The saga of the underfunded Lakewood School District continues down its unfortunate path. Over 140 public school employees are under the threat of layoffs, students are going to rally in Trenton to express their dire plight, and our local taxpayers are suffering an unfair burden.
Despite recent “Band-Aids” including the $8.5MM loan to the District that didlittle to address the cause of the crisis, the bottom line remains the same: The only real solution is to fix the broken state education funding formula. This formula calculates aid to Lakewood based on the total value of its property “ratables” divided by the number of public school students, without counting the overwhelming majority of school age children who are in nonpublic schools. This portrays Lakewood as a very wealthy district, and shortchanges the School District by about $40 million a year in state funds, relative to the funding levels of neighboring districts.
In light of the severe and immediate crisis, Attorney Arthur (Aron) Lang has filed a “Motion of Emergency Relief” in the Alcantara v. Hespe litigation that he filed in 2014 in order to address this core funding issue. Alcantara v. Hespe was filed with the New Jersey Department of Education Administrative Law Division, which governs Educational Law, and is currently before an Administrative Law Judge who is hearing the case.
The lawsuit is currently in the “discovery” phase, pending a trial date. This emergency motion opens a legal window to speed the case up and hopefully achieve a verdict that will help the ailing District obtain the funding it needs – quickly. The Public School District, which is a partner with Lang in suing the State, support this emergency motion in the hope that it may provide faster relief for the District. The District’s legal team for this lawsuit is led by special counsel Eric Harrison and Marc Zitomer.
Rabbis Moshe Weisberg and Yisroel Schenkolewski of The Lakewood Vaad, which is playing a lead role in the battle to change the funding formula, strongly encourage the latest move. Rabbi Schenkolewski stresses that The Vaad has been working for two decades to reform the State formula. Though various concessions have been achieved to assist the Lakewood District, clearly the core funding inequity remains – and the resulting crises intensify from year to year. The Vaad’s efforts to accomplish a real change continue full throttle, due to this issue’s importance for all of Lakewood.
“We need to battle on all fronts, and pull out all steps to convey the urgency of the crisis,” says Rabbi Weisberg. “Alcantara v. Hespeis a key front in this effort, and the emergency motion gives students and taxpayers in our District a promising opening.”