The process of developing next year’s budget has already begun.
From my personal experience as a superintendent and as a school board member, I know that this is one of the more difficult tasks for school leaders. They have to balance competing priorities, all of them worthy, as they represent the interests of students and the taxpayers of their district.
Last year, the budget process was complicated when the state changed funding levels in July — long after budgets had been finalized and approved.
About two-thirds of the districts in the state saw state aid increases; about a third experienced funding cuts. At the time these changes were announced, NJSBA noted that it was unfair and unacceptable that any district should receive less than the amount they were notified they would receive and were instructed to use in their budget planning.
That was not just the opinion of staff members at NJSBA. The representatives at NJSBA’s November 2017 Delegate Assembly adopted a resolution that added language to that effect to the NJSBA Manual of Policies and Positions. It was prompted by the fact that the same situation occurred in the summer of 2017, when districts received late notice on adjustments in state aid. The resolution stated that the Association believes it is detrimental to students, school programs and local taxpayers for the state to reduce projected aid to school districts after districts have been notified of their aid entitlements by the state Department of Education.
With the enactment Senate Bill 2 on July 24, the enrollment growth aid caps and the adjustment aid which were in place when the existing school funding formula was enacted over a decade ago were eliminated. School districts which received adjustment aid and/or in which enrollment declines or increased community wealth were not previously factored into their state aid allocations, will experience reductions of aid through 2024-2025.
We commend the state for providing additional funds to districts that have been severely underfunded for years (one of our advocacy goals); we will work to ensure that this funding continues. At the same time, the New Jersey School Boards Association will advocate for those districts that lost funding, and which are on track for continued aid decreases.
It is our hope that in the future, all districts will be spared the uncertainty and disruption that comes when there are reductions in school funding after the state has notified districts of their state aid. The budget development process is hard enough for boards and administrators, without that extra obstacle.
This issue of School Leader magazine features a special section on school finance. It includes an article explaining the state’s school funding formula and the changes that were enacted this summer; an article on health insurance options for school districts; and one on investing the proceeds of bond referenda. We think that this special section, which begins on page 13, will help acquaint board members with the complex issues surrounding school finance and budgets.