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Friday, May 17, 2024

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Re: ‘Dennis BOE Looks to State After Approving Budget With $3.2M Shortfall’

By Nichol Hoff, Dennis Township

To the Editor:

First, I want to start by thanking the Herald for its continuing coverage of our district’s financial woes. I’m happy to see the story getting out there. I want to address one major issue with the most recent article detailing our circumstances.

Mr. South was at our recent meeting, and he covered points of the active conversation. He did not cover, though, what the plan has been up to this point.

If you recall, last year our district went to a ballot question to allow the district to raise the levy above the 2% cap. That question was defeated, and frankly it was defeated due to false pretense.

As much as some would like to blame the board, or the administration of the district, there was nothing anyone could do to avoid this situation. In 2008, the New Jersey Legislature enacted the “School Funding Reform Act of 2008;” this act drastically changed the landscape of school funding in the State of New Jersey. Then, in 2018, the Legislature took it a step further and tightened down even more on certain districts.

Since 2018, Dennis Township has lost over 75% of its total state aid. Schools have no real ability to generate revenue. They are held to state-mandated levels of education; levels Dennis Township doesn’t want to just meet but exceed.

For this current budget cycle, yes, we do have a $3.2 million shortfall. That shortfall amount would be the amount that would put us back together, or even better, keep us together. We don’t have the money we need for the school. We don’t have the money we need to meet a “thorough and efficient education” as required. This shortfall isn’t due to an accounting error, it isn’t due to mismanagement of funds or resources; over three-quarters of our “revenue” has been cut over the last six years. I ask any of you who might be business owners, how would you be doing if 75% of your revenue had been reduced over that same time?

We had been following the direction of the County Superintendent of Education’s Office and working towards an “advancement of state aid,” a loan of sorts. This has been discussed, at length, at numerous public meetings of the board over the last year and a half. That has been the plan since then and continues to be the plan now.

The article is accurate in that during that meeting a pending piece of legislation was discussed and, yes, if that bill is passed a district may increase their tax levy up to a total of 9.9% without voter approval. To a further extent, yes, if the bill is passed, we certainly will examine its benefit to our district. However, that is not the plan, nor has it ever been the plan. Our plan has and remains to advocate for equitable state funding so our district can provide a thorough and efficient education to our students. 

We are holding fast as a district. We know what it will cost to provide a level of education in Dennis Township that we can all be proud of. What the state has done is reprehensible. This district deserves better than what the state is offering. We have taken this message all the way to Trenton, and we thank Senator Testa and Senator Polistina for their help and advocating on our behalf. 

Fair is fair, and it’s time that Dennis Township gets its share.

NICHOL HOFF

Dennis Township

ED. NOTE: The author is the president of the Dennis Township Board of Education. She asserts that the above opinion is her own and is not a reflection of the board as a whole.

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