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Big Box of Letters Handed to Governor’s Office on Monday
More than 2,240 Robbinsville residents have signed individual letters to Gov. Phil Murphy, calling on the Robbinsville Public Schools district to receive the proper level of funding for the 2023-24 school year.
Robbinsville school officials were surprised to learn the state’s proposed fiscal ’24 budget is providing flat funding for the school district, despite inflation and rising fixed costs for insurance, operations, staffing and other contractual obligations.
By the state deciding not to increase funding, Robbinsville schools are now facing a $2.2 million deficit. If the correct level of funding is not provided, school officials will be forced to make difficult decisions in terms of staff cuts, elimination of courses and a reduction in extra-curricular activities, while still ensuring the educational quality of the schools are not diminished.
Residents collected letters, which they submitted to Schools Superintendent Brian Betze. The superintendent, Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-14th Dist.) and other supporters delivered the letters in person to the governor’s office on Monday, May 22. There is an urgency to have state officials reconsider Robbinsville’s aid; the upcoming state budget must be adopted by June 30, as per state law.
In the letter, the community members are also asking the governor to allow the Robbinsville Board of Education to use the previous years’ expired bank cap for operating expenses in the upcoming year. In their request, they described how the reduction in veteran teachers is affecting the school district, as well as the planned budget cuts.
Jhansi Sadula, the mother of a sophomore at Robbinsville High School, said the letter-writing campaign began Thursday, May 11. More than 70 volunteers fanned out through the neighborhoods, knocking on doors, attending youth sporting events and canvassing Route 33 businesses that residents frequent.
“People are very angry,” Sadula said. “We are losing teachers and extracurricular programs and sports programs. We are all very frustrated and need the governor to allow us to use expired cap funding from the past three budget years to close the deficit.”
Sadula said the volunteers have also held Zoom information sessions and created an active text string, in which more than 700 community members have joined to commiserate and discuss potential solutions.
“We are so appreciative for the outpouring of support from the community, which recognizes the difficult decisions that have to be made if our school district does not receive the adequate funding required,” Betze said. “Since we learned in March about our state aid amount, we have been meeting with our elected representatives on the state level, as well as the community, to discuss this quandary. It is widely agreed that the right solution is for the state to review our state aid figures, recognize the problem and reconsider before the state budget is adopted next month.”
Robbinsville is not alone in its financial struggles. Other school districts, and politicians on both sides of the aisle, are expressing frustration over the randomness of the state’s school funding formula, known as S2. It seems that no one can explain the metrics applied, as some school districts received substantial increases in state aid, while others, of the same size and demographics, sustained major cuts. It makes little sense, and Robbinsville is one of the districts that is being impacted.
“I would like to express my deepest appreciation to all the residents who have helped amplify our message during this difficult time,” Betze said. “During my time in Robbinsville, I am continually impressed by the proactive nature of our school community, as well as the heavy parental involvement. The community cares deeply about the quality of our schools, and it is my responsibility to fight for all the support in which this district is entitled.”