Ask your local candidate a question.

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Frelinghuysen BOE Talks Dollars and Safety Concerns as Nearby Pot Farm Looms

Since New Jersey revised its school funding formula, Frelinghuysen’s state equalization aid has dropped to zero. Image courtesy of Frelinghuysen Township School.

At its April 24 meeting, the board of education at Frelinghuysen Township School (FTS) finalized the budget for next school year. It also issued a strong resolution regarding the cannabis manufacturing and cultivation plant that’s applying for final approval to move nearby.

The meeting began with thanks and celebrations. The fifth and sixth grade band got their shout-out first, with board president Kim Neuffer complimenting them for their fine musicianship at their band concert. Chief school administrator Jarlyn Veras joined in, applauding their “overall great performance.”

School secretary Carolyn Stracco was up next. In honor of Administrative Professionals Day, Veras publicly acknowledged Stracco’s consistent dedication to FTS.

“She’s a true asset to our school,” Veras said. “There’s not a place where she’s not helping.” 

Board’s Budget Analysis

The main item on the agenda was next year’s budget, as summarized by Veras and school business administrator Greg Brennan. Their presentation focused on the series of budget cuts that Frelinghuysen has endured over the past several years and the school’s ongoing efforts to deliver quality education despite reduced funding. 

Budget cuts aren’t new to FTS. The most recent series of budget cuts were introduced in 2018, when New Jersey changed the formula that determines public school funding. 

Since then, schools determined to have greater needs have seen steady increases in their equalization aid from the state. In fact, many schools statewide have seen their budgets increase due to the new funding formula. 

Unfortunately, Frelinghuysen isn’t one of them. Instead, every year for the past six years has introduced another incremental reduction in FTS’ equalization aid, steadily shrinking the school’s overall revenue. 

The end result is that Frelinghuysen has lost $270,000 over the past six years. Next year’s budget reflects the final stage of the state’s transition to the new funding formula. On the plus side, this means that Frelinghuysen won’t see any further reductions to its budget in future years. On the negative side, it’s because the school’s state equalization aid has dropped to zero. There’s nothing left to cut. 

In their budget presentation, Brennan and Veras emphasized Frelinghuysen’s reliance on the local tax levy in contrast to other schools statewide. Image courtesy of Frelinghuysen Township School.

Meanwhile, costs are only rising. As Brennan and Veras explained, everything from special education services to staff health benefits to transportation now costs more. 

Veras described FTS’ efforts to keep the quality of education at the school consistent. Last year, the school received a designation as a high-performing district in spite of these ongoing cuts. 

Brennan emphasized the funding source that makes this possible: local taxpayers. Local taxes will account for 75% of Frelinghuysen’s revenue next year. 

In New Jersey, it’s unusual for a school to rely so heavily on its local tax levy. According to the New Jersey Department of Education’s “Taxpayers’ Guide to Education Spending,” local taxes account for less than half of school revenues statewide. Instead, many schools rely on state equalization aid to make ends meet. Since Frelinghuysen’s equalization aid has now dropped to zero, FTS must depend on its tax base to fund its programming.

“So really,” Brennan remarked, “kudos to this board, the district and the taxpayers for keeping our staff programs available for our students over that time.” 

Next year’s budget will see a 2.57% increase in the local tax levy. Veras noted that she will continue to apply for grants and additional funding from the state wherever possible. 

The budget passed and will take effect next year. The community can find a copy of the presentation as well as a user-friendly budget on FTS’ website

Board Opposes Proposed Cannabis Farm Nearby

Toward the end of the meeting, the board passed a resolution formally declaring its opposition to a cannabis growing facility that has applied to move nearby. The proposal by One Faith Wellness LLC, if approved by the Frelinghuysen land use board, would see the construction of a cannabis cultivation and manufacturing facility on a 30-acre property at 720 Route 94. 

According to the board’s resolution, this property is located 1,080 feet from the school, only 80 feet more than the mandated 1,000-foot distance from schools that’s mandated by state law. The resolution lists a number of concerns based on this close proximity, including air quality, emissions, concerns about the learning environment, health and safety questions, environmental issues, a feared increase in traffic on nearby local roads and security issues. 

Attending members of the public expressed strong and adamant agreement with the resolution, especially regarding security concerns. 

The board expressed their intent to present their resolution “to the board secretary, the township governing body, the mayor, the planning and zoning boards, Gov. Murphy and local legislators, the Commissioner of Education, and the Executive County Superintendent of Schools.” They also planned to attend Frelinghuysen’s land use board meeting on May 6. 

Community members can read the board’s resolution as well as an accompanying letter to the community on Frelinghuysen’s website. 

Chip O'Chang
Chip O'Chang, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

Chip O'Chang is an educator, fiction writer, and lifelong resident of New Jersey. He has also written for My Life Publications and NJ Indy. He lives in the NJ Skylands with his partner, two cats, and and a bearded dragon.