Proposed Spending Plan Includes Decrease In Security, Nursing Services And TechnologyBy John BurtonGov. Chris Christie’s proposed 2017 state budget seemed to have something for everyone to dislike. And that includes nonpublic schools which are seeing decreases or continued flat spending on what little state aid they get.“We understand you make a choice to send your son or daughter to a nonpublic school,” said Brother Frank Byrne, president of Christian Brothers Academy, a private all-boys Catholic school in Lincroft. But, he said, he was struck by the disparity these cuts seem to underline.“While our parents send our kids here, they’re also paying taxes to the (public) school district,” Byrne said.Christie’s $34.8 billion budget, released on Feb. 16, laid out the financial prospect for what many already knew of the state’s deep fiscal difficulties, with Christie calling upon “fiscal restraint.” “He’s trying to balance the budget. We get it,” Byrne said.For private schools, this document calls for reductions in allocations toward school nursing costs, technologies and – particularly chafing for private school administrators – subsidies for student busing to remain the same as they’ve been for the last nine years. “It’s getting harder and harder to get bus companies to keep a route based upon that amount,” said Frances Koukotas, director for the Network Catholic School Families for the Diocese of Trenton. Koukotas explained that while the money private schools receive remains flat, transportation company expenses, especially for employees, continue to rise, making it more complicated and less desirable to get the companies to include nonpublic schools as part of the greater public school routes.This budget proposes to keep the transportation assistance at $884 per student.“Bus runs are more crowded. Students are leaving earlier in the day,” because of difficulties with transportation, said James Hauenstein, principal/president of Mater Dei Prep, a Catholic high school in Middletown. “All these things impact their ability to learn.”Mater Dei Prep and Christian Brothers Academy are independent Catholic schools, which receive no financial support from the Diocese of Trenton. Trinity Hall High School operates in the same way, and Head of School Mary Sciarrillo said her school community was waiting to see how the issue evolves.But what all private school administrators and others expressed is their most concern is the possible loss of security funding. The fiscal year 2017 budget zeroes out that expenditure.State legislators last year included a budget line item allocating $25 per student for security improvements. “And that was across the board, for all nonpublic schools,” Koukotas said.“I got to tell you,” said Red Bank Catholic High School Principal Robert Abatemarco, “we used every dime of it to create a safer space, more protection for our kids.” The school used the money to treat some windows, making them shatterproof and upgrades to entrance lock systems.On average the state provides $140 per student per year for public school security measures. “The lack of the security funding creates a clear inequity between what’s done for the public school kids and nonpublic school kids,” believed George Corwell, director of the office of Education for New Jersey Catholic Conference, which represents the bishops on all public policy issues.“In the minds of the people who’ve constructed the governor’s budget, there’s a lesser degree of importance for the nonpublic school kids in terms of getting funding for security,” Corwell charged.The state Department of Education makes available to qualifying nonpublic schools, both religious and secular schools, for such things as textbooks, nursing costs and technology services. In addition, schools can get aid for transportation and for last year for security improvements. The state provides the funding to local public school districts, which distributes it to the private schools within the district boundaries.With the exception of transportation, which is expected to remain the same, and the proposed elimination of the security subsidies, the other areas are being cut. Koukotas pointed out that technology funding was $40 per student per year when introduced in 1997 and now it’s proposed to be $20. “So, we’re back to a downward spiral,” she said.Over the last four years, private school enrollment has declined 8 percent statewide, down to 147,119, which reflects some of the funding cuts, with the exception of transportation, explained Richard Vespucci, a state education spokesman. In Monmouth County that enrollment number is 11,474, as of October 2015.The security funding, was a legislative addition last year and “those items are typically addressed through the upcoming budget negotiations,” said Vespucci, who also noted Christie had provided an additional $1 million in nonpublic aid over the last few years.But any shortfall these cuts may cause with school budgets means schools will have to either cut their budgets or ask parents for additional support, or raising tuition. And some parents, who continue to pay taxes to support public education, it is a sacrifice to send their children to these schools, whether seeking religious instruction, academic rigor or family tradition, administrators, school representatives noted.“As a whole, we certainly understand public taxes are paying for public school systems,” Hauenstein said. “But there are certain areas where supporting parents and the students of nonpublic schools are critical.”Koukotas has reached out to the 38 diocesan and five independent schools pursuing a letter writing campaign to encourage local legislators to re-examine the numbers. At a future date the letters will be presented to elected officials in Trenton.