Response To “Funding For Special School Shortchanges Other Students”

By A. Lang. I constantly hear two myths about Lakewood in educational administration circles and in the schools. One is the common notion that Lakewood is rich. It can better support its public schools. The other is, Lakewood spends too much money on out-of-district special education placement. In a recent letter to the Asbury Park Press, Professor M. Hoban questioned the wisdom of not spending more money on regular public school students while “approximately $12 million is being spent on just 130 students in a single nonpublic school (the School for Children with Hidden Intelligence).”

Prof. Hoban asks whether money spent on SCHI children would be better spent on regular education public school students. With all due respect, Prof. Hoban, you are no different than our former superintendents, consultants and other members of the academy who have no clue or feel for the pulse of Lakewood. If not for the SCHI spending, the expenses would simply be returned to the taxpayer. It would not go into regular education. Same with transportation expenses. We are already spending above our mandated local fair share.

I wish to shed some light with a tale of two cities, Lakewood and Paterson.

In 2011, Paterson had 26,782 students of which 3,352 received special education services. Paterson put 207 students into private school placements. Lakewood has about 28,000 students and classified 4,227 as eligible to receive special education services, not all of which exercised their right to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Lakewood put 174 students into private placements, apparently 130 of which attend SCHI.

The expense for these students is not completely shouldered by the local taxpayer. Paterson received $4,033,401 in extraordinary aid from the state for their out-of-district placements, while Lakewood received $3,107,450. Lakewood is not alone with this kind of out of district expense. So why do many think Lakewood spends too much on our most special children?

The aggregate wealth of the two cities is also strickingly similar. Under the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA), which still uses 2009 numbers for state aid, Paterson has an equalized property value of $8,887,315,034 and an income of $1,625,939,512. This comes out to $357,862 of property value for each student and $65,471 of income for each student. Lakewood has almost the same equalized property value, $8,249,195,078 and an income of $1,057,179,167. This comes out to be $294,614 of property value for each Lakewood school age child and $37,756 in income, somewhat less than Paterson. The SFRA sets Paterson’s local fair share is at $77,595,438 and that of Lakewood at $61,956,724. So why does the profession think Lakewood is rich?

The answer to both question is well known—the state does not count our children. Hence, the myth: Lakewood spends too much, sending 130 special education children out of district compared to only keeping only 677 special education children in district. Again, our children do not count. Hence, the myth: Lakewood can better support its public schools. After all, Lakewood has as much property value and income as Paterson with only 20% of the children! Lakewood taxpayers can easily pay more money for the public schools than the needy people of Paterson.

Indeed, Lakewood actually spends substantially less money than Paterson for out-of-district placements. Paterson spent an aggregate of $42,153,341 on tuition and $11,162,187 on Speech, OT, PT, Related and Extraordinary Services. Lakewood spent an aggregate $15,798,337 on tuition, twelve million of which apparently went to SCHI, and $4,873,732 on Speech, OT, PT, Related and Extraordinary Services.

The SCHI children are dear to the people of Lakewood. Advocates for change are more likely to succeed in making the state change its method of funding than making the people of Lakewood decide to spend less on our most special kids. NJ only begins to fund its districts once $55,000 in extraordinary expenses is reached for an out-of-district placed student, and then only at 75%. This should change. The State’s own educational consultant, Augenblick, Palaich and Associates, reported in 2011 that “the state might need to consider some differentiation of funding for higher cost students before the extraordinary aid threshold is reached.”

Worse yet, the SFRA grossly underfunds Lakewood. It funds Paterson with $341,508,831 in equalization aid, totaling $369,330,070 in state aid. The SFRA funds Lakewood with $14,793,805 in equalization aid, totaling $24,156,470 in state aid. It is unclear to this writer why Paterson residents are only required to pay $38,955,956 in taxes, an amount well below the local fair share. Lakewood taxpayers raised $70,413,004 in 2011, an amount well above our local fair share. Note well–Lakewood gets less than a paltry 7% of the amount that Paterson receives from Trenton!

I have a suggestion on how to fix these problems. When we hire our new superintendent this fall, we should look for someone who has a passion for expanding education so that all 4,227 eligible children receive special education services, not just the most extraordinarily expensive; that he or she is dedicated to the plight of Lakewood taxpayers and smart enough to work the SFRA to our advantage; and that our new leader and assistant are creative, innovative and devoted enough to think out-of-the-box to find a way to make all our kids count so that Lakewood receives its fair share from Trenton. And most importantly, that they are connected to the pulse of Lakewood.

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  2. Thank you all for your kind remarks.

