Jersey City Board of Education sues state Department of Education over cuts to aid

Calling it catastrophic, members of the Jersey City Board of Education say proposed cuts to state aid have the potential to dismantle the district and put the future of its 30,000 students at risk. The Jersey City Board of Education is part of a growing list of districts suing the State Department of Education, filing suit in Hudson County Superior Court to overturn the funding cuts on Monday.

“This year the cut we are facing is $27 million. And to balance the budget for this year, there are 415 instructional staff layoffs in the cards, without which we will not be able to balance the budget,” said Jersey City Board of Education President Sudhan Thomas.

It all stems from what’s known as the School Funding Reform Act of 2008, or SFRA. It’s a weighted formula that takes into consideration the number of at risk students — Jersey City has about 20,000 — and students needing special education or English proficiency classes — roughly 8,500 students in Jersey City. The lawsuit challenges the SFRA’s constitutionality.

“Not since the first year of the School Funding Reform Act implementation, however, has Jersey City, its Board of Education, its parents and its students been funded at adequacy budget level,” said Jersey City Public Schools attorney Angelo Genova.

The city is also constrained by the 2% tax cap signed by Gov. Chris Christie a decade ago. But what’s worse, according to Genova, is an item called S2 recently enacted by the Legislature. It’s an amendment to the SFRA which phases out a category called adjustment aid. It’s a loss of $27 million this year.

“And will amount to a cumulative cut in funding. That’s a compounded cut in funding in state aid of $795 million through 2024-2025 school year,” said Genova.

Sheryl Mayes pulled her son out of the district due to a lack of special education teachers.

“When he got to the sixth grade, I decided to put him in Sacred Heart, and now he’s in Hudson Catholic. And I am having a hard time paying it, but I don’t trust Jersey City public schools to give my son the education he needs,” said Mayes.

“In making the cuts, we have a ratio of about 19:1 at this point in time, and that’s certainly because we have a lower ratio in the lower grades. But we have about 25:1 in the high schools. But with these cuts taking place, the ratio will be pushed up to about 28:1,” said Jersey City public schools acting superintendent Franklin Walker.

Parent and co-plaintiff Shanna Givens says lack of funding has been an issue for years. Her son is in the fourth grade.

“He needs occupational therapy and the resources does not allow him to have the occupational therapy that he really needs,” said Givens.

“It causes the parents to wonder what is going to be the future opportunities for their children. We know that everything is competitive these days, even to get into the vocational schools you need to have good grades,” said James Harris, with the New Jersey Association of Black Educators.

A spokesperson with the state Department of Education on Monday said they won’t comment on pending litigation. There’s no word if an injunction will be granted for the upcoming September school year.