|FY '19 Budget Testimony--Meloche 4-3-18|
Testimony Before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee Public Hearing Rowan University Tuesday, April 3, 2018 By Joseph Meloche, EdD, Superintendent, Cherry Hill Public School District Members of the committee, colleagues, and community members, my name is Joseph Meloche; I am the proud superintendent of the Cherry Hill Public School District in Camden County. Thank you to the members of the committee for allowing me time to address you, and for the members of the community for joining me here today, including members of the Cherry Hill Board of Education and members of the Cherry Hill Fair Funding Committee. During the course of these hearings, in the process leading to the adoption of a state budget, you will hear from folks from across the state about the negative impact that the current school funding approach, being used by the State of New Jersey, is having on tens of thousands of children across our great state. You, as a legislative body, each of you, as individuals, have the power to make significant and meaningful change. We implore you to implement change in the creation of the 2018-2019 budget. Cherry Hill is an incredible community in which to live and work, and especially to raise a family. I have lived in Cherry Hill for 41 years, arriving from Detroit in March of 1977. Cherry Hill offered my parents the opportunity of a quality education for their children in a community that valued education, in school system that supported young families. Cherry Hill is where I grew up, where I attended school, and where my wife and I are raising our four children. Not only do the members of the Cherry Hill community support a top quality education, they demand it for each of our children. I am incredibly proud of our outcomes and our successes of the external validations that we receive – academically, athletically, musically, in robotics competitions, as journalists, and in so much more. The Cherry Hill School District is a wonderfully diverse tapestry of families of so many different cultural, familial, and religious backgrounds and economic means. Among our 11,000 children, more than 60 languages are spoken at home, more than 2,500 children are bilingual, and in our six Title I schools, nearly 1 in 3 children are on Free or Reduced Lunch. Last February, when I addressed this body on behalf of my students and my community, 81% of our budget was funded by the local tax levy, we received about $1,100 per child in state aid, all as a result of the disproportionate amount of state aide that we were allotted. As we prepare the budget for 2018-2019, 86% of our budget will come from the local tax levy, and an additional 5% will come from fund balance (4%) and surplus (1%). That is 91% of the budget. In the allocations recently released by the New Jersey Department of Education, Cherry Hill will receive about $1,300 per child in state aid. Districts with similar demographics, in similar district factor groups, are receiving twice, three times and up to nearly six times what Cherry Hill is receiving in state aid per child. This isn’t just disproportionate or unequitable, it is wrong and it is punitive. 91% of our budget comes from Cherry Hill. Moving into the finalization of the budget, we are at a crisis. In our 19 schools, which on average are 50 years old, we are approaching catastrophic failure in some of our most basic infrastructure systems. We have explained to our parents that we are focusing on instruction and relationships and outcomes – which are critical and in which we are so successful – and we ask them to look beyond the facilities, and the pot holes, the equipment that is not replaced and the innovative programs that are not pursued. While 28 other district in Camden County have full day kindergarten we do not. While neighboring districts are a few years in to their “one to one” technology initiative, we have not yet begun one. I spoke last year about the Advanced Placement classes in excess of 40 students, about eliminating staff and professional development opportunities, cancelling extra-curricular opportunities, freezing spending, celebrating chalk instead of installing white boards. We have bathrooms and locker rooms that are original to buildings, and our buildings are tired at best. We are at crisis. Today, in April 2018. On October 2, 2018 we will ask the community to support a referendum to do substantive work on our 19 schools, focusing on health, safety and security and moving into infrastructure necessities and overall maintenance of our 1.7 million square feet of school space and more than 350 acres of land. We are at the point of facing catastrophic failure in many of the infrastructure systems in our district. That is our reality. The more than $120 million Cherry Hill should have received in state funding in the past ten years would have made a difference in addressing many of these needs, but none of us, not me and not you as a legislative body, are able to change what the district was allotted by the state in past. We must move forward. Senate President Sweeney, esteemed New Jersey State Senators, you have the ability to make a real difference in children’s lives, you have the power to right the wrongs that have been propagated in school funding in New Jersey. We need you and we are counting on you to hear our voice and to act on behalf of our children. No longer can we wait, you must act now. Fair funding? On behalf of the Cherry Hill School District, I want equitable funding. I want funding based on who we are today, in 2018, not who we were in 2010, or 2005, or 1995, or 1985. I want the legislature to uphold the commitment that was established in the adoption of the School Funding Reform Act of 2008. When the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 passed the legislature and was signed into law by Governor Corzine, it was the revolutionary result of an arduous evolutionary process, and sadly, the promise of substantive and equitable change that illuminated this research based legislation has given way to an unfair and now punitive process of funding public education in New Jersey. The residents of Cherry Hill cannot wait any longer, this must be fixed. The children of Cherry Hill cannot wait any longer, this must be fixed. Thank you for your time and your willingness to support our children.