Freehold Regional school board adds to legal fees in fight for state aid

The cost of fighting for its fair share of state school aid just got more expensive for the Freehold Regional High School District Board of Education and the residents of the eight municipalities that comprise the district.

On March 18, the board, which is a party in a lawsuit targeting the New Jersey Department of Education in a fight for state funding, voted to increase its contract with the Weiner Law Group from $10,000 to $35,000 to support the litigation.

At issue is legislation that was signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy in mid-2018. The law, referred to as S-2, has reduced state aid to almost 200 school districts and increased state aid to other school districts.

The Freehold Regional High School District is one of the districts that expects to lose state aid each year through 2025 under the guidelines of S-2. The total loss in state aid between 2018-19 and 2024-25 is projected to be $25 million, according to district administrators.

The resolution to increase the district’s payment to the Weiner Law Group was supported by board President Michael Messinger of Marlboro, Vice President Peter Bruno of Howell, Carl Accettola of Colts Neck, Diana Cappiello of Englishtown, Amy Fankhauser of Howell, Kathie Lavin of Farmingdale, Heshy Moses of Freehold Borough, Jennifer Sutera of Manalapan and Samuel Carollo of Freehold Township.

Regarding the board’s action to increase the fee being paid to the law firm, Superintendent of Schools Charles Sampson said, “This increase is to continue our participation in the fight against the devastating state aid cuts that are a result of the S-2 legislation.

“The cost of this legal action is shared by several school districts who are fighting for their students and advocating to change this flawed funding formula. Collectively, the group pursuing this litigation represents more than 50,000 students and hundreds of thousands of taxpayers.

“If the formula remains unchanged, the Freehold Regional High School District faces $25 million in state aid cuts over the course of six years. Losses of this magnitude will change the face of the educational experience of students in all the impacted districts.

“The current funding formula is inherently flawed and we believe the lawsuit will help to expose the unpredictable manner through which New Jersey school districts are funded,” Sampson said.

In a resolution the board members passed when they engaged the Weiner Law Group several months ago, the board said the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 (SFRA) reflects the current New Jersey law that provides state aid to public school districts. The board said the state Legislature has appropriated limited money to fund state aid for public school districts.

The resolution states Freehold Regional is receiving less than the state aid it should have otherwise received under SFRA; and that the “arbitrary and inconsistent determination of the local fair share as determined by the state will negatively impact the taxpayers who support the FRHSD.”

Given that set of circumstances, board members voted to join litigation that was initiated by other New Jersey school districts to address the “unequal and disparate results caused by SFRA’s distribution of available state aid and its impact upon its local taxpayers.”

The district will see a $3.8 million reduction in the amount of state aid it is receiving for the 2019-20 school year. For the 2018-19 school year, the district received $50.3 million in state aid. For the 2019-20 school year, the district will receive $46.52 million in state aid.