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School Board Passes $178 Million Budget With Slight Tax Rate Decrease

Schools Superintendent John Ravally speaks about the 2018-19 school district budget at the April 26 school board meeting.


A $178 million budget for the 2018-19 school year that includes a slight decrease in the school portion of property taxes was approved April 26 by the Board of Education.

The $178,220,898 total spending plan – an increase of $6,065,143 over the 2017-18 budget – includes funding for opening a new elementary school and placing police officers in every school, among other initiatives.

The budget is powered by $142,956,862 to be raised in taxes for operating funds and debt service – an increase of $3,668,225 from the 2017-18 tax levy – which translates to a tax rate of $1.46 per $100 of assessed valuation.

Even with the increase in the amount to be raised by taxes, the 2018-19 tax rate is $.01 less than the 2017-18 tax rate of $1.47 per $100 of assessed valuation. That’s thanks to the increase in the assessed valuation of township properties from $9.5 billion to $9.8 billion, a $281 million increase.

What that means to taxpayers is a decrease of $22 in the yearly tax rate for the owner of a property assessed at the township average of $325,100. For a home assessed at $200,000, the decrease will be $14, and for a home assessed at $400,000, $27.

The largest category increase in the budget is in the payment the district is mandated to pay to the five charter schools schools attended by township students. These rates are set by the state Department of Education.

The district was hit with a 28 percent increase in the amount it must set aside for charter school payments, from $10,896,672 the current school year to $13,895,889 for the 2018-19 school year.

The charter school expenditure represents about 9 percent of the total budget.

The next-largest increase in the budget is for employee benefits, which rose 12 percent from $22 million to $24 million.

The opening of Claremont Road elementary school and the transitioning into two middle schools is also taking a large chunk of the budget, nearly $3 million.

That includes support staff salary and benefits, utility costs and instructional supplies for the Claremont Road school, as well as a part-time guidance counselor and resource and security officers for the middle schools.

Among the other initiatives provided for the in budget is the return of instrumental music instruction to 4th Graders.

Now that 5th Graders will be returned to the elementary schools in the 2018-19 school year, the district is “taking the opportunity to re-introduce instrumental music to the 4th Graders,” schools Superintendent John Ravally said.

Also, the Road to Success alternative schools and special education students will be able to take vocational training at the Somerset County Vocational and Technical School in Bridgetwater’s Somerset Career Center, Ravally said.

There, they can learn skills in the ShopRite-sponsored program in supermarket retail, the small engine repair program, the arts program or general life skills program, Ravally said. He said special ed students have been taking the courses since last year.

The district will also seek to expand student participation in Advanced Placement courses, Ravally said.

AP courses “should be just for some kids, they should be for all kids who want to challenge themselves,” he said. “We’re going to work with kids who want to challenge themselves, but we want to maintain the rigorous aspect of the courses, and we want to maintain the high scores.”

In two years, he said, “we can increase participation out the roof and hopefully maintain the high scores.”

The district will also introduce “morning clubs” for elementary school students, and an assistant athletic director for the middle schools, Ravally said.

The district will also spend about $300,000 to move and retrofit elementary school classroom trailers – no longer needed because of additions and renovations – into “field” locker rooms for the high school football and track teams.

Ravally said a need for more locker room space for those teams was identified by the board’s facilities committee about three years ago. He said there are more than 100 athletes each on the football and track teams, and the current varsity locker room is not big enough to accommodate all of them.

As a result, students are using  lockers normally used for regular physical education programs, he said.

“This gives the kids in regular phys ed a chance to have lockers of their own, which they should have,” Ravally said. “It’s a creative use of something that we own,” he said.

The district is also expanding its 1:1 Chromebook program next school year, through which every student will have access to a computer.

 

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