Faced with a projected deficit of more than $30 million, officials in the Lakewood (N.J.) district had decided to shut down, but the state education commissioner stepped in at the last minute and asked the state treasurer to bail out the school system with a loan.
he board’s attorney, Michael reports that board held an emergency meeting Monday morning and adopted a resolution declaring the 2019-20 budget it adopted last month to be “null and void.” Because no certified budget was in place for the new school year that officially began Monday, the district declared a shutdown, effective immediately.
The budget was declared null and void because an additional $30 million in state aid that had been promised by the governor was not approved by the legislature.
A few hours after the emergency meeting, Lakewood officials received a copy of a letter from State Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet to State Treasurer Elizabeth Maher-Muoio recommending “an advance of $36,033,862 in state aid from the School District Relief account."
The board’s attorney, Michael Inzelbuch, said he interpreted the letter as sufficient legal basis to recommended to Superintendent Laura Winters that she reopen the district, effective immediately, which she did shortly after 5 p.m.
The perennially cash-strapped district struggles with a structural deficit linked to Lakewood’s unique school population of 36,000 school-age children. Among them are about 30,000 Orthodox Jewish children who attend private yeshivas, meaning there is a steep imbalance between the district’s state-mandated costs for busing and special education and its basic per-pupil aid.
But the hope by some that the district’s uniquely challenging financial situation might finally be on a path to fiscal stability suffered a setback last month when lawmakers approved a state budget that did not include the $30 million for Lakewood.