Newark schools chief calls Christie's new aid proposal 'catastrophic

By Steve Strunsky | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on August 22, 2016

NEWARK — The superintendent appointed by Gov. Chris Christie to run Newark's state-controlled school district said a 60-percent cut in aid projected under a new funding formula proposed by the governor would be "catastrophic" for the district. 

"I don't mind saying explicitly that a reduction in our budget of 60 percent would be catastrophic," said Superintendent Christopher Cerf, a former state education commissioner under Christie, who appointed Cerf to run the state's largest district last year.

Cerf's comment was in response to a reporter's question about the impact on the district of a projected 60 percent cut in aid under the new Fairness Formula proposed by Christie.

The formula, unveiled in June, would dole out precisely the same amount of aid per pupil — $6,599 — to all New Jersey school districts, regardless of affluence, resulting in a savings for 85 percent of the state's property taxpayers, while translating into dramatic cuts in aid to poor districts that rely on the state to fund a much higher proportion of their school budgets. 

An analysis by NJ Advance Media found that aid to Newark and some other poor districts would be cut by 60 percent or more under the governor's proposed formula.  

The formula has been criticized by Democratic lawmakers and advocates for poor districts, who argue that the state's current funding formula grew out a state Supreme Court decision, Abbot v. Burke, requiring New Jersey to provide a thorough and efficient education for all students under the state constitution.

Cerf was asked about the funding formula while appearing at a City Hall press conference on the release of a report by a panel appointed by Mayor Ras Baraka suggesting Newark schools were close to meeting all criteria for the city to regain control of the district.

Asked to comment on Cerf's remarks, Christie's office referred to statements by the governor during a forum in Fair Lawn last month, when he said a formula providing equal aid for each student was fundamentally fair, but that it would be phased in over three years to soften the blow to any districts receiving cuts. 

"It gives them the opportunity to plan and to make their changes," Christie said at the time. "Those changes have to be made, so we'd give them a three-year phase-in on it, and that's the way we would do it."

The new formula would also discourage under-performing districts from spending as much as $33,699 per pupil, in some cases twice as much as districts that perform well.
 
"We can do better and we must, in educating all of our children and in bringing fairness to taxpayers like you," Christie told his audience in Fair Lawn.

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