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‘My Teachers Saved My Life’: Lacey Students Fight Budget Cuts

LACEY, NJ — Students, teachers and parents alike went in front of the Lacey Township Board of Education with the same message: don’t let our beloved teachers go.

Dozens of school employees are at risk of having their positions cut as the district grapples with a loss of state aid resulting in the budget at a deficit of $6.9 million. Read more:

It’s only gotten worse as their potential last-ditch effort of obtaining a state loan is not possible. The New Jersey Department of Education told all school districts they would not be able to seek loans for 2024-25 budgets.

But many spoke up at the latest school board meeting asking for something to be done.

“It was my teachers that saved my life,” said Karissa Falvey, a former student who was “minutes away” from taking her own life due to bullying.

Falvey is now a teacher herself, and she shared how one of her own students recently came up to her and shared how she was struggling. Falvey had the same experience as a student, and her teacher Aaron Fritz told her that he would help her.

“That changed my life. That moment made me want to be a teacher,” she said. So, she told the same thing to her struggling student.

“It’s because of Mr. Fritz that I knew how to handle that,” Falvey said.

One teacher many cited as a positive influence was band director Christopher Montague, best known as “Monty.” More than 1,200 have signed a petition begging to keep him employed. Read more:

“He saved me,” a current tenth grader said of Montague. “Monty pulled me out of dark places in my life, and he’s done that for so many others.”

“The very last thing we should be doing is reducing staff,” Superintendent Vanessa Pereira acknowledged. “But at this point, given where we are right now, we have no choice.”

Pereira explained that the district is not cutting teachers based on performance. There is a process that must be followed where non-tenured staff are first to be cut, she said. If further reductions are needed, then they have to comply with teacher tenure laws based on seniority and certifications.

She said that “the Lacey Township School District does not have a spending problem. It has a revenue problem caused by the reduction of state aid.”

Pereira is hopeful for a State Assembly bill that would allow for a portion of state aid loss to be recouped in the form of stabilization aid and would allow for the two percent tax levy cap to be exceeded to increase the budget.

Otherwise, there will be 57 staff members cut, class sizes increased to the 40s, pay-to-participate in all athletic programs and co-curriculars as well as eliminating the ability to repair aging buildings, Pereira said.

“We’re not going to stop fighting,” she said.

The students aren’t giving up, either. Logan Edgeworth, a sophomore, created Instagram and TikTok pages .

“The governor and NJ legislators, in my opinion, are more likely to listen to students speaking out than they are to listen to a bunch of grown adults,” Edgeworth told Patch. “These budget cuts are not just affecting schools but affecting students.”

His pages encourage writing to the governor and other legislators to defend the district.

“These teachers should all have their job,” said district parent Lucas Bernaldo. “We need all of them.”