City of Elizabeth loses court ruling over school budget decision by state

TRENTON – The city of Elizabeth has lost a dispute against the state Education Department concerning a 2010 decision over reinstating a statutorily required minimum tax levy.

The state appellate court this morning disagreed with the city’s contention that the decision by former Education Commissioner Bret Schundler was unconstitutional.

Elizabeth had argued that his decision to reinstate the tax levy ignored the statutory right of voters to reject a budget that had been proposed by the local board of education as well as the right of the city to recommend cuts in the budget.

In its decision, the court recounted some of the history of this dispute:

The Education Department informed the Elizabeth schools superintendent in March 2010 that the mandatory local share of the school budget was $48,673,323, to be funded by a general tax levy for the 2010-11 school year. That tax levy would be a ten percent increase from the general school tax levied upon the city’s property owners the previous year.

However, the voters defeated the budget at the polls in April of that year.

Generally, when that happens, the officials of the school district and governing body must confer about what to cut.

But in this case, despite being told by the Union County executive county superintendent to certify the original amount ($48,673,323), the Elizabeth City Council certified a reduced school budget and tax levy of $43,727,407.

The school board appealed that decision, and the then-Commissioner ruled in favor of the schools and the original, higher figure.

Among other things, the city argued that school budget elections are meaningless if a state Commissioner can overrule the voters’ decision. In addition, the city argued that the school budget is “bloated’’ with unnecessary expenses at the same time the district was facing personnel cutbacks.

In its ruling today, the court stressed it was not making any determination on the appropriateness of the budget itself, but solely on the statutory authority under the 2008 school funding act regarding the formula for determining the minimum local share for a school district that receives educational adequacy funding from the state.

  City of Elizabeth loses court ruling over school budget decision by state