Surplus Drill-Down

Following Gov. Christie’s Budget address last week, the State published a PDF file listing by county each of our 591 school districts. This is a convenient and welcome release since Christie’s intention is to proportionately tie the loss of state aid to 100% of the district’s surplus, plus a few dabs from reserve funds. Therefore, one can view each line in the State file used to arrive at the district’s liability. Each line includes the following information: District Factor Grouping (DFG), Excess Surplus, Capital and Maintenance Emergency Funds, April and June Projected Fund balances, Total Surplus, Total State Aid, Excess Surplus Withholding, Total Withholding, and Remaining Payments Withheld. To put it more elegantly, it’s a doozy.

In the interest of utility, we’ve converted it to a spreadsheet, so have fun and share your insights and questions. Here’s a few to get us started:

Top Ten School Districts in the “Excess Surplus Withholding Category:
Union City ($26,313,800); Perth Amboy ($15,155,778); Newark City ($10,373,157); Vineland ($13,143,132); Paterson ($10,308,731); Union Township ($9,122554); East Orange ($7,969,516); Camden City ($5,050,022); Pennsauken ($5,648,866); Atlantic City ($6,371,707).

These districts are all Abbott districts with an DFG of A, except for Union Township, listed as a DE, and Pennsauken, listed as a CD. Gov. Christie needed $475 million. Over 20% of that came from hitting these ten mostly poor districts, whose total excess surplus withholding topped $109 million. Or, 2% of our districts (10 out of 591) held 20% of our surplus.

Question: within these districts reside extremely needy kids. Why is this money in surplus – intended to be rolled over to next year’s budget – rather than used for additional services right now?
Question: are we giving these districts more money than can realistically/productively be used for supplementary services?
Question: Most of these districts post dismal achievement scores, though Union City – with an astounding surplus of $26 million –shows improvement. One difference between Union City and the others is that its school day is considerably longer than the others on the Top Ten list. (The state average for a high school day is 6 hours and 51 minutes. Union City tops them all at 7 hrs and 50 min., while the other are anywhere from 6 hrs. and 25 min. [Atlantic City] to 6 hrs. and 39 min. [Paterson].) In other words, Union City offers its kids almost 5 more hours of school per week than other comparable districts. Has this link been explored?

Outliers: Union City has $26,316,916 in Total Withholding. If we’re badgering them too much, take Perth Amboy: $15,260,039 in Total Withholding. Now look at Trenton City. Total Withholding: $0. What’s up with that? It’s still owed $66 million by the state, but does Trenton truly have not a penny in reserve accounts?

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