LRHSD joins other districts in OPRA request to state, agencies

The LRHSD board of education digs deeper to find answers to the state's funding formula.

The Lenape Regional High School District joined over 30 other school districts in a joint request for records on how the state calculates funding and its allocation.

LRHSD Board Vice President Steve Lee of Medford Lakes read a resolution during the Jan. 8 board meeting stating the district is joining the Open Public Records Act request to serve in the best interest of its students, residents and taxpayers.

The resolution — found on the district’s home page by visiting LRHSD.org — also states the submission of the OPRA request comes at no cost to the district or its taxpayers. The request names the state, the Department of Education and the Commissioner of Education as the responsible parties to fulfill said request.

“In the event the OPRA request is denied, the board may subsequently elect to join in the litigation against the state of New Jersey, Department of Education and the Commissioner of Education to obtain data and records,” the resolution continued, in part.

Litigation costs, if necessary, are limited to $1,000 for fees for the special counsel, Weiner Law Group LLC. The request does not provide a timeline for receipt of the requested records.

Superintendent Carol Birnbohm said Lenape Regional and its sending districts have joined the request, as all eight districts are being impacted by losses in state aid.

“We’re subject to about an $8.3 million cut in our state aid over the course of seven years due to S2 being passed a few years ago,” Birnbohm continued. “It is called the ‘fair funding formula,’ but if the state insists on continuing to call it fair, the state needs to pull back the curtain and show us how that funding formula is calculated.

She pointed to the local fair share calculations, which show the burden on district  taxpayers. Fair share uses equalized valuation (property worth in a municipality) and district income (personal wealth of residents). The greater a local fair share is, the higher taxes become.

New Jersey continuously changes the multipliers in those calculations,” Birnbohm clarified. “Increasing the multipliers inflates the LFS and decreases the state’s obligation to pay for education. Increasing the multipliers shifts the cost of education to the taxpayers.

In laymen’s’ terms, Birnbohm said if LRHSD raised the budget substantially without explanation, residents would want an explanation on how the numbers were produced.

As a member of the Support Our School coalition, Birnbohm added that body will want to learn how the “drastic” changes occurred.

Board member Robert Bende inquired if any superintendents know whether there was a balance between districts that received more aid, and those that were cut. Birnbohm replied that no one knows because the information wasn’t publicized.

The S2 Bill was created in 2008 and pushed because there were districts who experienced  an influx of students and were not being supported with adequate funding.

The coalition believes all 584 public school districts should be funded properly and cuts to funding, if made, need to be appropriate and not at “other districts’ expenses.”

If you imagine in that period of time, everything increased,” Birnbohm stressed. “Technology, security — think of the things we didn’t have 10 years ago in the district. Everything else has gone up, and the fact that our state aid was held at a constant rate, and while our population decreased 10 percent, our state aid decreased 30 percent.

“It is not in concert with our level of decrease in the student population in that 10-year period.”

To date, Lenape Regional has lost roughly $3 million in state aid due to funding cuts and is looking at a deep deficit as it tries to recover costs come budget season.

A Lenape Region community forum is scheduled for Feb.13, 6:30 p.m., at Lenape High School. Lenape and its sending districts will publicly discuss how S2 is affecting them.

The board unanimously voted to join the OPRA request.

We’re just asking for how this changed,” Birnbohm concluded. “There has to be an explanation.”