Statement Regarding Referendum

Posted by Charles Sampson on 10/5/2018

 

 

This past Tuesday the Freehold Regional High School District (FRHSD) asked the public to vote for FRHSD: Ensuring Excellence.  Sadly, with the defeat of our referendum we lost an opportunity to enrich the school experience for all of our students by failing to build upon years of deliberate and prudent financial stewardship of the organization.  

Capital Planning

FRHSD was one of the first districts in the state to develop an Energy Savings Improvement Plan (ESIP), which allowed us to fund almost $20 million of critical infrastructure improvements at no additional cost to the taxpayers and, importantly, without compromising our financial commitment to providing quality educational opportunities to our students.

At the same time the ESIP addressed important facility infrastructure needs, it simultaneously provided the funding bridge that allowed the district to synchronize this referendum with our expiring bonded debt. This purposefully designed referendum proposal fully considered the perspective of all stakeholders when balancing reinvestment and tax relief.

Annual School Budgets

The district also has a well-documented track record of responsible restraint when designing annual operating budgets. Since the inception of the 2.0% cap on the property tax levy in 2011, FRHSD has forgone more than $27 million in available property taxes, all during a time of stagnate state aid to school districts. As you are undoubtedly aware, the state has significantly changed its position on school funding during the last several months, and FRHSD is slated to lose nearly 50% of its state aid over a seven-year phase out period…a cumulative total loss of $78 million dollars compared to continued flat funding.  The core issue surrounding this change is the state’s measure of a community’s ability to fund its own education – in short, the state calculates that the FRHSD tax levy should be approximately $20 million higher than it currently is.

We have benefited from our regionalized model that allows us to deliver a high-quality academic and extra-curricular experience for all children at scale. This results in a per pupil cost that is almost $3,000 under the statewide average.  The proposed projects in FRHSD: Ensuring Excellence were designed to benefit all six of our high schools and were based on the needs of each unique school. The district also received a promise of state funding to offset the referendum costs, as the state was going to fund almost 30% of the entire project. In short, a tax decrease, state funding of almost 30% of the entire project, and a promise to the students we serve of maintaining an exceptional school system. The defeat of the referendum coupled with a devastating loss in state aid over the next several years places the FRHSD in a precarious position that will fundamentally affect the experience for the children of this community. This is not an exaggeration. We stand to lose millions in state aid in the coming years. The referendum would allow for needed capital projects that we simply cannot fund within the 2% tax levy. With the defeat of the referendum, many of these projects, including significant security upgrades to all schools, are now unlikely to come to fruition without a direct impact on the quality of programs and services this community comes to expect. For this reason we will continue to explore our options to complete this work and will once again be looking toward our broader school community to help us ensure an exceptional public school experience for all of the children we presently serve and those we will serve in the coming years.