Sarlo decries assessment that will cut into some districts’ aid

TRENTON – While there was a $97 million increase in state aid for schools in the FY 2014 budget, Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Paul Sarlo said it’s a little misleading because not every school district will see increased aid.

“People get upset about the record amount of money,” particularly about suburban school districts, Sarlo said at Monday’s budget hearing. “It’s not the most amount of money the school districts have ever received.”

In the coming school year, he said, some school districts will really get hit hard because of a “clawback” that will force some school districts to pay an assessment that could cut into the amount of state aid they receive. The so-called clawback provision applies to districts that received grants under the state Educational Facilities Construction and Financing Act.

That means some 33 percent of districts will see an increased assessment and no increase in state aid and some 15 percent of districts will receive increased state aid when compared to FY 2013, but the assessment the districts would have to pay is higher than the increase in aid.

There is a total of $34 million in assessments that will be levied onto the regular operating districts.

“They just get frustrated,” Sarlo said about the school districts.  

Still, Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf pointed out the state was facing other challenges.

He said there are other factors that are bound to impact the amount of aid school districts receive. He said the federal sequestration will have “a significant effect on New Jersey” as it’s anticipated to receive $41 million less than the prior budget year.

“We have no control over that,” he said.

Still, Cerf said the department has made plans for the reduced federal funding by tapping into “carry forward and reserve funds.”

“We have managed to soften the blow,” he said, saying those moves will reduce the impact by 50 percent.

Sarlo decries assessment that will cut into some districts’ aid