Updated: School District Previews 2021-22 Budget

Update 2: The Board of Education passed the 2021 budget at its April 27 meeting.

With a school tax rate of $1.39 per $100 of assessed valuation, the yearly school tax bill on the township-average home assessment of $354,791 will be $4,939.47, an increase of $2.70 from last year’s budget.

Update: The Board of Education adopted its preliminary budget at its March 17 meeting.

Original Story: New teachers, a beefed-up remedial summer program and more safety and security measures in township schools are just some of the items the school district hopes to fund with its preliminary $172.1 million operating budget for the 2021-22 school year.

Powered by a proposed $154,463,543 tax levy, the proposed budget’s $172,088,251 operating expenses represent a 2.5 percent increase over the current school year’s spending plan.

The district’s tax levy will increase by the state-mandated ceiling of 2 percent over the current levy of $145,192,531, a $2,903,851 jump.

The proposed budget’s impact on taxes cannot be computed until final township assessments are released in early April.

With a local revenue foundation of $154,598082, the district is expecting $15,654,890 in total state aid, $1,539260 in extraordinary aid, and $296,019 in Special Education Medicare initiative aid.

The extraordinary and SEMI aid represent a total decrease of more than $87,000 from the current year.

The district is expecting special revenue of $11,111439, a decrease of $189,396 from the current year, and $8,692,750 in debt service.

Schools Superintendent John Ravally and business manager Jon Toth presented the proposed budget to the Board of Education’s finance committee at a special meeting on March 10.

The preliminary budget will be formally voted on by the school board at its March 17 meeting.

Ravally said the biggest challenge district administrators faced in developing the budget was a large increase in charter school tuition.

Charter school tuition – which the district must pay – increased 10 percent, or $1.75 million.

Ravally said the payment represents about 11 percent of the district’s budget.

See the entire budget presentation here.

One of the biggest expenditures highlighted in the presentation – $1,188,500 – is for safety improvements in schools, including so-called “man traps” in school main entrance lobbies.

The traps have been completed at Franklin High School and both Middle School campuses, Ravally said.

Traps at MacAfee Road School, Conerly Road School and Pine Grove Manor School are being designed, he said.

“Pine Grove Manor is a bit more challenging because of the layout of the building,” Ravally said.

The improvements are being funded with the district’s capital reserve funds, he said.

The district is looking to spend $1,019,900 on academic projects, including new courses and new teachers.

The district is looking to spend $1 million on physical and mental health efforts, including continuing its partnership with Rutgers Behavioral Health, growing “Operation Great Expectations,” the Franklin High School mentoring program, and invest in PPE and other supplies needed for pandemic safety.

About $730,000 is earmarked for Summer Academy for Learning Recovery for general and special education students. The academies are meant for students who may have fallen behind due to the erratic nature of learning over the past year, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The academies have a focus on language arts and math,” Ravally said. “They are skill development-type courses.”

“We’re hoping to be able to host the academies using an in-person model, with minimum session schedules, four days a week, at various campuses throughout the district,” Ravally said.

Ravally said he hoped that “several hundred more students at least” than usual would be invited to attend the academies.

The district also wants to hire two math teachers, one at Hillcrest School and one at Pine Grove Manor, and an elementary bilingual teacher for Claremont Road School.

Also in the personnel area, the district wants to hire a supervisor of equity, diversity and world languages, a district-wide position to help with the district’s equity plan and help support world languages.

New psychology Advanced Placement and Supply Chain Management business courses are also planned, Ravally said.

Ravally said “a ton of space” has been added at Pine Grove Manor school, prompting the budget request to support a new custodian for the school.

Another $570,000 is earmarked to support green initiatives in the schools.

Most of that, $500,00, is earmarked for HVAC replacement.

“One of the first places we’re going is Pine Grove Manor; they have a half-in, half-out of the ground multi-purpose room,” Ravally said. “We have some dollars allocated to getting some air flow and air conditioning in that space.”

The district also wants to swap out some water fountains for bottle filling stations and conduct a district-wide solar feasibility study.

The proposed budget also allocates $374,500 for staff development and $105,000 for district outreach efforts – including finishing the public spaces at the Board Administration Campus on Route 27.

After the preliminary budget’s introduction on March 17, it will be submitted to the Somerset County Executive Superintendent of Schools by March 20, and will have a public hearing and final adoption at the school board’s April 27 meeting.

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