CNBNEWS THREE PART SPECIAL REPORT: Gloucester City Schools Have Received Nearly $1 Billion Since Becoming An Abbott District
EDITOR'S NOTE—How much money has the Gloucester City School District received from state taxpayers since becoming an Abbott District in 1994, some 22 years ago? It has taken CNBNews since June to gather those numbers and even after two months we still can’t get an accurate amount.
The information that has been provided shows that figure to be near $1 billion.
That doesn’t include the $44.7 million the city received from federal sources. We decided to look into this story after Governor Chris Christie unveiled his “Fairness Formula” in June. This is just a brief look at the funding history of Abbott in Gloucester City. There is much more to the story but that will have to wait until another day.
Because of the length of the article we have broken it into three parts. The first will look at Christie’s proposal. Plus, we include a further review of the funds the City has received from state taxpayers under the Abbott program. In the second part, Gloucester City School Superintendent Joseph Rafferty will share his thoughts on Christies’s proposal. The last day, Wednesday CNB will give its opinion on the Abbott program.
PART ONE: YOUR MONEY
William E. Cleary Sr.| CNBNewsnet
GLOUCESTER CITY, N.J. August 15, 2016 (CNBNewsnet)--On June 28 Governor Chris Christie(R) unveiled a new formula to fund schools in the Garden State. According to the Governor’s June 28 press release, his “Fairness Formula” would give all public school districts $6,599 for every enrolled student, plus continued funding for special education. The plan, which Christie is proposing an amendment to the state constitution, would give 75 percent of school districts an increase in state aid, allowing them to ease the property tax burden on local residents, he said.
However, the Fairness Formula would also deal a devastating financial blow to those 31 "Abbott districts" in the state, which are now referred to as “School Development Authority” (SDA) Districts. Those school districts teach the highest percentage of students from low income families, primarily urban districts that Christie criticized for high spending and low graduation rates.
The Governor states, “This will give every child an equal chance at success. Graduation rates prove that educational success cannot be bought with excessive spending by a select few chronically failing school districts, which have received billions more in state taxpayer dollars over the past three decades than hundreds of successful school districts. The statewide graduation rate is 90%, with 27 of the 31 Abbott districts falling below that average. Continuing the current school funding formula means allowing failing school districts to spend as much as $33,699 per pupil in tax dollars, while high performing school districts spend less than half of that per student. “
According to Christie the state currently gives $9.1 billion in direct support to its school districts. Districts with special education students, and students from low income families and those who are learning English as their second language receive more funds. For example, of that $9.1 billion about $5.1 billion goes to the 31 SDA districts.
There are 31 SDA districts and nine are located in South Jersey. They include Bridgeton, Burlington City, Camden City, Gloucester City, Millville, Pleasantville, Trenton, Vineland and Salem City. CNBNews is looking at the Gloucester City school district at this time.
The Gloucester City School District was designated an Abbott district in 1994, according to information received in an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request filed with the City district. The records reveal from 1994 until 2015, a period of 22 years, the total amount that Gloucester City received from the state in supplemental aid towards the district’s budget totals $621,761,401. The aid ranged from a low of $13.7 million (1995) to a high of $37.9 million (2013).
The district’s budget totaled $18.7 million in 1994 and hit a high of $47.7 million by 2015 or $28.9 million more.
Over those 22 years, the city school district also received federal aid totaling $44.8 million.
Regarding the amount the Gloucester City School District has received towards construction costs for new schools, additions, and renovations CNB was unable to get an exact number. Edye Maier, SDA spokeswoman said they only had the figures from 2001 up until the present.
“The local district would have the numbers from 1994 to 2000”, said Maier
CNB requested that information from the District’s School Custodian of Records for that time period and she was unable to find it. CNB also made the same OPRA request to the State Department of Education, which was denied.
Tara Rider, records custodians for the DOE said, “The Department does not make or maintain records responsive to your request. Please note that the time period predates the current facilities law. At that time, educational projects were reviewed at the Department but capital maintenance projects went to DCA. You may want to file a request with that agency or the school district for potentially responsive records.”
Maier said, “Since 2000, when the school construction program was started (then the SCC, now the SDA), the SDA has invested a total of $117.6 Million on active and completed school facilities projects in Gloucester City. (A breakdown of that investment is below) In your initial email, you requested information on projects since 1993/1994. We are unable to speak to any projects that were undertaken prior to the creation of the school construction program in 2000.”
∙Active Major Capital Project Gloucester City Middle School project $63.8 Million***
∙Completed Major Capital Projects the addition/renovation at Cold Springs E.S. (preschool) and the addition/renovation at Gloucester City Jr./Sr. H.S. (media room and new gym) $44.24 Million.
