional state pupil transportation aid (A1286); and a bill to create a nonpublic school transportation program (A1287).