By Assemblyman Alex Sauickie
When I was sworn in as a Jackson council member, I took my oath as a promise to work for the good of all Jackson residents. Six months ago, I was sworn in as a member of the General Assembly and again considered my oath to be a promise to everyone I represent to listen, learn and do my best to help each individual and every community.
The large and growing Orthodox Jewish community is one that faces the same challenges and concerns of many others, but also has brought unique issues to my attention. I’ve met with members of the community to find out how I can be of assistance.
Among those meetings were some with Yisroel Bursztyn and Yaakov Wenger of the National Chaplains Association, who made some helpful suggestions. One was to bring Motor Vehicle Commission services to Jackson for the convenience of local residents. I’ve worked with the MVC on this, and arrangements are nearly complete to have an MVC mobile unit visit Jackson every few weeks.
Another idea discussed was to have a cultural learning course instituted for more public employees, similar to the one mandated for police a few years ago. I’ve asked for legislation to be drafted on that.
I’ve also met with Rabbi Avi Schnall and Rabbi Mordy Bernstein, and primarily discussed state school aid. I was humbled by their kind words in the press following the meeting, and their statement captured the spirit of the meeting and our shared intentions: “We are excited to continue conversations with Mr. Sauickie and working collaboratively to enhance – for all residents – the experience of living in Jackson.”
Carried over from my service on the Jackson council is an interest in making it easier for towns to set rules on the establishment and maintenance of eruvin. As a councilman, I researched and drafted an ordinance over a long period of time, but wasn’t able to finalize it. Part of the reason for that is the absence of a model ordinance I could have used as a starting point. I’m now working on legislation to have the state produce a model ordinance, which should be ready for introduction when the Assembly returns in May.
A major issue, one that affects all Jackson communities, is school funding cuts and the disastrous state funding formula. One of my first acts as a new legislator was to sponsor legislation to develop a new, fair formula.
I recently testified in Trenton about how the originally proposed cuts would affect Jackson and other Ocean and Monmouth counties’ schools and students. Eight of the ten largest cuts in the entire state were aimed at schools in those counties, as I told the committee.
I also spoke about the harsh impact that aid cuts would have in specific Ocean and Monmouth school districts in, and outside of, my own legislative district. Of course, not just as Jackson’s representative but also as the father of Jackson students, I described the enormous funding problem that Jackson schools are facing.
Having endured years of state aid cuts, historic inflation, the loss of COVID funding and increasing student transportation costs, Jackson is now saddled with a budget gap of $10.2 million. The district is now being forced to eliminate many positions for the upcoming school year which will raise class sizes and have a negative impact on programing, athletics and co-curricular activities. I spoke about all of these factors, and didn’t focus primary blame on transportation costs as may have been misconstrued by some.
Shortly after that testimony, the Assembly passed and the governor signed legislation to restore two-thirds of this year’s proposed cuts. Nevertheless, Jackson and other districts continue to face a difficult financial future unless the formula is changed.
Although there are other factors in school budget problems, I continue to take issue with the unfunded state mandate that forces local school districts to pay for transportation required by the state. This affects both the public and non-public schools and needs to be addressed.
Another of my first bills creates a pilot program whereby six local school districts would direct full state funding to a group of nonpublic schools to transport their students. Another bill I wrote, based on a recent court decision, provides full state funding for nonpublic student transportation to districts that meet certain thresholds related to cost increases in that area.
It’s the honor of a lifetime to represent all residents of my district, and in my first six months I’ve learned and done a lot. I’m looking forward to more.
If I can be of any help in a matter involving state government, please be sure to contact my office at AsmSauickie@njleg.org. If you’re outside of my legislative district, which includes Jackson and Plumsted, we’ll refer you to your representatives.
I hope everyone had a very happy Passover.
Alex Sauickie is a life-long Jackson resident who represents his home town and 13 other towns in the State Assembly.