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Sunday, April 21, 2024

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Wildwood School Board Introduces $24M Budget

High School Principal Philip Schaffer explains a sign denoting Wildwood High School's Blue Ribbon status. The sign was designed by students.

By Christopher South

WILDWOOD – The Board of Education has introduced the district’s $24 million budget in a year when it lost nearly three-quarters of a million dollars in state aid.

Last year, the district lost $2 million in aid under state Senate Bill S2, which outlined dramatic cuts over a six-year period, with 2024 being the final year. District Superintendent J. Kenyon Kummings said Wildwood and many other districts received much larger cuts than anticipated due to changes in the local fair-share calculation.

“Wildwood received a 37% reduction this year,” Kummings said. “Unfortunately, Wildwood has systematically lost funding due to adjustments that were made to the SFRA in 2018.”

Kummings was referring to the School Funding Reform Act of 2018, which laid out the six-year plan for taking funding from schools with a more robust tax base and giving it to schools identified as having more need.

“I have testified several times before the Senate and Assembly in the past,” Kummings said, “as aid reductions were being proposed as part of Senate Bill S2 in 2018, which later became P.L. 2018, c.67. As a result of the law, our district has lost over $4 million over the course of the past six years.”

In 2024, state aid to the Wildwood School District was reduced by $723,821. Last year, the district’s reduction was $2.1 million, which was a 53% reduction in Wildwood’s state aid and represented 11% of the district’s operating budget.

Kummings said these reductions were due to a change the local fair-share calculation resulting from the city’s equalized valuations, which increased by $400 million during the 2023/2024 school budget year and by another $300 million for 2024/2025.

He said the cuts have negatively impacted students across the district.

“Class sizes have increased, as supports and resources have decreased,” he said. “We had hoped to be able to restore some of the 18 positions that were eliminated last year, but that will not be possible within the figures on our current aid notice.”

Kummings is also president of Great Schools New Jersey, a committee of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators and the Education Law Center. The association represents over 60 high-needs school districts in which 40% or more of the students get free or reduced-price lunch.

He said the association has been communicating with legislators since last spring and requesting a comprehensive review of the 2018 legislation to address what he described as “the volatility that is being witnessed across the state.”

“We have also requested that a stopgap measure be created that limits the amount of an aid reduction to within 1% of a district’s total operating budget,” he said.

Kummings said that during the 2024/2025 school year, 1% applied to all the districts slated to receive reduced aid would total approximately $62 million. He said this amounts to a little more than half the cost of the supplemental stabilization aid last year, which restored, for one year only, two-thirds of the aid districts lost for the current school year.

He said such a stopgap measure should be a component of the funding formula going forward so that districts will not be presented with insurmountable reductions. As it is, Kummings said, the SFRA has destabilized affected schools and communities.

Thoughts? Questions? Call Christopher South at 609-886-8600 x-128 or email csouth@cmcherald.com.

Reporter

Christopher South is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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