members unanimously adopted the proposed $33.5M budget Thursday night for the 2012/2013 school year.
The budget includes a 1.55 percent tax increase, which is under the state-mandated 2 percent cap. The tax burden on the average assessed household at $285,969 (with a market value of $566,035) is $44 per half year. But with the $1 tax decrease from the 2011/12 budget, the average homeowner will pay $43 for the second half of 2012.
“About a month ago, the state passed a law saying as long as a Board of Education budget proposal doesn’t result in a tax levy increase of 2 percent or more, it does not go out to public vote,” said Adam Smith, board chairperson of the Finance, Facilities, and Safety/Security committee. “That doesn’t mean this budget has not been vetted to the public. We’ve had a number of public meetings where the budget has been discussed.”
Superintendent of Schools Dr. David Miceli said even with the new law, there are still a series of requirements the board must follow with each budget, such as adopting a tentative budget and sending it to the Executive County Superintendent’s Office for approval.
“There’s still that checks and balances with the county and there are so many regulations, mandates and requirements that we have to go through, even within that two percent cap,” Miceli explained at the Superintendent’s Forum Wednesday night.
Smith said the board’s budget goals are to review all programs and staffing, maximize operational efficiencies to save money where possible, adhere to the 2 percent tax levy law, ease burden to taxpayers and maintain culture of district.
Budget highlights include:
- One additional elementary teaching position at due to a projected increase in enrollment
- Two Special Education related service positions increased from .8 positions to fulltime
- Increasing the Assistant Superintendent of Education Services from a .8 position to fulltime based on additional regulations from the state with the Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying law
- An additional $200K toward the curriculum/technology initiative
- Zero cuts to academic programs and co-curricular activities
“We cut a number of things over the last couple of years. We feel that we’ve cut to the point where any further cuts would affect the culture of this district too much, affect the children too much, affect student achievement too much so there are no proposed cuts in this budget,” Smith explained.
Another highlight is the Lieder Field Bleachers Renovation Project, which will be made possible with part of the $841,924 in state aid allocated to the district for next year. That state aid is up $194,704 from last year. The district did not receive any aid for the 2010/11 budget.
Smith said while that project will go out to bid, it’s estimated to cost $247K.
“[The bleachers] have not been compliant for the past few years and we were cited by our insurer so it was a project we certainly wanted to move in the direction to complete but yet, we just didn’t have the resources to do it,” Miceli explained at the forum on Wednesday. “Now with the additional aid, everyone feels comfortable that we can move forward with that and not have to bond that project at a later date. So it’s certainly money well spent to get that up to code.”
Expenditures for the district went up $1,055,416, or 3.28 percent, from the 11/12 budget, Smith said. If you include the capital budget, expenditures increased $1.3 million, or 4.09 percent. Other areas of increase include:
- Employee salaries and benefits
- Tuition costs for sending 36 Special Education students out-of-district, 40 students to the Magnet School in Scotch Plains, four students attending Vocational Technical School
- The curriculum/technology initiative
While employee contributions for health benefits will total $314,700 in this budget, health benefits costs are still going up by $478,295, Smith said. The district’s broker said premiums are projected to go up 18 percent in total.
But the district is saving money in several other ways through ongoing efficiencies, which include:
- Co-op purchasing for school supplies
- ACES program for electric and gas
- In-house professional development required by state
- In-house installation of technology
- Continue to provide in-house Special Education programs
- Volunteer Public Relations coordinator and coaches
- Shared services with borough
- Shared services with other districts—professional development
- Communications systems
- New Jersey clean energy program—classroom lighting
- School-based ‘Go Green’ teams
- Solar energy panels at and , projected to save at least $18K annually
Before the budget process begins in the fall, Smith said the board revisits the district’s five-year goals. This year, those goals are:
- Develop new and modify existing education programs to foster development of 21st century creative thinking, communication, problem solving skills, while supporting social and emotional growth of students
- Ensure that assessment tools are aligned with curriculum and properly monitor and evaluation progress and achievement of students
- Ensure students and teachers have access to and training in technology
- Look for alternative revenue sources
- Review district operations for efficiencies and continuing to explore shared services opportunities with other districts and borough government entities
- Ensure educational facilities are designed to foster learning in safe and healthy environment
- Use information systems to promote achievement, communicate with the public and facilitate communication with parents and teachers
- Continue to review programs and services for Special Education students
Smith said the district’s philosophy also comes into play when considering the budget for the following year. That philosopy consists of the K-12 experience, a framework for success and shared commitment.
“Education is a marathon, not a sprint. We ensure by the time the children leave this district that they attain an educational experience that meets all the requirements of the state and this community so that when the kids leave here, they are prepared to be good citizens and will further their educational endeavors,” Smith explained. “We try to provide a framework that gives every student the chance to succeed in whatever it is they want to do in life. [Also, we have a shared commitment] of staff, the administration, parents, the community at large and the Board of Education, ensuring the resources of town and district are there to serve the purposes for student achievement.”
But above all, Smith said the most important thing to do is measure student achievement. Smith explained a number of recent achievements by the Class of 2011, which include:
- Three National Merit Finalists
- HSPA — 96.5% proficiency at Language Arts and 91.8 percent proficiency at Math
- Average SAT score of 1737 (state average is 1508)
- 92 percent of student who took AP test scored 3 or higher
- 100 percent graduation rate
- 97 percent of students attended post secondary school
- 92 percent participate in co-curricular activities
In addition to a number of Arts and Athletic accomplishments, Smith also boasted recent district recognition, such as the high school ranked #5 in state by NJ Monthly Magazine and recognized as , the middle school receiving a Positive Behavior Support in Schools Award, Salt Brook being named a and , and the district receiving the National School Safety Award.
“The essence is really that we are not cutting any programs, any co-curricular activities,” Miceli explained at Wednesday night’s forum. “We’re maintaining the culture of the district and all of the support services that we have and we’re utilizing the additional funds that we received in state aid to help support some of the line items we’ve cut in the past and also to address some of the new things that we need.”
Budget BasicsTax Levy $31,198,662 (increased $476,364 or 1.55%) Increase in Expenditures (with Capital Budget) $1.3 million (4.09%) State Aid $841,924 ($194,704 increase from 11/12 budget) Total Budget
Building Proposed Budget
(percentage breakdown of expenses)Classroom Instruction 43.9% Instructional Support Services 17.4% General Administration 2% School Administration 4% Business/Technology Services 2.2% Operations/Maintenance Facilities 7.2% Transportation Services 2.7% Employee Benefits 19.7% Capital Expenses 0.9%