BERNARDS TWP., NJ - Bernards Township schools can expect to see additional teachers in sign language and English as a Second Language next fall as part of a school spending plan for the 2019-20 school year adopted by the Board of Education on Monday night. 

Current programs and services will be sustained in the new budget, Business Administrator/Board Secretary Rod McLaughlin said.

The Board of Education approved a total 2019-20 budget of $104.9 million that would require $87.1 million in local property taxes. The district of about 5,150 students operates four elementary, one middle and one high schools.

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The budget would increase the school tax by 2.1 cents per $100 of property assessment. That’s $21 more for each $100,000 of a property’s value. In Bernards, the “average” home is assessed at $625,281, said Sean McCarthy, township treasurer, on Wednesday, so the tax hike would be about $130 in the local school portion of the total township property tax bill.

The estimated tax rate for schools would be slightly more than $1.34 per $100 of assessed value. School taxes comprise about two-thirds of a property tax bill in the township.

The 2019-20 budget was presented Monday night by Superintendent Nick Markarian and McLaughlin.

No comments from public during hearing

There were no comments from the public and few questions from board members before a vote on adoption were taken.

No reduction in staff is planned. Markarian described staffing possibilities Monday night.

Markarian said some staff would be “repurposed,” or given different jobs because of declining enrollment and needs. Two experienced teachers – one for grades K-5 and another for grades 6-12 – would be tasked as “instructional coaches,” or people who instruct and assist staff in becoming better teachers, the superintendent said.

Two Spanish teachers would see their hours redeployed, possibly across all grades and all schools, he said.

Markarian foresaw four new positions due to “growth,” which would be financed by staff attrition.

One is a fulltime American Sign Language teacher at Ridge High for the progression of a program that could fulfill a student’s language graduation requirement. The course is expanding as students age and advance.  In March the board hired one fulltime American Sign Language teacher at Ridge High for the next school year. 

The district will need another English as a Second Language teacher, said Markarian. It also needs to meet a state requirement to offer fulltime dance and part-time theater teachers for William Annin Middle School and may need to hire staff if students show interest, he said. 

The total budget would rise $1.83 million, leaders said. About five-sixths of the budget is paid for by local property taxes. 

The general operating budget will increase $1.95 million to $96.9 million, but capital expenses from the budget will be $450,000 less than the current year. Paying off debt will require $5.3 million, nearly the same as last year.

The budget is pressured by special education costs, McLaughlin said. Expenses go up almost 6 percent, or more than $850,000, mostly due to greater services needed by students. The district anticipates a drop of $600,000 in revenue in the form of tuition from other schools that had paid to send their students to classes in Bernards Township.

State aid is increasing by $470,965 over the last school year to reach $4.67 million. That is less that 5 percent of the total budget.

The capital budget continues work $1.6 million worth of projects that include replacement of a curtainwall, ventilation and expanded air conditioning at the Middle School, and phase one of the replacement of 400 building doors in the district. About one-fourth of the money for capital projects will come from state grants.

Planned capital projects:

- Enhanced main entrance lighting and netting at baseball and soccer fields at Ridge High;

- New playground equipment at Mount Prospect School;

- Stage lighting at Cedar Hill School;

- Fencing replacement at Liberty Corner School, and

- New exhaust fans for locker rooms, and ceiling fans for the cafeteria, at William Annin Middle School.