WOOLWICH - A school district on the front lines of the state's debate over fairly funding schools is making its voice on the matter even louder.
Kingsway Regional's education association collected letters from parents and educators in its sending towns — Woolwich, East Greenwich, South Harrison and Swedesboro — begging legislators to fully fund Kingsway, a district the Senate president has called shortchanged by the state.
The letter-writing blitz, held in Kingsway High's South Media Center, was rescheduled from last week. Kingsway Education Association President Tom Stelling was blown over by the hundreds of supporters who hand-delivered letters or signed form letters echoing his concerns for his district.
"My biggest concern with this has been the inaction of the Legislature to do anything to get fair funding to the school," Stelling told the Courier-Post.
Piles of white envelopes addressed to Gov. Chris Christie and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto could capture the attention of legislators when Stelling drives the messages to the State House.
School district officials last week announced it filed documents joining a lawsuit in state Supreme Court demanding fair funding for all schools in the state.
Superintendent James Lavender called his district's action a "bold stand."
Senate President Stephen Sweeney thrust Kingsway into the center of the dispute through the senator's school district tour promoting his fair funding solution.
Sweeney's proposal is among three in the State House with others brought by the governor and the Assembly.
The governor proposed a flat, $6,599 per pupil funding rate for every school.
This month, the South Jersey senator made stops in districts in Pennsauken, Woodbury, Woodbury Heights and Glassboro discussing his funding formula reforms. He proposes updates to the 2008 School Funding Reform Act, removing funding caps for districts with rising enrollment and removing a provision that protects funding levels for districts with decreasing enrollment.
On his stops, he's referenced Kingsway's funding level, 40 percent of what the district is entitled under the state law, despite growing by about 400 students, he said.
Other districts, like Washington Township, have decreasing enrollment, but its school aid hasn't decreased to reflect the change, Sweeney has pointed out.
"They want what every parent and educator in New Jersey wants: full and fair funding that will help provide a quality education," Sweeney said in a statement Thursday.
"The activism by the Kingsway community and the response of educators and local residents is further evidence of the school funding disparity that shortchanges Kingsway ... and the many other school systems throughout the state."
Matthew Feliz, a father of four in the district, stood at a counter in the media center, reading over the education association's form letter. He signed his name.
Feliz moved to Woolwich eight years ago. Two children are in the elementary schools in the township, and two more are nearing kindergarten age, he said.
Christie's funding fix - a blanket figure per student - is oversimplifying the purpose of state aid, he said.
State aid is meant to offset differentials in school taxes that are based on property values, Stelling explained.
"We have to take into account for economic inequality," Feliz added.
Stelling, a chemistry teacher at Kingsway High for seven years, is worried the funding crisis in his district is impacting staffing.
"We haven't seen staff grow," he explained.
"My teachers are continuously under pressure. They're overworked right now because of staffing concerns."
Despite the staffing woes and low salaries for educators here, he said teachers are sticking with the school district, as the union prepared to renegotiate contracts next year.
"The teachers we have are dedicated to the school and our students," Stelling said.
Without full funding, he can see what's on the chopping block for his students. The new district budget, he said, could cut two dozen jobs and numerous sports and arts programs for middle schoolers and freshman.
"As a taxpayer, we simply can't afford to pay more taxes, although I voted for every tax increase in this school," said Michael McCabe, a father to Kingsway Middle schoolers.
He voted for the tax increases to provide for his children, he said after signing his name to the form letter and handing it to Stelling.
"I thought it was the right thing to do for the kids, but in the end, you can only afford so much," McCabe continued.
"I hope we would get the correct funding per the law."
Carly Q. Romalino; (856) 487-2476; firstname.lastname@example.org