Murphy administration ignores “pending decimation” of Lakewood public schools


LAKEWOOD, NJ – Governor Phil Murphy’s acting Education Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan this week said that there’s no problem with funding Lakewood Township’s public school system. For anyone who actually lives in the area, they might suspect that’s not exactly a good answer.

In 2014, residents of Lakewood petitioned the state of New Jersey to take a closer look at how much of the money being sent to Lakewood for education was making it to the public students. Allen-McMillan reviewed that petition and found no problems. Now, the petitioners are planning to appeal the decision.

There’s nothing to see here, according to the Murphy administration.

“The Commissioner acknowledged Lakewood’s educational shortcomings but pointed out that the deficiencies do not rise to the level of unconstitutional,” the state responded to the complaint. “Further, the SFRA is constitutional as applied to Lakewood. Upon review, the Commissioner disagreed with the determination that Lakewood is not providing its students with T&E, but agreed that petitioners have failed to show that the SFRA is responsible for Lakewood’s deficiencies.”

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Now, the case is heading to court, possibly even the State Supreme Court, or higher.

“Lakewood, New Jersey is the fastest growing city in the United States. Its population is expected to reach 230,000 by 2030, of which over 100,000 will be school age children,” the petition claims. “Two out of every 100 children in New Jersey currently go to school in Lakewood. This ratio is projected to increase to one out every ten within a generation. Many of these children will become the future political and economic leaders of New Jersey. The resolution of the issues raised in this petition will affect their welfare and the wellbeing of the entire state.”

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The problem they say is that Lakewood has a disproportionate amount of private school students and a high rate of special needs funding for those private school students.

“Approximately 5,500 students have annually attended Lakewood public schools for the last two decades. By contrast, 25,000 students attended nonpublic schools in 2013-14 reflecting a steady annual increase of approximately fifteen per an effort to balance the fiscal strain on its budget designed for 5,500 children with the requirement to provide statutorily mandated remote transportation and constitutionally Free Appropriate Public Education for the most severely handicapped children in a base population five times, and growing, the size of its public school population.”

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“It is time to set the record straight. Lakewood is one of the lowest income municipalities in New Jersey. Plaintiffs will demonstrate the fallacy of the Department’s reasoning and its gloss over the true cause of the failure of Lakewood as a public school district. It is not “courtesy” busing. It is not “fiscal mismanagement.” The numbers simply do not add up,” the petitioners stated.

According to the complaint, the 2014-15 local Board of Education budget allocated $23,145,180 for extraordinary special education tuition and $18,325,244 for transportation, of which $15,000,000 is for mandated remote bussing, serving a population of 30,000 resident children out of a total operating budget of $114,661,752. The appropriation of $38 million dollars in mandated services will deplete one-third of the operating budget next year.