STATE AID BOOST COMES WITH QUESTIONS

c-christieGovernor Chris Christie at a Middletown town hall meeting in January. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Governor Chris Christie’s announcement Wednesday of how he’s apportioning $850 million in aid to school districts was welcome news to superintendents, who last year took axes and scalpels to their budgets when Christie froze funding.

But while any additional funds are welcome, local school leaders say they’re still in the dark over one big question: how are they going to be able to use it?

“We’re still, right now, sort of waiting for additional guidance from the Department of Education how they would like us to proceed with additional funding,” said Jim Stefankiewicz, superintendent of Red Bank Regional High School in Little Silver. His school got a whopping 147-percent boost in state aid. “Information from the governor’s office said that they would really like it to be earmaked more for property tax relief, which we are very open to and considering.”

But until official word comes down what the money can be used for, Stefankiewicz, like other leaders, is in a holding pattern.

“Right now we can’t make any plans,” Red Bank Superintendent Laura Morana said. “We’re just waiting to hear from the state. It’s not necessarily saying you can do whatever you wish with it.”

If that were the case, districts could certainly find plenty of uses for the extra cash.

In Morana’s district, last year’s budget crunch forced administrators to cut key programs like athletics and class trips. Much-needed maintenance was put on hold.

Although a release from 12th district legislators – state Senator Jennifer Beck and Assembly members Declan O’Scanlon and Caroline Casagrande – says Red Bank will receive an additional $302,740, or 17 percent, Morana said  the district received actually half that money — about $150,000 — earlier this year.

In a two-school district with a $19.45 million budget, an additional $150,000 is a drop in the bucket and would do little in the way of property tax relief, if that’s what it’s to be used for, Morana said.

“Any additional funding that comes through that we can allocate to the district is certainly welcome,” she said. “Any money at this particular point is definitely appreciated.”

Red Bank is set to receive less, percentage-wise, than most other in the legislative district — which stretches across portions of Monmouth County from Colts Neck to Rumson, Oceanport to Manalapan — and others, like RBR will get significant increases.

Fair Haven, for example, is set to see a 375-percent hike in funds.

The breakdowns go like this, according to yhr 12th-district legislators:

District State Aid FY ’11 State Aid FY ’12 $ Increase % Increase
Colts Neck Twp $417,855 $842,717 $424,862 101.7%
East Windsor Regional $15,590,444 $17,151,886 $1,561,442 1.0%
Fair Haven Boro $64,314 $305,300 $240,986 374.7%
Freehold Boro $8,355,181 $8,703,075 $347,894 4.2%
Freehold Regional $44,633,634 $48,069,354 $3,435,720 7.7%
Freehold Twp $2,305,325 $3,618,453 $1,313,128 57.0%
Little Silver Boro $0 $224,748 $224,748
Manalapan-Englishtown Reg $17,883,136 $19,305,012 $1,421,876 8.0%
Marlboro Twp $9,206,901 $10,770,137 $1,563,236 17.0%
Mercer County Vocational $2,110,625 $2,329,209 $218,584 10.4%
Millstone Twp $3,810,377 $4,447,915 $637,538 16.7%
Monmouth Co Vocational $6,988,037 $7,810,423 $822,386 11.8%
Monmouth Regional $3,265,315 $3,773,083 $507,768 15.6%
Oceanport Boro $170,553 $362,972 $192,419 112.8%
Red Bank Boro $1,762,309 $2,065,049 $302,740 17.2%
Red Bank Regional $330,983 $818,187 $487,204 147.2%
Rumson-Fair Haven Reg $0 $324,142 $324,142
Shrewsbury Boro $38,908 $177,874 $138,966 357.2%
Tinton Falls $2,895,762 $3,419,642 $523,880 18.1%