CRUSHING: Jackson Getting 9.9% Property Tax Hike After State Monitor Overrules Elected BOE Officials

The elected board voted no. The Murphy administration voted yes. Property taxes will be going up and an elementary school will be closing down.

Seven years of wrangling with the state to keep programs and staff intact in the Jackson School District has instead led to the unthinkable, the forced sale of one of its elementary school buildings to plug an $18 million deficit brought on by the state’s school funding law.

On Wednesday, the Jackson Board of Education voted down a property tax increase, capped at 9.9% this budget cycle, and unanimously rejected the proposed budget that forces the sale of Sylvia Rosenauer Elementary School. Carole Knopp-Morris, the state monitor overseeing the district, overrode the board’s votes and approved the property tax increase and budget.

“The state caused the problem with its funding formula, and now the state has stepped in and overrode the elected officials who refused to initiate a property tax increase on Jackson residents, and to close a school,” Assemblyman Alex Sauickie said.

Rosenauer Elementary, which opened its doors in 1962, serves 234 students in preschool through fifth grade, nearly half of whom are economically disadvantaged according to the state Department of Education. Those students will be dispersed throughout the other five elementary schools, further increasing class sizes to 30-35 students.

“The news is both heartbreaking and personal. And after Wednesday’s action, I’m enraged,” Sauickie shared. “I attended Rosenauer Elementary from grades K-5, and my mother taught countless students there during a good part of her teaching career.”

In addition to closing one of Jackson’s six elementary schools, the state-imposed will cut another 70 positions; eliminate courtesy and late busing; reduce its substitute staff; eliminate its middle school holding center and afterschool enrichment programs; and reduce its high school athletics budget and co-curricular advisors and clubs.

Then-Senate President Steve Sweeney, who announced in December that he’s running for governor, introduced the school funding formula legislation known as S2 that Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law. Since 2019, Jackson schools have lost $22.4 million in state aid. Districts across mostly Republican-leaning municipalities have had to cut staff and programs as well. Sauickie said the Democrat-controlled executive and legislative branches have done little to change the school funding law, which seems to benefit many of their constituents.

“Make no mistake, the Jackson superintendent, administrators and board of education didn’t cause this problem. The state, under this current administration did, and it was calculated,” Sauickie said. “S2 is doing exactly what it intended to do: take the income tax dollars that all residents of Jackson paid to the state, and instead of Jackson’s children getting it back in state aid for their schools, it’s going to other districts.”

Sauickie recently wrote a letter to acting Department of Education Commissioner Kevin Dehmer, demanding accountability for Newark schools’ lavish spending, most recently on a $43,000 party for staff and students at an exclusive country club where alcohol may have been served, against state statutes. More than 80% of Newark schools’ budget comes from state aid, totaling $1.15 billion. Sauickie questioned why a district that he hears from a Newark teacher has “more money in the budget than they know what to do with” is throwing parties while other districts are in jeopardy of not providing the constitutionally mandated thorough and efficient education to their students.

“No resident of Jackson or any other district impacted by this politically targeted legislation should forget any of this next year when we vote for the next Governor,” Sauickie said.

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