The Lakewood School District – Grossly Underfunded, and No Silver Lining in Sight

By: Isaac Zlatkin. Before we get in to the current crisis, many people in Lakewood would like to know about the school budget.

The total budget of the Lakewood district is $173,607,836. It is comprised of two parts one part Federal and State monies for public and non public schools which can only be used for those specific expenses (money for text books can only be used for text books for technology only for technology, for supplemental programs to help with Math and English only for those programs and only to eligible children). The total of federal and state money is $51,470,967; the non public schools receive$37,788,607 and public $13,682,360.

The other part is General Fund which is $ 120,830,423. This includes teachers and staff salaries of approximately $40M, transportation of approximately $20M (16.7 goes towards the nonpublic transportation), special education of approximately $23M (many of which come from the non-public community), maintenance of the school building and other miscellaneous expenses.

Below one can see the chart of the breakdown by public and nonpublic.

The district receives approximately $28,052,136 from the State towards the General fund expenses which if subtracted from the $120.8M leaves us with a tax levy of approximately $92,778,287.


Can you talk about the financial problems the district is facing?

Before I explain our current financial situation I want everyone to look at the chart which shows various parts of state aid and the growth in Lakewood.


School year 2011-2012 2012-2013 2013-2014 2014-2015 2015-2016
Transportation Aid  $ 3,043,050 $   3,865,747 $3,934,658 $   3,934,658 $3,934,658
Number of students entitled to transportation aid          14,267            14,855        16,977            18,917
Special Education Categorical Aid  $ 2,748,847 $   2,904,408 $2,975,869 $   2,975,869 $2,975,869
Number of special education students            1,017              1,064          1,113              1,144          1,245
Extraordinary state aid $ 3,668,596 $   2,972,875 $3,610,389 $   3,147,306 $3,600,000
Number out of district special education students              206                245              275                295              369


One can clearly see that while we provide services to more students, the state aid remained stagnant and if only Lakewood would receive what we are entitled to according to current laws in effect we wouldn’t face the financial issues that we have.

The impact of frozen formula on Lakewood has resulted in increase in taxes and loss of services.

Additionally part of Lakewood’s problems lies within our State’s school funding law.   The School Funding Reform Act (“SFRA”) which was enacted in 2008 eliminated the Abbott District designation, and instead requires the Commissioner to establish a “base per pupil amount” for every school District in the State, which is defined as “the cost per elementary pupil of delivering the core curriculum content standards and extracurricular and co-curricular activities necessary for a thorough and efficient education.”

The base per pupil amount is then multiplied by the district’s weighted enrollment, and then adjusted to reflect the additional costs associated with educating “at-risk students,” and to reflect county differences in the cost of educating students.  This adjusted amount is referred to as the District’s “adequacy budget.”  A “local share”, based on the district’s property and personal income wealth, is then calculated, and State equalization aid is provided to support that portion of the adequacy budget that cannot be met by the local share.

Unfortunately, the SFRA counts approximately 5,500 students registered in Lakewood public schools for the purpose of determining educational adequacy and State funding. However, the Districtactually provides services for over 30,000 students and this number is growing every year. Because the State essentially does not countapproximately 80% of Lakewood’s K-12 students in thecalculation of the adequacy budget, it has had a very negative impact on the Lakewood School District which is compounded every year, particularly since we can only increase our tax levy by 2% every year.

By way of example, if the School Funding Formula was fully implemented the District would have received $10,161,311 in transportation aid in 2015-16. The District actually received $3,934,658, for a difference of $6,226,653 or -61%.  Another large component of the District’s budget is special education costs.  In 2015-16 the District received $2,975,869 in state aid.  However, if the SFRA was fully funded the District would have received $4,665,304, for a difference of $1,689,435 or -36%.   Similarly, the District should have received $2,865,168 in security aid if the SFRA was fully funded, but the District received $703,333 less than that or -25%.

Another problem is that “extraordinary aid” which is the State’s so-called extra funding for school districts with high special-education costs is dwindling in Lakewood. This money was supposed to help districts pay for students who cost more than $40,000 a year to educate.  In Lakewood, there are a significant number of students who fall into this category.  If the SFRA was fully funded, Lakewood would have received $5,610,115.   However, we actually received $3,600,000 which represents a $2,010,115 or -36% shortfall.

The only bright side in the story is that equalization aid, which I previously discussed, would be $11,650,780 under the fully funded SFRA formula, but the District actually received $15,263,034 for a positive difference of $3,612,254.   However, even with this extra funding the total underfunding of the SFRA formula is almost $7,000,000.00.  That is a staggering amount that could serve to provide a lot of wonderful programs and ensure transportation for all students.

Please see the chart below which compares what we actually receive to what we would receive under current formula if it would account for students enrolled after 2011

Type of State aid Full SFRA formula 2015/2016 Actual state aid 2015/2016 Absolute Difference % Difference
Transportation aid $10,161,311 $3,934,658 ($6,226,653) -61%
Special Education Categorical aid $4,665,304 $2,975,869 ($1,689,435) -36%
Security aid $2,865,168 $2,161,835 ($703,333) -25%
Equalization aid $11,650,780 $15,263,034 $3,612,254 31%
Preschool aid $2,008,490 $2,033,133 $24,643 1%
PARCC readiness aid Doesn’t exist $58,370
Per pupil growth aid Doesn’t exist $58,370
Assessmentof debt service ($639)
Debt service aid $18,628
Total SFRA underfunding $31,369,042 $26,485,269 ($4,982,524) -16%
Extraordinary aid $5,610,115 $3,600,000 ($2,010,115) -36%
Total underfunding ($6,992,639)

[Isaac Zlatkin is a member of the Lakewood Board of Education. This statement is not written on behalf of the Board.  The opinions contained herein are his own personal opinion and not necessarily those of any board member or the board as a whole.]


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  1. The board must swallow their pride and allow a true professional R’ Aaron Lang Esq to deal with this.. He has been working on this for years on his own time with 0 help from the school board. He has a case pending that should resolve a lot and bring in the proper funding to Lakewood.

  2. Christie has really turned out to be a real gem of a Governer. Freezes all State funding, and not only for school districts, and shifts the burden onto the municipalities to make himself look good.

    All this and the state still has an increasing defecit while NJ lags most of the country in job growth.

    At the very least, he could have frozen the total amount provided in aid, yet allowed that pot to be recalculated annually based on growth.

    As it stands, certain towns with shrinking populations are cashing in, and growing towns are suffering.

  3. Based on the numbers given, in just 2 years, the “Number of students entitled to transportation aid” grew by 4,062 students, or 27% (14,855 to 18,917) while the aid only grew 1%. While the 1% number is concerning, the 27% growth is way above reality. Lakewood did not expand by 27% in just 2 years, so why is there a huge amount of kids that are now eligible for busing that weren’t eligible 2 years ago?

  4. Stop Whining !!!

    Stop trying to distract the public !!!

    Problem. -yes

    BUT ..

    How about all the monies the Board returned ?

    How about the millions of non public monies not spent or returned ?

    How about all the audits the Board failed to challenge ?

    Cmon !!!!

  5. Funny how Lakewood pays over $16,000 per student and the national average is $10,615, which means Lakewood pays a minimum of $29,617,500 a year for education.
    If the 25,000 students attended the public schools the annual education budget would increase by a minimum of $400,000,000.
    Lakewood has 5,500 children enrolled in the local Public Schools, how many of those students actually live in Lakewood? Or are they saying they live here because of the Spanish classes?

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