On the one hand, Gov. Chris Christie says his 2018 state budget proposal, the last he’ll propose before his term ends, won’t include any big surprises.

On the other, he won’t rule out the possibility changes to public workers’ benefits or the school-aid changes he has sought without success since last June will be part of the budget.

“It could be. Stay tuned,” Christie said Monday on “Ask the Governor.”

“Alright,” said news director Eric Scott. “I guess we’ll know –”

“Especially those school people,” Christie said.

“Two weeks from tomorrow,” Scott finished.

“Get ready,” Christie said.

Gov. Chris Christie joined New Jersey 101.5's Eric Scott Monday. Feb. 13 for "Ask the Governor" (Louis C. Hochman / Townsquare Media)
Gov. Chris Christie joined New Jersey 101.5's Eric Scott Monday. Feb. 13 for "Ask the Governor" (Louis C. Hochman / Townsquare Media)

Democrats who control the Legislature oppose the changes, so they’re unlikely to be approved in June. But school districts would have to proceed in the meantime, in some places making cuts, based on aid figures given by Christie’s Department of Education at the start of March.

Budgets would have to be adopted by May, and final aid figures wouldn’t be known until after the Legislature approves the budget in late June, said David Sciarra of the Education Law Center.

“It’s a move that if he does it, it’s just designed to cause chaos and anxiety,” Sciarra said.

“I hope the governor doesn’t do this. I mean, it really would be a disaster,” he said.

Christie proposed last June scrapping the formula that provides more funding to districts with concentrations of poverty and students whose primary language isn’t English in favor of one that provides equal funding -- $6,599 per pupil – to every district. Additional funds would be provided for special-education students.

Democrats prefer making changes to the current formula, which the state Supreme Court views favorably. That formula was approved in 2009 but only followed for year.

Sciarra said Christie’s would run into legal problems if he sought to revise school funding through the budget, rather than a law that revamps the existing formula.

But in the short-term, a funding change embedded in the budget could pose challenges for some districts. Schools would have to build their budgets based on the state aid the DOE tells them about, as required within two days of the budget speech.

Sciarra said around 140 districts, around one-fourth of the districts in the state, would be line for aid reductions under Christie’s blueprint as announced last year – and they’d have to budget accordingly, even if the spending cuts never wind up happening.

“They’d have to build their budgets on a proposal which would require them to reduce numerous programs. Cut staff – teachers, guidance counselors, support staff. Eliminate programs that kids need. And ultimately it’s not going to be adopted in the budget,” Sciarra said.

“And also, if you’re going to lay off staff – teachers and support staff – you have to send out layoff notices by May, as well,” he said.

At 140 districts, the list of school system facing cuts in aid under Christie’s approach would not be limited to those covered by the series of Abbott vs. Burke school funding decisions.

“They’re all across the state,” Sciarra said. “Some of them are not just urban districts but sort of smaller, rural districts, districts along the Shore – but districts that tend to serve higher numbers of low-income children.”

New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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