    I used the latest budgets posted on the district websites for Passaic-Paterson and Lakewood.

    For district wealth, I used the 2009-10 projected state aid profiles found on the Department of Education website. The 3,547 of non-public special education students is found on the DOE. This is hard to find so I am attaching a link:

    The accompanying picture is the famous Touro Synagogue letter written by President Washington. “May the Children of the Stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants.” This is my hope and wish.

  3. Another insightful, incisive analysis by the compassionate and brilliant A. Lang.

    It’s a shame this valuable Lakewood human resource is misunderstood and underutilized. His ideas could help pull Lakewood up, and move it forward to be on par with NJ’s finest school districts.

  4. Great article. I am definitely enjoying reading your articles. As a public school teacher, I would love nothing more then to see a huge rise in the Lakewood Public Schools.
    Although to #6 Mr. Lang compared Lakewood to Paterson as a comparison in funding. I no way should Lakewood strive to be like Paterson school district. It is not a shining light of education, nor one of “Nj’s finest school districts”
    It is very hard to transform an urban district with high levels of poverty into a top level school district.
    There are steps that can be taken to vastly improve the district and get that maximum out of it.
    1. Extending the school days. In doing this the district can greatly offer a wide variety of class and career prep choices, especially at the high school level.
    2. Early intervention and education. We have to get to these children as early as possible. In most top level school districts, and wealthy areas, parents make sure that their children get every advantage they can from as early as they can. When you come from a family of poverty, with a single parent, and multiple children, many parent can not afford to give their children this head start. So we must as educators reach these kids sooner.
    3. Attract and keep quality teachers. Right now, Lakewood is one of the lowest paying public school districts in the state of NJ. The teachers have been beaten down by the board, administration, and media. It is no doubt that there has been a huge turnover in teaching faculty. One thing I will say is that there are plenty of quality teachers out there who would be willing to take on the daunting challenge of turning around the school district. They will put in the hours necessary to do it, they will care for the children, and do all they can. but they will not do it for less pay then other districts pay.
    Again I am all for reforming the unions and allowing poor performing teachers to be fired, but the bottom line is much like any profession you will get the employees you pay for. If Lakewood continues to pay towards to bottom, they will not retain top level teachers.
    4. Bring the community together. Again this is to many of the points that Mr. Lang has brought up. We have to allow for Lakewood High School and The teachers in the district to be a recourse to the whole community. Offering secular classes and programs to all students throughout Lakewood.
    Lakewood is one of the most diverse and interesting towns in the entire country. We have to see the frum community, Hispanic community, African American community, and Senior Community work together for common interests. Imagine the possibility if all of these communities could work together to develop a better Lakewood.

  5. I’ve always had this daydream of forum schools using the space of the public high schools after hours. After all they finish so early in the day it would be entirely possible for classrooms/teachers/resources to be used by yeshivas high school students for supplemental education. Alas, just a dream, it wouldn’t materialize for reasons having little to do with community relations per se.

  6. So when an outside program utilizes the public school after hours – will they be using the public school supplies? Many teachers on staff purchase classroom supplies with their own money. I would be angry if someone was in my room using my personal supplies. For example, wouldnt mad if someone went into my fridge and ate your food?

  7. If the yeshiva students want access to free public education, why not enroll in the regular public school day? Then educate religious instruction after school? I send my children to public school and religious programs after school.

    Everyone is entitled to a free, through public education. If you choose to send your child/children to private school, the you waive that right. You can’t have your cake ad eat it too!

  8. The Yoder decision in 1972 established the right of members of a community like Lakewood to forego English education. Lakewood yeshivas exist solely for the purpose of religious studies. I will defend the constitution right of Lakewood parents to not expose their children to English all the way to the Supreme Court.

    On the other hand, some parents want English for their children. These parents are caught between the prerogative of the community to reject English education and the right of the individual child to access education. Parents who want educational opportunity for their children are caught between the proverbial rock and hard place, the rock being the constitutional “right” of the community, and the hard place, being the impossibility and undesirability of sending their children to the public schools as members of that community.

    These parents are on their own providing education to their children because no matter to which yeshiva they send their children and no matter how much they are willing to spend, they have no access to genuine education.

    Learning English in the morning and Hebrew in the afternoon is a foreign concept to Lakewooders. Hebrew will always come first, even for the parents who want their children to have an English education.

    There is no choice for us. Why else would LHS have not a single yeshiva kid out of 23,000. It is what the Court has called the “inexorable zero.” Give us a choice. Accommodate us so that we too can access education and remain in Lakewood.

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