Board of Education President Isaac Zlatkin and BOE Attorney Marc Zitomer have provided the TLS with a report from the meeting yesterday at Education Law Center (“ELC”)(reported last week by TLS) attended by representatives of the Lakewood district.
The meeting, held in Trenton, NJ, also included representatives from various school districts to discuss whether or not to revive the so-called “Bacon Litigation,” a case that dates back to 1997. The Lakewood School District was a party in the case, which, at the time it was filed, challenged perceived deficiencies in the State’s education funding formula and sought to classify certain poor, rural school districts on the same level as the urban Abbott Districts, making those districts eligible for the same State funding levels as the Abbott Districts.
After a long procedural history, the Appellate Court ultimately ruled in favor of the Bacon districts and found that we had established a “constitutional deprivation” that was unchallenged by the State as well as “an inability through local taxation” to raise sufficient funds to support a constitutional education. The Court ordered the Commissioner to conduct a “needs assessment” for each of the Bacon district to identify the deficiencies in educational programs and services in each of the districts. The needs assessments were concluded in 2009. Through these needs assessments, the Department of Education determined that the funding and preschool programs provided under the new School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) will provide the “necessary tools” to address the needs of the Bacon districts and remedy any constitutional violations.
As a result, in 2008-09 and 2009-10, the Bacon districts received increases in State Aid. However, in 2010-11 SFRA aid was cut from the districts’ budgets which eliminated the increases from the first two years of the formula’s operations. In addition, from 2011-12 through 2013-14, the districts received minimal increases which left the districts further behind. In addition, the DOE did not provide any of the funding and resources required under the SFRA to implement the Abbott preschool program for all 3-4 year olds by 2013-14, which was the deadline set forth in the SFRA.
Moreover, according to ELC, the Bacon districts have been notified by the DOE that they will again not receive any of the funding increases and preschool programs that their districts are entitled to receive under the SFRA.
Accordingly, the ELC, which represented the taxpayers in the litigation, and Fred Jacob, Esq. who represented the school districts, will be sending a letter to the N.J. Attorney General in the next week or so demanding that the State take steps to comply with Department’s needs assessments and to remedy the constitutional violations which were found to exist. They will also be going back to Court for an Order compelling the State to adequately fund the SFRA for the Bacon Districts.
“Importantly, if the SFRA is fully funded, Lakewood would stand to receive a $4,867,079 increase in State aid,” says Zlatkin. “In actuality, we received only a $116,740 increase in aid. Finally, the ELC and Mr. Jacob will be handling the case at no charge to the Districts.” [TLS]