How the Clinton Township School Board Doomed Our Schools

In the past year, the State of New Jersey delivered millions in state aid to the Clinton Township school district — funds in excess of what voters approved for spending. The funds were intended to be used to reduce our property taxes. In fact, both Governor Christie and New Jersey Department of Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf notified our school board that tax relief funds should be used to cut taxes:

“Using this aid to lower taxes is an important step towards new and effective management of our schools that focuses on improved student achievement, rather than increased spending.”

Nonetheless, the board of education spent the money.  (In March, board member Mark Kaplan — chair of the finance committee — claimed, “I don’t know what people mean when they say ‘tax relief’.”) Rather than improve management and cut taxes, the board cut taxpayers out of the budget process by eliminating school budget elections. And then went on a wild spending spree while powerless residents protested at two different budget hearings.

But they didn’t just spend it

The BOE spent this one-time windfall on recurring expenses — primarily salaries and benefits, and academic programs.

During the public hearing on the budget on March 29, 2012, a resident approached the microphone to ask what happened to just $1.1 million of the estimated $2.8 million in aid received by the district.

Mark Kaplan — the chair of the finance committee that produced the budget — confirmed that the school district indeed received an additional $1.1 million in state aid that taxpayers never approved for spending. Kaplan also confirmed that, in spite of written promises by board president Jim Dincuff and superintendent Kevin Carroll that tax relief funds would be used to lower the tax levy, the board spent the money on stuff that creates recurring costs.

The resident summarized the facts in simple English:

It didn’t matter what the public had to say about spending at the public hearing about the budget. The board had already spent the money. The resident walked out of the hearing in disgust. “It’s done,” he said. “It’s done.”

“Your programs are trashed”

The Clinton Township school board has funded long-term recurring costs with a windfall of tax-relief funds that the BOE is counting on the state to deliver year after year… when each year the BOE complains that state aid is so unpredictable that they don’t even want to project how much they will get.

When the aid dries up, Clinton Township schools will be doomed. If these special “tax relief funds” are not delivered by the state year after year, the school budget will crash. Teachers will be laid off. Programs will be cut. The only way to maintain the artificially-inflated spending levels created by the BOE will be to raise property taxes dramatically.

Bloated schools: Fewer kids, higher spending

The Clinton Township school board continues to bloat the district with expenses, while the student population shrinks.

  • Between last year and this year, the school district’s cost-per-student has increased over 14%.
  • Between 2007 and this year, the student population dropped from 1,805 to 1,680.
  • During the same period, the number of school staff has increased from 249 to 267.

Fewer kids; more staff; higher spending.

This year alone, the school budget is up $1,569,200 compared to the budget voters approved last year, an increase of 6.5% in just one year — and almost 12% over two years. For fewer kids.

That budget increase was made possible with tax relief funds stolen from overburdened taxpayers by a board majority that has run amuck now that it doesn’t have to rely on voters’ approval for its spending.

School board president Jim Dincuff threatened board member Michelle Sullivan with legal action and suggested she resign (the discredited Dincuff later folded for lack of evidence) because she voted against the bloated budget and dared to point out the truth:

Poor fiscal management

Board president Jim Dincuff, finance committee chairman Mark Kaplan, and board members Michelle Cresti, Kevin Sturges, Rachel McLaughlin, Kevin Maloy, and Maria Grant have allowed lame-duck superintendent Kevin Carroll to commit Clinton Township taxpayers to long-term spending of an insupportable magnitude. Only two board members, Sullivan and Marc Freda, voted against the new budget, citing Dincuff’s and Carroll’s broken promises and the lower student population.

Do you believe the state will keep dishing more aid to prop up higher spending on fewer students by our board of education? When the state’s revenues are down by half a billion dollars this year alone?

This is how the Clinton Township school board has doomed our schools. When the state aid stops, the district will crash.

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