State rep, educators blast budget cap law


Staff Writer

SOUTH BRUNSWICK — With the support of local school administrators and teachers, state Assemblyman Bill Baroni announced that he will introduce a bill to repeal a new state law that sets new limits on school spending.

“It’s erroneous public policy,” Baroni (R-Mercer/Middlesex) said of bill S1701, which recently became law.

The law, created to curb property tax increases, passed both houses of the Legislature on June 24 and was later signed by the governor. It reduced the annual caps on spending growth from 3 percent to 2.5 percent, and reduced the amount of surplus school districts may carry from 6 percent to 3 percent.

At the press conference, Baroni said the law fundamentally changed the way school districts worked, taking power away from local school administrators and giving it to state legislators. The message this law sends, Baroni said, is that Trenton knows more about what is best for local schools.

He said he trusts local residents to decide what is best for their schools.

Baroni said school budget caps hurt the state’s most vulnerable children, and surplus funds are crucial for extracurricular activities, renovations and insurance expenses. The new law asks teachers and administrators to create a balanced budget that educates more students with less funding.

South Brunswick Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gary P. McCartney elaborated on what he viewed as the law’s harmful effects. McCartney said the caps reduce the ability of schools to behave in ways conducive for student achievement.

Schools are funded from a combination of federal, state and local taxes.

McCartney said the irony in New Jersey is that the lack of sufficient state funding for schools causes an over-reliance on local property taxes. Now, McCartney said, there is a law denying schools the ability to rely on local resources in towns that have approved budgets and agreed to fund schools.

“We believe that this is a bad policy that doesn’t provide solutions for the conundrum of property taxes,” said Lynne Strickland, executive director of Garden State Coalition of Schools.

The coalition is made up of teachers, superintendents and other administrators, and represents nearly 120 school districts in the state.

Strickland said she favors a bill that would return school funding to its prior state. Strickland said people falsely believed the new law would help relieve property taxes. But faced with increasing enrollment and decreased funds from the state, it is the schools and educational quality that suffer, Strickland said.

“Schools are upset across the state,” Strickland said.

Strickland also voiced concern, along with Baroni, over the speed with which S1701 was passed. Strickland said she never saw a bill of such importance voted on so fast and with such little debate.

Baroni said the bill, introduced by Gov. James E. McGreevey, was passed “in the dark of night” in the Legislature by seven votes. Baroni said the bill never was put through the state’s Education Committee, of which he is a member.

Baroni, in a press release, said it was school funding, not school spending, that is at the root of the property tax crisis.

“The focus should be on increasing state aid to our schools, not imposing arbitrary caps on spending. Our over-reliance on property taxes isn’t going to be fixed by underfunding education,” Baroni said.

Baroni said New Jersey has created a “one size fits all” solution for the problem of property taxation. Baroni also noted that no evidence presented proved caps on school spending would benefit property taxpayers.

Baroni said S1701 is bad for children, schools, teachers and property taxpayers.

Baroni said he will introduce his bill and has received support from Repub-licans and Democrats. Baroni said his bill seeks solutions to the school budget cap law, which did nothing to support schools or property taxpayers.

“My bill is fixing that,” Baroni said.