11 completed other projects $9.55 Million. This includes:
- ∙ Cold Springs E.S. District Grant
- ∙ Highland Park School District Grant
- ∙ Mary E. Costello E.S. District Grant
- ∙ Cold Springs School – Delegated Emergent Project
- ∙ Gloucester City HS – Delegated Emergent Project
- ∙ Mary E. Costello E.S. – Delegated Emergent Project
- ∙ Mary E. Costello E.S. – Delegated Emergent Project
- ∙ Mary Ethel Costello ES – Delegated Emergent Project
- ∙ Gloucester City Jr. Sr. H.S. Health and Safety Project
- ∙ Gloucester City Jr. Sr. H.S. Health and Safety Project
- ∙ Mary E. Costello E.S. Health and Safety Project
Maier said, "Many of these projects are from the beginning of the school construction program and therefore, some information available to me is limited. In the instances of the district grants and the delegated emergents, I have provided you with the date the grant was initially executed. In the instance of a Health and Safety project which was managed by the SDA and therefore the money was not given directly to the district, I have provided the approximate date that work started on the project.”
∙ Cold Springs E.S. A District Grant in the amount of $0.28 million, Date executed – 6/20/2001, for life and safety upgrades.
∙ Highland Park School District Grant in the amount of $0.26 million, Date executed 6/20/2001, for life and safety upgrades.
∙ Mary E. Costello E.S. District Grant in the amount of $0.03 million, Date executed – 8/16/2002, to install owner supplied ADA wheelchair lift.
∙ Cold Springs School – Delegated Emergent Project funding in the amount of $0.03 million, Date executed – 11/16/2009, to repair depression in playground area below the artificial surface.
∙ Gloucester City HS – Delegated Emergent Project funding in the amount of $0.26 million, Date executed – 2/20/2009, for classroom lighting.
∙ Mary E. Costello E.S. – Delegated Emergent Project funding in the amount of $0.26 million, Date executed – 8/22/2012, to address fire code issue – windowless basement.
∙ Mary E. Costello E.S. – Delegated Emergent Project funding in the amount of $0.06 million, Date executed – 8/29/2012, for masonry repairs to the chimney.
∙ Mary Ethel Costello ES – Delegated Emergent Project funding in the amount of $0.45 million, Date executed – 11/16/2009, for roofing repairs.
∙ Gloucester City Jr. Sr. H.S. Health and Safety Project funding in the amount of $2.98 million, Construction started in October 2001, scope included replacement of roofing, doors and bleachers, public address and clock system and fire alarm.
∙ Gloucester City Jr. Sr. H.S. Health and Safety Project funding in the amount of $0.66 million, Construction started in March 2001, scope included replace existing boiler and related items.
∙ Mary E. Costello E.S. Health and Safety Project funding in the amount of $4.28 million, Construction started in August 2002, scope included replacement of windows, doors, auditorium seating , public address and clock system and fire alarm. It also included electrical, plumbing and HVAC upgrades.
Maier explained the different between a district grant and a delegated emergent project. "SDA’s Emergent Project Program allows for the repair and rehabilitation of SDA District facilities when approved by the New Jersey Department of Education due to potential health and safety issues. The SDA can either manage the construction of an emergent project or delegate it to the district for management. Before the Emergent Project Program existed at the SDA, Health and Safety projects were undertaken to do similar work. Those projects were managed by the SDA or delegated to the district as a District Grant.”
THE 1994 TO 2000 CITY SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION COSTS ARE MISSING!--Costs for the following construction projects, built between 1994 and 2000, is unknown as state and local school officials were unable to find that information as mentioned above.
- The Cold Spring School
- The Cold Spring School Gym
- The Mary Ethel School Gym
- The trailers housing classrooms during construction
- The Highland Park school renovation into an Alternative school
There might be more that CNBNews is not aware of.
IT COST $23,680 TO EDUCATE A GLOUCESTER CITY STUDENT--According to the numbers released recently by the city school district, it will cost $18,785 to educate a student in the upcoming fiscal year. However, that number does not include money like pension payments spent by the state on the district's behalf. According to NJ.com, the correct amount is $23,680 for the 2013-14 fiscal year or $4,895 more.
There are 2203 students enrolled in the Gloucester City school system. Of that number approximately 300 are enrolled in the pre-school, 122 adult education and 324 special ed. The total 2016-17 budget $47,627,539.
LOW TEST SCORES FOR GLOUCESTER CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS—Depending on what website you read the test scores for students attending Gloucester City schools is either below average or in the middle when compared to other schools in the state. Bob Stein a local realtor said in February that those scores are affecting home sales in the City. “The Trulia real estate website has the GreatSchool rating for Gloucester City elementary and high school at Below Average. Customers see that rating is bad and it affects the sale.”
“I tell them about the new multi-million dollar middle school that is being built, about the new Cold Spring school and, the all-day pre-school for three-year-olds and up. They hear rumors of illegal drug sales and look at the condition of the west-side of Gloucester. Even though prices for Gloucester City homes are reasonable they want to look elsewhere.”
At the time Rafferty said, “Gloucester City Schools have some of the most outstanding programs for all children across the educational levels. You can not measure a school district success just on an academic standardized test. You have to look at all the elements of the school. Such as the culture of the school community. “
Gloucester City School Superintendent Rafferty’s response on Christie’s 'Fairness Formula' will appear on Tuesday’s page, August 16.