FREEHOLD BOROUGH - One year after a radical revision of the state school funding formula that brought a second wind to this struggling, underfunded district, Freehold Borough has replaced the crumbling, overcrowded warehouse that once served as its school with a spacious, air-conditioned facility containing enough classrooms and materials for every student to learn.
“It’s really been a remarkable transformation,” said Superintendent Rocco Tomazic. “For years, we were worried that we’d need to cut our faculty to the bone and endure higher class sizes just to survive another round of budget cuts of flat state aid. Now, we finally have the resources we need to help our students thrive, heading to full funding in five years under S-2.”
Thanks to a 2016 state bond for new construction as well as millions of dollars in additional funds under legislation (S2) revising the state funding formula, Freehold Borough has now been able to comfortably complete a combined 42,000 square feet of renovations and additions in its Park Avenue school complex and the Freehold Learning Center. Some of the new state aid has also gone to reducing school taxes back to fair share, which at their peak cost local taxpayers nearly $3 million more than what they were supposed to be paying.
Under the previous formula, Freehold Borough was classified as “underfunded,” receiving far fewer state funds per student than similar school districts. Assemblywoman Joann Downey (D-Freehold), who joined Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling (D-Neptune) and Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Passaic) for a tour of the district this Tuesday, still recalls visiting the Freehold Learning Center before its renovations.
“We saw students sitting in classrooms that weren’t even rooms - they were just areas of a massive warehouse that had been separated by hanging tarps and other fabric,” said Downey. “No student can really learn in those conditions, especially when their teachers are always anxious about the next budget cut. We’re glad to see Freehold Borough doing so much better, and we’re excited to see what this district can become now that it has the resources it needs.”
In 2018, before the funding formula was revised, Freehold Borough received approximately $10 million in state school funding. One year later, an additional $3 million has given its students and staff some much-needed breathing room. Even so, the district isn't yet fully funded, with annual increases in state aid summing to a total of nearly $13 million in additional funding by 2025 - a 119 percent jump from pre-reform levels.
“When I first visited Freehold’s schools, I couldn’t believe that many of the students didn’t have basic books and learning materials,” said Houghtaling. “Now, they’re able to learn in real, well-stocked classrooms, and their teachers can focus on teaching, not on finances - things that we all usually take for granted. The new system has really been such a huge step forward for these kids.”
“Through the dedication of the teachers, administrators, parents and students the district has made incredible progress. I am grateful to be part of this story of success, and I look forward to seeing these schools continue to grow,” said Schaer, who previously visited Freehold Borough alongside Houghtaling and Downey in 2016. “It just goes to show that when our schools have the support that they need, our students can thrive.”
Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling and Assemblywoman Joann Downey represent New Jersey’s 11th Legislative District in the State Assembly, where they work to make the Garden State more affordable for its hard-working residents. The 11th District includes the Monmouth County municipalities of Allenhurst, Asbury Park, Colts Neck, Deal, Eatontown, Freehold Borough, Freehold Township, Interlaken, Loch Arbour, Long Branch, Neptune City, Neptune, Ocean Township, Red Bank, Shrewsbury Borough, Shrewsbury Township, Tinton Falls and West Long Branch. Assemblyman Gary Schaer represents New Jersey’s 36th Legislative District in the State Assembly.