Some South Brunswick Parents Voice Disappointment With Christie's Proposed $1 Increase In School Aid — Friday, March 22, 2013

Written by
Susan Loyer

SOUTH BRUNSWICK — Up in arms about a mere $1 increase in state aid to the school district that is included in Gov. Chris Christie's proposed 2014 fiscal year budget, a group of parents gathered in front of the township board of education building to voice their chagrin.

"It's an insult," South Brunswick parent Lisa Grieco-Rodgers, a member of Save Our Schools New Jersey, whose two children attend school in the district, said at the event held at the office on Black Horse Lane in the Monmouth Junction section.

During the event, coordinated by Our Children/Our Schools, Grieco-Rodgers said in fiscal year 2011, Christie cut aid to the district by $6.3 million.

"As a result we've all been forced to pay more and get less," she said

Class sizes have gone up, she said.

"Music and arts programs for all children were scaled back, physical education was shortened by 20 to 30 minutes and over 20 clubs for the kids were outright eliminated," Grieco-Rodgers said.

In addition, the township school district now must charge fees, which range anywhere from $25 to $75, to families whose children play sports, participate in a band, field trips or even taking advanced placement courses in the hopes of improving their chances at getting into a good college, she said.

"Like many families, we have hit the $300 cap pretty quick.," she said. "Meanwhile, our cash-strapped schools have often relied on parents to make purchases they could not."

Grieco-Rodgers said Gov. Christie has restored some funding to South Brunswick during the last few years, but the district is still 8 percent short of where it was when he first came to office.

She explained that last week, when the governor said more than 370 school districts would receive an increase in funding she hoped the district would be one of those receiving an increase.

"It turns out we were, but what seemed like the promise of relief now looks more like a bad joke," Grieco-Rodgers said. "It turns out that South Brunswick's aid increase this year is this — one dollar — a single dollar. After three years of underfunding by the state, the governor has given us a dollar and by the way he told us not to spend it all in one place. Today, we're going to stack up what we've had to pay in higher fees and property taxes and stack that against Gov. Christie's single $1."

Grieco-Rodgers than placed $300 in a jar that represented what her family has had to pay out so far this year for her children's field trips, plays and other activities.

Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for the governor's office said "we have increased aid for this district by $4.3 million since the 2010 budget they cite. Those increases have come as part of the governor's historic support for New Jersey schools. The governor's budget provides the greatest direct state aid to school districts in New Jersey history. More than any other prior governor — ever."

Township mother Theresa Dempewolf also is outraged by Christie's $1 increase in funding.

"It's unbelievable to me that Gov. Christie is claiming that he's increasing funding for South Brunswick this year, while offering only one dollar more in aid after underfunding us by millions over the last three years," she said.

She explained that the $1 increase still leaves the district $2 million short of where we it was before Christie took office in 2010.

"South Brunswick's school funding levels are actually $13 million under the minimum amount required to give our children a quality education as required by the School Funding Reform Act of 2008," she said. "The truth is that this governor has underfunded New Jersey schools by $5 billion since first taking office. Almost every district in the state has been shortchanged by the governor, and there seems to be no plan to eventually bring New Jersey back into compliance with the school funding formula that is the law. We need leadership from Trenton, and since Gov. Christie seems more interested in touting his $1 aid increases than actually undoing the damage his cuts have done to public education, we must look to the legislature."

Dempewolf, who serves as director of empowerment and finance at New Jersey Citizen Action, said New Jersey has a revenue problem, which can be alleviated..

She said reinstating the millionaire tax would generate $1 billion, closing corporate loopholes would restore $300 million and curbing wasteful subsidies would save an additional $2.3 billion.

"There are means available to meet the needs of our children and fund our schools," she said. "It's just a matter of priorities."

The group also heard from a few other parents, who also were disappointed by the lack of funding.

Grieco-Rodgers said she is happy the way the township handled the cut in state aid..

"It wasn't the school district's decision to make these cuts," she said. "I think they've been doing a good job in finding ways to make up for the loss."

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