DCA Applauds Enactment of Bill Establishing Grant Program at DCA for School Regionalization Studies
- Posted on: 02/10/2022
Legislation Aimed at Incentivizing School Districts to Explore Merging with Neighboring Communities to Help Reduce Property Taxes; Program to Be Led by the Two Shared Services Czars
TRENTON, NJ – The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) Division of Local Government Services (DLGS) and the Shared Services Czars applaud Governor Murphy’s recent signing of bill S3488, which provides school districts with incentives to study regionalization and establishes a grant program within DCA’s Division of Local Government Services for cost reimbursement of school district regionalization feasibility studies. The studies will explore how districts could merge and if a potential merger would result in cost savings and other benefits for taxpayers.
“Property taxes and affordability are top of mind for New Jerseyans and I commend Governor Murphy for signing this regionalization incentives bill to explore ways for communities to provide long-term property tax relief for their residents,” said Lieutenant Governor Oliver, who also serves as DCA Commissioner. “We believe that quality of education is the paramount concern, which is why DCA stands ready to assist districts in their efforts to explore cost savings without sacrificing the quality of education for their students.”
“I would like to thank Governor Murphy for providing resources for school districts to explore regionalization,” said Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan, Acting Commissioner of Education. “The feasibility studies will provide insight into ways that school districts can continue to address the needs of our students and taxpayers.”
The grant program will provide reimbursement of eligible costs associated with conducting feasibility studies that support the creation of meaningful and implementable plans to form or expand regional school districts, including forming county-wide and regional districts. The grant application period will be opening soon.
Under the bill, the school districts will be reimbursed for eligible costs of studies with 50 percent of the award to be distributed after the grant application is approved and the remaining 50 percent to be distributed following acceptance of the completed feasibility study. Once a study has been completed, the school districts may follow through with service sharing agreements but are not obligated to do so.
“School regionalization has been a topic of discussion on the table in New Jersey for decades. This new grant program gives DCA the opportunity to work with communities to explore their options in a thorough and responsible approach to help them achieve taxpayer savings,” said DCA’s Division of Local Government Services Director Jacquelyn Suárez. “The goal of this grant program is also to give districts the option to conduct in-depth studies without financially burdening them or obligating them in any way.”
“Shared services are a proven method for saving taxpayer dollars and improving delivery of services. But there is no silver bullet, one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to school districts, which is why these regionalization studies are designed to give communities an obligation-free chance to find out what will work best for them” said former Mayors Nicolas Platt (R) and Jordan Glatt (D), who were appointed by Governor Murphy in a bipartisan effort in 2018 to be the state’s first Shared Services Czars. “When school districts decide they’re ready to explore ways things can be done more efficiently, we are here to help them facilitate that process.”
“This legislation is the first major overhaul of New Jersey’s school regionalization statute in over 25 years,” said Senator Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth), a prime sponsor of the new law. “It will provide students with an enriched, coordinated K-12 curriculum and generate long-term savings for property taxpayers. Most importantly, it is a voluntary process that provides local districts with greater flexibility to design an individualized regionalization plan that makes sense for all.”
In order to be eligible for a grant, applicant boards of education or certain municipal governing bodies are required to meet certain criteria, namely that the proposed regionalization:
· does not, and is not foreseeably likely to, increase or exacerbate the segregation of students by racial, socioeconomic, disability, or English Language Learner status as determined by the number and percentage of students enrolled in the school districts seeking to consolidate or, as applicable, in the school districts from which a school district is seeking to withdraw;
· leads to the establishment of a limited purpose or all-purpose regional school district to the maximum extent practicable; and
· consolidates school districts that are in close geographic proximity of each other.
School districts need not be immediately contiguous as long as the consolidation and any geographic separation is not so large as to contradict the potential for improved efficiency and cost savings.
The school districts should also possess the potential for improved efficiency and cost savings; possess the potential to advance an enhanced learning environment for participating districts; coordinate curriculum across schools and grades throughout the proposed limited purpose or all-purpose regional school district; and reflect a documented commitment from the participating districts to make good faith efforts to implement the recommendations of the feasibility study that promote efficiency and quality of education.
The legislation also includes significant incentives for school districts with shrinking enrollments. School districts facing Adjustment Aid cuts will see their aid reductions cut in half and stretched out from four years to eight years if they take part in studies and move forward on regionalization.
The Division of Local Government Services serves as an advocate for local government interests and provides technical and financial assistance in budgeting, financial reporting, joint services, purchasing, and management issues. They are responsible for the financial integrity of all local government units and review and approve all municipal, county, and fire district budgets. They also review many local government financial actions and govern and guide the conduct of local government officials.
DCA offers a wide range of programs and services, including energy assistance, housing vouchers, affordable housing production, fire and building safety, community planning and development, local government management and finance, and disaster recovery and mitigation.
For more information about DCA, visit nj.gov/dca/ or follow the Department on social media: