Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Gov. Chris Christie warns N.J. districts school aid could be cut 15 percent in next budget

Recent news of potential cuts to school districts across the State of New Jersey. What does this mean for Hoboken? - The State of New Jersey picks up about 29% of the school districts' budget. For 2009-10 that was roughly $8,544,231. This would indicate that the potential shortfall for next year could be about 15% of the 29% of the total budget or roughly $1,281,634. This could be made up by increasing the local tax levy, by cutting costs or some combination of the two. -Dr. Petrosino

BERKELEY HEIGHTS — With school districts still reeling from the midyear budget cuts he announced last week, Gov. Chris Christie said today he has asked districts to prepare for a 15 percent reduction in state aid in the budget he will propose next month.

Christie and Acting Education Commissioner Bret Schundler said their goal is to keep K-12 education aid flat in the fiscal year 2011 budget, but "that may not be possible," Schundler said. They said the state gave advance warning to districts so school boards would not be caught off guard by a dramatic drop in state funding.

"This is about us telling the truth," said Christie, who is due to deliver his budget address on March 16.

Any reductions in state aid to local districts would come on top of the cuts Christie outlined last week. He froze $475 million in aid, forcing districts to spend their surpluses instead for the remainder of the fiscal year 2010 budget that ends June 30.

During a roundtable discussion at a Union County middle school, Christie and Schundler stressed that those cuts were carefully targeted to take excess surplus from districts that had built it up, and not lead to teacher layoffs and program cuts this year. But Berkeley Heights school officials said their surplus was a result of careful budgeting, and spending it on operations will mean less money returned to property taxpayers next year.

Christie said his next budget will take into account how districts have saved and acted responsibly, but "it's impossible to do in the middle of a school year." He stressed the state will provide "tools" for school districts to control salary, pension and benefit costs.

"I understand that this is going to create challenges for people in the short term," the Republican governor said, stressing the state is "broke" and has no choice. "It stinks."

Christie also defended his authority to make midyear budget cuts unilaterally and challenged Democratic lawmakers to send him their own suggestions for savings. He described an Assembly budget committee hearing today highlighting his choices as "a parade of horribles."

"I couldn't wait any longer," the governor said. "This is not a one-way obligation, and they have not been excluded from the process...If they have a better idea...step up to the plate.