Over 1,000 Lakewood Education Association (LEA) members and residents packed the Lakewood High School auditorium Wednesday night to protest the board of education’s proposed budget including $14.7 million dollars in cuts to staff, programs, and supplies.
Massive layoffs and program reductions may result in the loss of 119 certified staff members—including all elementary school guidance counselors—the elimination of sports and all other after school activities/clubs, a depletion of $500,000 in educational supplies, the privatization of instructional assistants, and the elimination of all summer programs and high school summer school. The reduction in staffing alone may force the administration to set a proposed average class size of 50 students.
“It’s a complete understatement when I tell you that these cuts would have devastating effects on our staff, students, and community,” said LEA President Kimberlee Shaw. “Parents deserve to know that their children are being educated by the very best staff, with the very best resources—and that this district is following the law by providing a thorough and efficient education every school year. We cannot do that with class sizes of 50 children.”
The meeting went late into the night as many community members and union leaders spoke out against the budget cuts, citing a need for a budget that provides a thorough and efficient education, and rallied in support of staff and students. Chants of “Cuts hurt kids” and “Save Lakewood’s public schools” rang out through the evening from a sea of maroon clad LEA members and other participants. One resident even told the board to resign and was later escorted out of the meeting by police at the direction of BOE Vice President Ada Gonzalez.
Lakewood is unique in having approximately 6,000 public school students and 30,000 private or charter school students. Additionally, most of the board members do not have children in the public schools. To further complicate matters, the Lakewood School District is severely underfunded by the state, and its budget must also include $23 million in private tuition for special-needs students whose disabilities cannot be serviced by the district. The state has provided some last-minute additional funding in previous years, but it’s unknown whether that relief will come again this year to overt the impending crisis.
Last year, the Legislature passed a bill—which Gov. Christie signed into law—that sends state funds into Lakewood to transport private school students. The law was passed after the Lakewood BOE proposed halting the bussing of the public school students in order to save money. The legislation provides the school board of an “eligible district” to head-up the program. An “eligible district” is defined in the law one that provides transportation “to and from any remote school other than a public school” for more than 5,000 pupils residing in the public school district.“Passing the LSTA was touted as a way to provide our non-public parents with a sense of stability knowing that their children would have transportation every year,” Shaw continued. “However, our public school parents also deserve that sense of stability.”
The school district has until May 8 to pass its final budget.
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