How should schools be funded? Candidates give their answers

By ROBERT LINNEHAN | The Haddonfield Sun
Changes need to be made in the way public education is funded in New Jersey, the majority of the Board of Education candidates agreed. The formula is broken and the candidates offered their suggestions on how the state could better fund public education.
Board member Cheryl Laney said the burden of funding public education lies too heavily among local residents and taxpayers. The majority of public education, she said, should be funded by the state and federal governments.
Money sent overseas in foreign aid could be better spent to improve the quality of public education, she said. Small communities like Haddonfield cannot continue to afford to support public schools completely on their own.
“I also believe that the numerous current mandates that public schools must adhere to must be either eliminated or funded by the federal and state governments. We are always receiving mandates, yet few are ever supported with funds,” she said. “This allows politicians to look like they are in favor of better schools, and yet they never have to vote to put the money behind it.”
Funding for public education is a complicated issue, Board President Steve Weinstein said. Haddonfield receives very little state aid so the bulk of school costs fall on the shoulders of borough residents, he said.
Other towns with much larger business or industrial areas can spread the burden off the backs of residents, Weinstein said.
This year the district has to raise almost 100 percent of its school costs from the local property tax levy.
A more equitable system would be to reduce the local property tax and spread the cost either through a statewide property tax, a component of the state income tax or through a county school tax, he said.
“Just as important, it is time to examine more closely the cost of public education. There are too many areas where each district runs its own program with duplicate costs,” Weinstein said. “Special education busing, high cost special education programming, certain foreign language and advanced placement courses, ‘back room’ administrative functions such as payroll and bill paying should all be considered to be provided at the county or regional level.
“Reducing costs wherever possible is the best way to reduce taxes.”
Board of Education candidate David Raymond said two models instituted by other states could serve New Jersey well as an alternative to fund public education. In Michigan, Raymond said the state decided to fund its public education by increasing the sales tax rate by 1 percent. The funds culled from this increase go to public education each year.
The 1 percent sales tax increase was a fantastic idea, he said. It doesn’t tax onerously on the value of a homeowner’s property, but rather taxed the use and purchase of goods and services throughout the state.
In California, property tax is based on the original purchase price of a home. If a resident bought a home 30 years ago, he said, they would be paying their property tax based on the price they originally paid for their home.
“It keeps people in their home, it keeps people loyal to their property, so the senior citizens don’t want to leave a mature community like Haddonfield because there’s no incentive to leave,” he said.
“In fact, there’s a huge incentive to stay because you can’t pass that lower property tax rate on to someone who purchases your home.”
He also stressed the need to explore non-traditional sources of revenue and the possible need to consolidate nearby school districts.
Board Member Joseph Ehrhardt took a different approach. Simply put, he said, public education should be funded by the public.
“It has been a long-standing belief in this country that, for our society to continue to prosper, we need to be an educated society. Given that premise, how can the public fund education in a fair fashion? The best way is a reliance primarily on property taxes,” he said. “The key reason is that property taxes are stable, and education funding needs to be stable. Our current funding predicament, with the withdrawal of state aid, demonstrates the instability of income taxes as a source of funding.”
Because the school district receives so little aid, Ehrhardt said the Board needs to find ways to supplement the property tax. Moving forward, the Board must establish alternative revenue sources from tuition students, corporate sponsorships, donations, and even capitalize on the best practices of the school system, he said.
Candidate Chris Basner chose not to participate in this week’s question.
The Board of Education elections will be held on Tuesday, April 20 from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. along with a vote on the upcoming school year’s budget.