Jersey City BOE files lawsuit against the state, alleges funding cuts are unconstitutional

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The Jersey City Board of Education filed a Hudson County Superior Court lawsuit against the state for what it says are devastating education cuts that could lead to over 400 layoffs come September.

According to the JC BOE, the district faces a cut of $27 million this year, then another $209 million over the next five years, in addition to a cumulative, compounded state aid cut of $795 million, dating back to when the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 was implemented when the Jersey City Public School District was under state control.

In his opening remarks to the press, Jersey City BOE President Sudhan Thomas put the blame squarely on the state for its funding woes.

“For the last eight years, the state of New Jersey has consistently underfunded the Jersey City Board of Education to the extent of over $790 million, less than the adequacy levels. This has obviously ravaged the district, and has severely threatened our ability to afford thorough and efficient education,” Thomas began.

“Last year the state went one step further and passed the [NJ] S2 [a bill that modifies school funding law to eliminate adjustment aid and state aid growth limit; allows adjustment to tax levy growth limitation for certain school districts, according to the BillTrack50 website], which is a modification to the SFRA, which is draconian and unconstitutional, thereby cutting $209 million in the state adjustment aid over the next five years.”

He added that this change will “eviscerate” the Jersey City BOE, leading to at least 415 instructional staff layoffs.

Angelo Genova, lead counsel for the JC BOE, said that the litigation is about the state’s failure to provide a thorough and efficient education to the students of Jersey City due to the decades-long drought of funding and unconstitutional application of the law.

During the question and answer part of the press conference, we asked Genova to clarify the total amount of dollars in education cuts the lawsuit is seeking to reverse.

“We are seeking what lawyers call injunctive relief, in this case we are seeking to have the status quo maintained, meaning that the adjustment aid … adjustment aid restored, that’s number one,” he explained.

“Number two, we are seeking, long term, the redress of the loss of $209 million as a result of the loss of adjustment aid over a six-year period. So we are going to be seeking relief from the court with the restoration of adjustment aid for that sum.

“On a cumulative basis, if you were to compound the losses over six years it comes to $795 million. So the relief that we are seeking is the restoration of adjustment aid immediately, the restoration of $27 million that we were deprived in this budget cycle and we’re seeking that from the court,” Genova said.

Given the reality that the lawsuit may not get immediate relief because it has to make its way through the courts, we asked Genova what that means about the proposed layoffs forĀ  the fall.

“First of all, we don’t know when we will get a decision. We’re asking the judge for an immediate decision. Immediate, in the parlance of lawyers, means probably within a month. And there are procedural issues that no doubt that the court is going to want to entertain,” began Genova.

“So, we made our application today and we want to get into court as soon as possible. The question that you ask is a good one to the extent that we want to get relief going into the fall. But the reality of it is our budget is seven days away from approval by the County Commissioner.”

Ron Greco, president of the Jersey City Education Association, represents the teachers and instructional staff who are employed in the district. We asked him if the union has started to notify his members of the potential for layoffs if a judge doesn’t make an immediate decision on the restoration of adjustment aid.

“Superintendent Franklin Walker and I are going to meet on the issue. Traditionally, the district as the employer would have to notify the employees but we also, in concert with them, would do that. So Mr. Walker and I had a conversation this morning, and we do plan to sit down and execute a plan as soon as the district comes up with absolute numbers of what they plan to do,” said Greco.

The 166-page lawsuit asks the state to fix the gigantic gap between the school district’s adequacy budget and the local fair share.

For the current scholastic year, the total budget is $590 million, with a local fair share of $399 million and a school tax levy of only $124 million.

A spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Education declined to comment on pending litigation. The New Jersey Office of Management and Budget, as well as the state Department of Treasury are also named in the suit.

We live streamed the entire press conference to our Facebook Page, which can be viewed below:

Jersey City BOE officials announcing lawsuit against the state over school funding.

Posted by Hudson County View on Monday, April 29, 2019