The most recent battle in the endless war between Lakewood Public Schools and the State Department of Education just resulted in a loss for a district that buses 37,000 ultra-Orthodox students to private schools at a cost of over $33 million a year. A New Jersey appeals court just upheld the DOE’s denial of an additional $30 million in state aid. Instead, the DOE gave Lakewood a “loan” of $36 million which everyone knows Lakewood will never pay back.
Why? Because the district can’t: Not only does it spend the $35 million on private school transportation, but also another $43 million on private school tuition for ultra-Orthodox students with disabilities. As NJ Ed Report readers know, much of that goes for tuition to “The School for Children with Hidden Intelligence” a private school for the disabled that only accepts ultra-Orthodox students. Annual tuition there is $123,679.50 a year, not including transportation and one-on-one aides.
This means that Lakewood’s annual budget, for a district with 6,500 public school students, comes to $217 million a year. The state school funding formula doesn’t include private school transportation so, as the Asbury Park Press accounts, Lakewood has already “borrowed” $200 million from the state since 2016. Each year the “loan” increases, from $5.6 million in 2016 to $54.5 million this past school year.
Lakewood was appealing a court ruling from March (see here for coverage) when Judge Susan Scarola ruled that the state does, in fact, provide enough money to pay for a “thorough and efficient” education for in-district students but the school board fails to control the annual costs of transporting ultra-Orthodox students to 135 private schools and paying tuition for ultra-Orthodox students’ special education services.
David Sciarra, executive director of the New Jersey Educational Law Center, said, “It is a more fundamental question that the commissioner will hopefully come to grips with [than inadequate funding]. The budget is unsustainable because of the enormous outflow of funding to subsidize the state’s mandate that the private school transportation be provided.”
Matt Friedman of Politico headlined the story, “DON’T WORRY, INZELBUCH WILL STILL BE PAID,” referring to district lawyer Michael Inzelbuch who gets an annual salary of $750,00 a year, more than any other school attorney ever. Inzelbuch and Lakewood Superintendent Laura Winters had no comment.