N.B. School Budget Adopted At $201 Per-Year Increase
April 7, 2010
Residents of North Brunswick could face a $201 annual increase in school taxes on a home assessed at the township average of $157,000 if voters approve the budget April 20.
The Board of Education adopted the $71.77 million local tax levy at a special meeting March 31.
“New Jersey is a wonderful state … but it’s very costly … to educate and survive here because the cost of living and the cost of doing business are very, very high,” said Superintendent of Schools Brian Zychowski.
Zychowski said there is a “perfect storm” hitting North Brunswick on three fronts: from the federal, state and local levels. He said there are federal and state mandates, such as charter schools and special education programs, that local towns must comply with, but for which no money has been provided.
“It’s very difficult to maintain educational integrity if the people making the laws don’t know what they’re doing,” Zychowski said.
For 2010-11, state aid to the district would have had to be $12.6 million for the aid to remain flat. However, the district will receive only $8.6 million in aid for its proposed $86.39 million operating budget.
Changes imposed by Gov. Christie mean the district will only get to use $1.3 million in surplus finds in 2010-11, which is about half of what it initially anticipated using.
In addition, because of the way the cap system works, North Brunswick has spent $8 million less than it could have according to the state formula for cap percentage calculations; officials have raised taxes $8 million less than they are allowed to under law. Also, the district is underfunded by $21 million per a new funding formula that has no funding to back it up.
“The great news is, you deserve more money. The bad news is, we [the state] don’t have it to give to you,” Zychowski said. “When something has the word ‘federal’ in it or ‘state’ in it, we know it’s not going to live up to what it says.”
In addition, the increase in salaries and benefits add up to $2.2 million, and $900,000 will have to be paid into unemployment insurance for staff members who do get laid off.
The district has tried to be fiscally responsible over the past few years, with zerobased budgeting, a reduced benefits obligation, administrative costs being the 10th lowest out of 105 districts of similar size across the state, redistricting efforts, an energy consortium, cooperative purchasing, internal special education special education programs, a banking consortium, retirement and consolidation, debt service bond refinancing and a current-year spending freeze.
However, to balance out the $7.2 million in adjustments that must be made, there will be $2.6 million in staff cuts, a tax levy increase to 4 percent for $2.9 m illion, a health insurance adjustment of $600,000, additional surplus adjustment of $800,000, the elimination of sports at the middle school and ninth-grade level at a cost of $200,000, and the elimination of an additional late bus at a savings of $100,000.
In terms of personnel, the eliminated staff positions include a high school supervisor, two assistant principals, a facilities manager, 10 coordinators, four deans, 16 academic support teachers, 15 aides, 13 secretarial workers, three custodians, two ISS teachers, 29 classroom teachers, one technician, four guidance counselors, two librarians and one child study team member.
“If you ever want to feel lousy, tell people you don’t have a job for them anymore. … It’s difficult to tell people who are doing a wonderful job,” Zychowski said.
In terms of programming, kindergarten would become half day with the option of a parent paying for the second half session, Linwood Middle School will lose an academic house, the high school will go back to eight periods instead of nine, courtesy afterschool busing will be discontinued, field trips will be reduced, professional development will only be conducted in-house, curriculum writing will only be done as mandated, and the elementary instrumental music program would be eliminated because those teacher positions are being cut.
“It’s too important to let go,” resident SusanneMoore said of the music program. She said her son is now majoring in music without having had a single private lesson, because he acquired his music skills through the district. “You realize the impact that this would have … on the feeder program into Linwood, into the high school. … It would absolutely [decimate] the program.”
Resident Jeff Hok, who decided to bring his children back into the township school district after spending their pre-high school years in parochial school, said, “Getting rid of the music program is not good for the school district.”
A student at Linwood Middle School, Jenna Demato, praised her teachers for their dedication to their jobs, and said it is “unfair” that Linwood is being targeted with multiple reductions.
However, she spoke most about the lacrosse team she plays on, and how about half the students at Linwood are involved with school athletics. She said the program in general keeps kids occupied after school instead of eating at home while watching television; it also makes students strive to keep their grades up.
“We are leaving students uneducated about good sportsmanship,” she said.
However, some variables do exist that could change the budget.
“The dollar amount doesn’t change – that’s why we’re saying there is still some flexibility after tonight,” board President Richard Liguori said.
Almost 900 educators and 32 administrators are in contract negotiations, so any salary freezes or benefit contributions could add money back into the budget. Retirements would have a similar effect.
“It’s disappointing to see that certain sacrifices aren’t being made to save some programs,” resident Adam Meshell said, referring to the negotiations.
There is also the possibility that if the budget is defeated, the Township Council would have to decide to leave it alone, make additional cuts, or add money back in.
The possibility of alternate program funding also exists, such as restructuring, reallocating money or participating in shared services with the township.&l t;br />
“We’re certainly going to make sure every nickel we can share, we share,” Zychowski said.