As the 2019-20 school year begins, Freehold Regional High School District Superintendent of Schools Charles Sampson has thoughts of dwindling state aid and an upcoming referendum on his agenda.
Sampson addressed both issues during a recent meeting of the Board of Education. He reminded residents of the district’s eight sending municipalities that when they go to the polls on Nov. 5, they will be asked to vote on three questions pertaining to the district.
Question No. 1, which administrators said could cost about $20 million, is expected to include security initiatives such as interior door locks, security vestibules and public address systems; roofing and paving work; and auditorium renovations at Freehold High School.
Question No. 2, which could cost about $12 million, includes bleacher replacements and new STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) rooms at each high school.
Question No. 3, which could cost about $8.5 million, includes the installation of synthetic turf athletic fields at Freehold Township High School, Manalapan High School and Marlboro High School, and a new media center at Colts Neck High School.
District administrators have said Question No. 2 and Question No. 3, together or individually, can only pass if Question No. 1 is approved by voters.
According to Sampson, the New Jersey Department of Education would fund between 25 and 30 percent of the eligible costs of the projects that are being proposed if the referendum is approved.
The superintendent said a majority of the work in the proposed referendum must be undertaken within the next few years regardless of whether the referendum is approved by voters.
“The referendum is about $41.7 million and in particular a huge chunk of that work has to be done within the next couple of years,” Sampson said. “If you couple that work not being completed with a reduction in our state aid from $51 million … to $18 million, that should, for anyone who lives in in the district, not just people who have children in the district, be a resounding alarm about why it is important to educate yourself about the larger financial picture and take action.
“The first piece of action is to go vote, one way or the other. Second, to contact your local legislators about what is going on. I guarantee that next year (2020-21), the second we start cutting busing and parents are inconvenienced by their child walking eight-tenths of a mile to a bus stop at 6:30 a.m. instead of two-tenths of a mile, that is going to be a hard pill to swallow for a lot of parents. That is what we are going to be up against if we don’t alter this tide,” the superintendent said.
Sampson reminded the board members and members of the public the district is in the midst of a multi-year reduction in the amount of state aid it is scheduled to receive.
During the 2018-19 school year, Freehold Regional received about $51 million in state aid, according to the superintendent. He said that amount had been stable for almost a decade.
Legislation signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy in 2018, known as S-2, reduces the amount of state aid some districts in New Jersey will receive through the 2024-25 school year.
Sampson said the during the 2024-25 school year, Freehold Regional would receive about $18 million in state aid. He said the reduction in state aid would have a severe effect on the district.
“What the state is basically saying is that we are under-taxing our community by about $30 million, which is ridiculous,” he said. “The difficulty in all of that is that there is a 2% cap on the (annual) tax levy (increase). So even if we want to tax as much as is available to that, the gap is significant. It’s a financial tsunami.”
Freehold Regional has joined other school districts that are losing state aid in litigation that seeks to overturn S-2.
The district’s sending municipalities are Colts Neck, Englishtown, Farmingdale, Freehold Borough, Freehold Township, Howell, Manalapan and Marlboro.
The district educates about 10,800 students in high schools in Colts Neck, Freehold Borough, Freehold Township, Howell, Manalapan and Marlboro.