April 2018: Fair Funding

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." Margaret Mead

As you are likely aware, the Robbinsville Board of Education and a small army of citizens have once again banded together in solidarity to continue the fight for our fair share of state aid.  Last year, we provided testimony at Senate and Assembly Budget Hearings, delivered over 4200 letters to our representatives, and maintained a high profile both locally and at the state level. This year we are hopeful that the members of both houses, along with the Governor, recognize the disparity in aid and are taking much needed steps to fund school districts fairly. In the meantime, here is our current reality.

According to the 2018 proposed state budget, Robbinsville has gained distinction as the 6th most underfunded district in New Jersey.  Last year we were twelfth. At that time we took comfort in the hope that our plight could only improve.  We were wrong.  And, ironically, at $11,951 per student, we are the lowest spending school district in Mercer County.

Since 2004 when we first opened our high school and our total state aide began its rapid decline, we wasted no time beginning to seek alternative sources of revenue in order to counteract the effects of decreased funding on our programs, staff and, ultimately, on our students. As a result, Robbinsville has been a frontrunner in establishing alternative revenue streams - aside from state aid or tax increases - to fund our programs. Through this work we have accomplished the following:

  • Elimination of numerous out-of-district tuition costs by building in-house programs for our special needs population;
  • Outsourcing of custodial services at a savings of $500,000 in additional health benefit costs;
  • Reduction in the number of full time instructional aides, saving health benefit costs of $390,000.

Additionally, we

  • Charge activity fees for participation in sports and extracurricular activities;
  • Rent out our facilities on a year round basis;
  • Have a tuition-based preschool program;
  • Have established a tuition-based kindergarten program for students residing in neighboring districts;
  • Participate in numerous transportation jointures;
  • Have entered into shared services agreements with the township and other districts;
  • Maximize energy cost reduction through an ESIP project, Demand Response, and solar initiatives;
  • Have created a premiere in-house before and after school program;
  • Are researching the possibility of cell tower construction;
  • Are seeking to generate additional revenue by advertising on a billboard located on district property.

Robbinsville has received multiple letters of commendation from the Mercer County Superintendent for fiscal efficiency, prudence, and discipline. We’ve accomplished these initiatives even as our student population has grown at an annual at rate of 4%.  In fact, in the last five years our enrollment has increased by 304 students!  In essence, we have built a high performing school district at a time in our state’s history when taxes are on the rise and the financial burdens on members of our community continue to increase. 

In 2009 our state aid totaled $2.8M.  At that time our student enrollment was 2697. Our current enrollment stands at 3223 and our projected aid for next year will be merely $300,000 more than it was in 2009. This includes the small increase in state aid we received last year.  Since that time Robbinsville residents have contributed an additional $5,000,000 in local tax levy. 

The consequence of being underfunded year after year is dire. In this critical time, when school districts must invest in security related infrastructure and personnel, we find ourselves in a financial position that is unsustainable. In a year when our school district budget is decreasing and our enrollment is increasing by about 4%, it seems fundamentally unfair that the tax payers in Robbinsville should again have shoulder the burden of increased taxes while programs for their children continue to decrease.  As it stands today Robbinsville residents fund 95% of their entire school budget through local taxes. Because our budget is already lean and efficient, we have exhausted any additional opportunities to reduce expenses without causing irreparable harm to students of Robbinsville.

Our students deserve access to the same programs and opportunities as every other student in the State of New Jersey, on an equal and fair basis. Robbinsville tax payers have funded more than their fair share and have done so for far too long. It’s time to do the right thing and reward fiscal prudence with fiscal justice. Our School Board and administrative team are prepared to work through this very difficult budget cycle in a fashion that protects the interests of our students and our community, but it is unreasonable to ask our tax payers to pay more and get less. 

Please join us in our continued fight for fair funding.  Make your voices heard.  Call or write to our representatives today.  We may not exactly change the world, but we will make a difference in the lives of our students.

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