The New Jersey Supreme Court has informed the Kingsway Regional School District that it cannot reopen the Abbott v. Burke school-funding case, just days after the growing Gloucester County district petitioned to do so in its quest for more state aid.
In a letter Monday, court clerk Mark Neary said there was "no basis" for Kingsway to file a motion in the landmark case. While the court previously considered and denied a motion by Gov. Christie to reopen the case, the state was a party to the lawsuit; Kingsway isn't.
Kingsway, which had petitioned the court Friday, could take its case to a trial court or administrative proceeding, Neary said. The district's superintendent, James Lavender, said it was considering those options.
"We're not surprised. I'm surprised they responded so quickly," Lavender said Monday. Asked why the district had gone to the Supreme Court, given that it was not a party to Abbott, he said that was "something we definitely looked at and discussed thoroughly with the legal team."
Brett Gorman, an attorney with Parker McCay representing the district, did not return a message Monday.
After the rejection, "we're in no way, shape or form deterred from fighting this fight," Lavender said.
Kingsway receives less money from the state than it is entitled to under a funding formula passed in 2008. The Supreme Court, which directed additional funding to the 31 Abbott districts, ruled the formula constitutional in 2009.
But the state has not fully funded the formula, leaving many districts shortchanged. Kingsway, which has been dealing with growing enrollment, has said it is facing teacher layoffs.
While legislative leaders have taken up the school-funding issue, they have not reached consensus. Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), who has supported Kingsway, has proposed redistributing adjustment aid, which was given to some districts to ensure they did not receive less funding under the 2008 formula. The aid was supposed to be phased out but has not been.
Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D., Hudson) has not endorsed phasing out adjustment aid. Both lawmakers have also proposed spending more on schools – and rejected a proposal by Christie to redistribute aid equally among students, meaning increases for suburban districts and deep cuts in urban areas.
The Education Law Center, which represents a certified class of children in the Abbott districts, said Kingsway should press lawmakers to increase state aid.
"There's over 200 districts that are spending below where they need to be" because of inadequate state funding, a lack of local revenue, or both, said David Sciarra, the center's executive director. "Where they need to come together is to get the Legislature to put more money into the budget and direct that money where it's needed the most."