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PORTRAIT OF AN UNDERFUNDED NJ SCHOOL DISTRICT: CLAYTON

May 28, 2014

David T. Lindenmuth, Superintendent of the Clayton Public Schools, a K-12 district in Gloucester County, has a long “wish list” of programs and services he would like to provide for the students in his district. This list includes programs and services that other districts around the state may take for granted: middle school social studies classes with fewer than 30 students; a varied set of high school electives, including art history, debate and laboratory sciences; Advanced Placement classes taught by a teacher in a district classroom, instead of online instruction in the library; and art classes for kindergarteners and first and second graders.

The district also wants to support struggling students with tutoring, after-school programs, comprehensive test preparatory classes and in-house summer school (currently only offered online). District teachers need additional professional development, instructional coaches and department supervisors so they can work together to improve instruction. The superintendent needs to hire more teachers in order to reduce class sizes. He would like to hire parent liaisons to improve relations between schools and families. While the district’s facilities are in good shape, the technology infrastructure is outdated, which is a serious concern for next year’s implementation of online PARCC assessments.

The district would benefit from Junior Varsity sports, an expanded music program and more performing arts opportunities, all of which would help keep students engaged in school. Currently, neither the middle school nor the high school has an auditorium, and the district relies on a lone elementary school performance space.

In 2008, with passage of the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA), the State of New Jersey determined that many of the elements on Mr. Lindenmuth’s “wish list” are necessary ingredients for districts to ensure their students can meet State academic standards. Because of chronic underfunding of NJ’s school funding formula codified in the SFRA, Clayton is unable to provide the staff, programs, and resources students need.

The level of underfunding was documented through Clayton’s participation in a school funding lawsuit, Bacon et. al. v. New Jersey Department of Education, which sought to remedy inadequate school funding in seventeen of the state’s poor, rural districts. Even though the State Board decided, in 2006, that the level of resources in the Bacon districts “cannot be considered adequate,” these districts have not seen relief.

In 2008, the State successfully argued that once the SFRA was implemented, the Bacon districts would have the resources they needed. But, as a result of the State’s failure to fully fund the SFRA in five of the six years in which it has been law, Clayton has not received the increases in state aid to which the district is entitled.

After only two years of increases, the district was hit with an $850,000, or 9%, cut in state aid in 2010-11. The district spent the next three years slowly making up that deficit and will just barely exceed 2009-10 levels in Governor Christie’s proposal for state aid in 2014-15.

At the same time that state aid was being withheld from the district, Clayton’s student population continued to grow; the proportion of at-risk (low-income) students increased; and escalating costs intensified the gap between what the district actually spends and what the SFRA defines as “adequate” to deliver the standards. This “adequacy gap” was less than $1 million in 2008-09, and is projected to be over $5 million in 2014-15.

In addition, Clayton has consistently raised local revenue to support district public schools beyond the level required by the SFRA, while the State has consistently failed to provide its fair share. If the formula were fully funded, Clayton would be entitled to an additional $2 million dollars in K-12 state aid in 2014-15.

Under the SFRA, the district is also entitled to a state-funded preschool program. All 192 three- and four-year-olds in the district are eligible for this high-quality, full-day program. Though the district currently serves 80 students in a half-day program, there is often a waiting list.

“Our goal at Clayton is to prepare our students for the opportunities of the future,” Mr. Lindenmuth said. “Inadequate funding from the state is making that already monumental task that much more difficult.”

The situation in the Clayton schools demonstrates that formula underfunding has very real consequences. Clayton does not have the resources to ensure that all district students start off on the right track with high-quality preschool and keep on track with 21st-century instruction and engaging extracurricular activities at all grade levels. The district would like nothing better than to provide the educational opportunities students need to achieve and that are the basis for the SFRA. It’s up to the State to make sure that happens.

 

Related Stories:

PORTRAIT OF AN UNDERFUNDED NJ SCHOOL DISTRICT: FREEHOLD BOROUGH

 

Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
skrengel@edlawcenter.org
973-624-1815, x 24