SPARTA, NJ- The Sparta Board of Education approved the tentative budget last week to be submitted for preliminary approval by the County Superintendent Rosalie Lamonte. The vote was 7-2, with Brenda Beebe and Kim Yoemans voting against the proposal.
This initial budget includes a two percent levy increase as allowed by law with an additional $700 thousand from the banked cap. Offsetting the impact of the levy increase is the closeout of Fund 30, the budget established to fund the voter approved high school reconstruction project. This brings the impact of the levy increase to approximately 1.8 percent.
According to municipal budget documentation, a two percent increase to the school budget will equate to $251.03 per average home. The average residential home in Sparta for 2014 is assessed at $295,900, as determined by the municipality. To add the full amount of the banked cap funds of $1,033,000 would add approximately $60 to the levy for that same average home.
Ignoring the recommendation of the district administrators, five board members, Beebe, Richard Bladek, Frank Favichia, Jack Surdoval and Yoemans voted against using all of the banked cap funds to allow Sparta to have a full-day kindergarten program for the 2014-2015 school year. Instead, the board voted to use $700 thousand of the banked cap funds for unnamed capital improvements.
Inquiries were made with the board of education business office as to the specifics of those items to be funded with the $700 thousand banked cap funds. Board officials responded that they "will not disclose an itemized list of (those) expenditures ," at this time. In the power point from the budget meeting there was a slide of capital improvements that included:
- $700 thousand to replace the track,
- $990 thousand for unnamed Capital and Maintenance Priority Projects ,
- $351 thousand for the district share of Security Cameras and
- $125 thousand for other Security Projects
The total of those expenditures is $2,166,475.
Also on that slide were the Capital Reserve and Maintenance Reserve funds to be used to pay for that list of capital improvements. Those reserve funds totaled only $1,125,754. The assumption is that the balance of funding to complete all of the listed capital projects would come from the $700 thousand banked cap.
Any of the banked cap funds that are not used in the 2014-15 budget will no longer be available. So far, this board has decided to only use $700 thousand, meaning the balance, $333,000, will disappear. If, in the future, the district decides, or is required by the state to provide a full-day kindergarten program, the district will have to find the additional funds by cutting staff and program to make up the difference, according to statements made by Superintendent Dennis Tobin.
This week Hopatcong approved a full-day kindergarten program for next year. Sparta is now one of only three districts in Sussex county without a full-day program. Greater than 80 percent of all districts in the state have full-day kindergarten this year, according to the State Department of Education data.
There are reductions to the budget to stay within the mandated levy cap. These reductions include a supervisor and three elementary teachers, unemployment funding, end of life replacement of a bus and technology, adjustments per contractual agreements and others, equating to $1,382,293.
The proposed budget shows the expenditures broken down as follows:
- 75 percent of Expenditures go to Salaries and Benefits,
- 6.3 percent for Transportation,
- 5.7 percent for Maintenance, Custodian and Security,
- 5.5 percent for Special Education Tuition (out of district placements),
- 1.9 percent for Regular Education,
- 1.7 percent for Administration and Technology,
- 1.6 percent for Equipment and Capital,
- .6 percent for Charter School,
- .4 percent for Athletics and Co-curriculars,
- .3 percent for Nurses, Guidance, Child Study Team, Media
- .2 percent for Curriculum and Instruction,
An earlier presentation of the draft budget broke it out slightly differently:
- Salaries and benefits 79.3 percent
- Special Education, Basic Skills and Tuition 4.3 percent
- Regular Education 1.5 percent
According to State Department of Education data for 2013, Sparta had 536 students receiving special education services, including the pre-kindergarten students. That equates to 15.34 percent of the total student population of 3494. The budget presentation showed $1.9 million budgeted for Special Education out of district placements. The published User Friendly budget for 2013-14 shows 12 Pupils Sent to Other Districts-Special Education Program. The proposed budget presentation includes two additional pupils sent out of district.
Sparta has a long history of being frugal, with per pupil spending near the bottom of every comparison. Two years ago the state began using an additional number for comparison, inflated to include the state contribution for retirement benefits such as pension and health insurance coverage among other items. It is the Budgetary Per Pupil Cost, however, that has been the accepted number of comparison for at least two decades to evaluate per pupil expenditures.
Most recent data from NJDOE Taxpayers' Guide to Education Spending for 2012-2013 shows Sparta spends $13,707 per pupil. Sparta is the lowest in Sussex county with High Point Regional HS at $19,212, Vernon $16,532, Wallkill Regional HS $15,788, Lenape Valley Regional HS $15,645 Hopatcong $15,284, Kittatinny Regional HS $15,207, and Newton $14,701.
As for the K-12 "I" districts selected for the comparison at the budget presentation, Sparta remains at the bottom of Budgetary Per Pupil Costs; Kinnelon $14,424, Montville $14,269, Boonton $13,817. Randolph $13,802, Madison $13,731. Of the schools included in this grouping, however, only Montville and Randolph are K-12 district with 3500+ students, the same grouping as Sparta. Kinnelon and Madison have only 1801-3500 pupils, Boonton is a K-8 district with only 410-750 students.
There is a board of education meeting scheduled for Monday, March 24 at Mohawk Avenue School, beginning at 7:30. The budget is on the agenda for further discussion.