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2003-04 ABBOTT DISTRICT BUDGETS: CONTENTIOUS AND STILL NOT RESOLVED

Education Law Center (ELC) is closely monitoring the budgets of the Abbott districts for 2003-04. For the second year, the NJ Department of Education is vigorously contesting the districts’ budgets, and has rejected efforts to cooperatively resolve disputed issues. As a result, districts are challenging decisions by NJDOE and Commissioner of Education to cut their budgets in court, a time-consuming process causing a serious delay in finalizing spending plans for the current school year. Here are the key developments in the process, as of November 2003.

July 2003: Supreme Court Budget Order: Over ELC objections, the Supreme Court grants NJDOE authority to maintain Abbott district budgets for a second year, i.e., to fund only the programs, positions and services "approved" in 2002-03. In defining "maintenance," the Court postpones funding any new supplemental programs based on demonstrated need until next year (2004-05).

The Court also reaffirms the State's authority under Abbott to eliminate any spending found not to be "effective and/or efficient." Supreme Court Budget Order (PDF) (July 23, 2003).

August 2003: NJDOE Budget Decisions: As required by the Supreme Court, NJDOE issues decisions on August 27th giving districts a preliminary maintenance budget figure, and an estimate of the Abbott supplemental funding (Additional Abbott v. Burke Aid) required for that budget. DOE also identifies inefficiencies based upon audits conducted by the State Treasurer.

September 2003: Administrative Decisions: 23 Abbott districts appeal the DOE budget figures and funding estimates in hearings before Administrative Law Judges. The Judges restore approximately $124 million in funding for supplemental programs to districts budgets.

October 2003: Commissioner Decisions:
Commissioner of Education William Librera rejects key rulings in the Administrative Decisions, and wipes out an estimated $80 million of the supplemental programs and funds restored to district budgets by the Administrative Judges.

November 2003: Districts Seek Appellate Court Review: 21 Abbott districts file notice with the NJ Superior Court seeking appellate review of the Commissioner’s decisions.

November 2003: ELC Files Amicus Brief: ELC, on behalf of the Abbott students, files an amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief in support of the district appeals. ELC argues that the NJDOE illegally cut $124 million in supplemental programs and funding from district budgets, in violation of the Supreme Court’s July 23rd Budget Order (PDF). The Appellate Court sets argument on the appeals for January 13, 2004, causing further delay in resolving current school year budgets. ELC Amicus Brief (PDF) and Summary of Budget Cuts (PDF).