By a vote of 79-0, the state Assembly on March 25 approved legislation, A-3902, that would authorize the Department of Community Affairs to permit municipalities to delay the  transmission of property tax revenues to school districts.

A-3902 would allow a grace period for the payments during gubernatorial-declared emergencies, such as New Jersey’s present situation. The bill now heads to the state Senate. Future Senate meetings have not been scheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Serious Concern NJSBA has reached out to the governor’s office and legislative leaders about the bill. On average, local property taxes constitute 60% of school district revenue.

Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, NJSBA executive director, urged local school officials to express their opposition to A-3902 to their state senators.

“A delay in the payments would pose serious financial disruption to school district operations,” Feinsod said. “It’s critical that the Senate understands the negative results it could have on educational programming.”

School boards that wish to express their opposition to the legislation can download a sample resolution from NJSBA’s website. Individuals may access a sample letter.

In a position statement sent to the state Senate on March 26, the NJSBA explained why it opposes A-3902:

NJSBA recognizes the impact of the current public health emergency on the state and local governments, as well as local school districts. This legislation, however, would only worsen the situation for our communities, the letter said.

New Jersey’s public schools are highly dependent on property tax revenue to support education programs. On average, local property taxes constitute 60% of public school revenue, with the percentage even greater in a significant number of districts. A delay in payments from municipalities will result in a financial crisis for school districts, seriously disrupting the educational process—and bringing it to a halt.

Although public school buildings are closed during the current health emergency, the education of our students is taking place through remote learning and home instruction. Continued timely transmission of school property taxes is critical for the education process to continue without interruption.

Under our state’s current structure, municipalities are designated as the authorities to collect property taxes. But those taxes are levied for specific purposes—e.g., municipal, school, county, fire district—and these obligations must continue to be met.

As currently written, A-3902, which is designed to ease a financial burden on municipalities, would place a severe strain on school districts and the students and families that they serve.

NJSBA is committed to working with our state’s lawmakers during this unprecedented crisis. However, we urge the Senate not to consider this legislation.

The legislation also addresses extension of other timelines applicable to local government units. NJSBA will post updates and further information on its website.

A-3902 was among six bills on the March 25 Assembly agenda. All dealt with the current COVID-19 pandemic, including one, A-3904 (sponsored by Assembly members Burzichelli, Schepisi, Lampett, Jasey), that would permit school districts to use virtual instruction to meet the 180-school-day requirement.