'Financial Crisis' Could Have State Overseeing Lacey Schools

LACEY, NJ — The “financial crisis” faced by the Lacey Township School District has even more cuts in store for the upcoming budget, plus the potential of a referendum in the fall and possibly a state loan, which would appoint a state monitor to oversee the district.

The Board of Education recently introduced their tentative budget for the 2024-25 school year, which comes with further cuts and reductions as the district faces a $3.2 million loss in state aid. Read more: $3.2M State Aid Loss Is ‘Devastating’ To Lacey Schools: Officials

“We are running a very efficient school district financially,” said Superintendent Vanessa Pereira, saying that the state aid losses “seemingly” make no sense.

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“We’re really at rock bottom,” said Business Administrator Sharon Ornsbee of the $71.2 million operating budget. It’s not too different from last year’s budget because “we can’t go much further than what we’ve done to get here,” she said.

The upcoming budget sits at a $6.9 million deficit. District officials are hoping that the state will add some aid back, as they did last year when the school faced a similar crisis. The township also added support then.

Find out what's happening in Laceywith free, real-time updates from Patch.

As it stands, among the cuts in the existing budget are reductions of 26 certificated positions, 25 non-tenured positions, five tenured positions, one full-time position through retirement, a part-time paraprofessional, five duty and lunch aide positions, six long-term substitute positions, summer guidance, and maintenance and ground substitutes and overtime.

With the average house value at $287,000 and the school tax rate at 1.415, the average homeowner will see their taxes increase about $5.71 per month.

Some question the addition of a free, universal preschool program. But according to Assistant Superintendent William Zylinski, how the preschool expansion aid works is that it “actually relieves the general budget by almost a million dollars” by paying for salaries that already exist and other improvements at Mill Pond School.

“Why would we get rid of a program that is offering an extremely valuable preschool experience for 250 students and growing, and will pay for itself?” asked Pereira.

While the district is hoping to see their funding restored, they acknowledged that a fall referendum may be necessary. This would be a special election on Sept. 17 where they would ask taxpayers to approve an as of yet undetermined amount of money by exceeding the two percent property tax levy cap.

If that fails, then the district would have to seek a state loan. This would result in a state monitor being appointed to oversee the district, which is currently going on in Jackson. The Jackson Township School District had to apply for a state loan to overcome their own budget deficit, and now a monitor is overseeing nearly all of the district’s operations for a year.

This option is not one that the district wants. So in the meantime, Pereira is continuing to urge anyone impacted to reach out to legislators. She said that the district is reaching out to local organizations to raise awareness of the potential vote and its circumstances.

“As I’ve said many times verbally and in letters, our students deserve better, our teachers deserve better and our entire school community deserves better,” Pereira said.

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