New Jersey Acting Attorney General Matt Platkin argued in a court filing that Lakewood should have raised its taxes and lowered internal costs to make up for its massive school budget deficit before turning to the state for aid.
Platkin wrote that the Lakewood School District, which owes the state more than $125 million in loans, could have done more to increase its revenues and cut costs before asking for loans and demanding changes to the school funding formula.
Platkin’s filing was in response to the long-running lawsuit filed by Lakewood High School teacher Arthur Lang and former Rutgers professor Paul Tractenberg, who say that the state’s funding formula does not account for Lakewood’s unique requirement to provide transportation to the some 40,000 private school students in Lakewood.
“Between fiscal years 2015 through 2018, Lakewood raised nearly $31 million less than it would have had it taxed” its residents at the highest rate possible, Platkin wrote. “Lakewood was taxing below the state average and below other districts.”
“The problem is an unbalanced budget, and the districts needs to do a more strenuous job of planning when it comes to moving the district ahead,” the Acting AG wrote in the court filing. “While Lakewood undeniably faces high costs for transportation of its nonpublic school population, it has also failed to raise taxes, as permitted under [state statutes] to fund those expenses.”
Lang and Tractenberg have asked the New Jersey Supreme Court to intervene in the case.