Parents, staff spar with Washington Township School Board officials over budget cuts

Washington Township Public Schools and dozens of other school systems across New Jersey are currently facing a financial storm.

Charles Watson Image
Tuesday, May 14, 2024
Parents, staff spar with Washington Township School Board officials over budget cuts
Parents, staff spar with Washington Township School Board officials over budget cuts

WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP, New Jersey (WPVI) -- Parents and staff expressed their displeasure at an hours-long board meeting Monday night over cuts made in the Washington Township Public Schools' budget for the 2024-2025 school year.

The Gloucester County school board said the district was facing a roughly $7 million budget shortfall for the next school year, which required the board to make some tough decisions.

That included the elimination of more than 100 jobs district-wide.

Officials say they cut 36 certified staff and teaching positions, 55 support staff, four administrators, five administrative assistants, and 12 support staff were reduced to part-time positions.

At the school board meeting, Dr. Eric Hibbs explained to dozens of people in attendance that the board tried everything that it could to not eliminate staff.

He added that the board looked at eliminating line items across all categories, but even that wasn't enough to balance the budget.

"There was truthfully no way that we could've not looked at some form of staff in these reductions," said Hibbs.

Washington Township Public Schools and dozens of other school systems across New Jersey are currently facing a financial storm brought on, in part, by the loss of COVID relief funding and, in some cases, reduced state funding.

Governor Phil Murphy has proposed record spending for public education in his 2025 fiscal year budget. Despite that, more than 130 schools across the state are set to lose money based on the state's funding formula.

The formula assesses, among other things, property values to determine how much a locality can contribute to education funding and enrollment.

Washington Township Public Schools is set to receive more than $1.5 million in additional funding next school year compared to this year.

However, the district said that money only prevented it from having to make more cuts. It still had to account for increased salary obligations, benefits, tuition, and transportation costs.

Parents like Lauren Longo, who is a school teacher, said the cuts have her concerned about her special needs son's education.

With fewer supporting staff, she said she was worried her son wouldn't get the attention he requires in the classroom.

"All children have different needs," said Longo. "All children need to be supported whether they're identified or not and it's just sad to pull anything from children."

Angela Terruso, president of the Washington Township Supportive Staff Services Personnel Association, said the board needed to look harder at alternative options.

"We have a lot of administrative costs. There's a lot of other places they could look," said Terruso. "To panic an entire district of 200-plus assistants that work with special needs children, that's just not the way to do it."

The board has until May 14 to adopt a budget to be submitted to the state.

It said it hoped to hire back some of its support staff based on the needs of students, but it's unclear when that might happen.