Cerf urges districts to use additional aid for tax relief

In a memo sent to school district superintendents Tuesday, acting Commissioner of Education Christopher Cerf urged administrators to use their portion of the $150 million in additional school aid included in the budget for property tax relief.

The money was part of an overall $850 million increase in school funding that is part of the current fiscal year budget.

“The additional State aid included in this year’s budget provides your district with a unique opportunity to reduce property tax burdens by lowering your local property tax levies for this fiscal year or the next,” Cerf’s memo read. “Using this aid to lower taxes is an important step towards new and effective management of our schools that focuses on improved student achievement, rather than increased spending. I urge you to join our reform initiative by applying these newly-allocated funds to alleviate your district’s taxes this fiscal year.”

The money was left in the budget produced by legislative Democrats after he issued a line item veto eliminating more than three dozen additions to the budget he proposed in March.  Originally, Democrats had proposed language restricting the additional aid to restoration of classroom staffing and instructional programs, as well as to the elimination of student activity fees.

Christie removed the language and much of the additional funding, but left the $150 million.

According to the state School Board’s Association though, it’s possible the money will be unusable by the districts until next fiscal year.  In a memo to its members issued last week, the association outlines the state statute governing the additional aid.

State law would require the additional money to be budgeted as unanticipated revenue because school budgets have been set and local property tax levies have been struck.  Absent a directive form the Department of Education, the money would be required to be set aside for property tax relief in the next fiscal year budget.

Association spokesman Frank Belluscio said he is waiting for further clarification on how the money should be used.

A call to the Department of Education was not returned.

Cerf urges districts to use additional aid for tax relief