Education

Board of Education Approves Tentative Budget With 3.54 Percent Increase in Tax Levy

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BRIDGEWATER, NJ - With a 3 percent increase in expenditures and a 3.54 percent increase in the tax levy, the board of education approved a tentative 2017-2018 budget that uses previously banked cap money and fulfills a number of goals.

The budget is set at $150,620,857, a 3 percent increase over the 2016-2017 budget of $146,226,814.

After a number of discussions with the board of education, the administration was authorized to use banked cap money from both the 2014-2015 school year and the 2015-2016 year.

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Every year, the district approves a banked cap which, by state law, allows a district that has not exceeded the tax levy cap of 2 percent to bank the unused tax levy for use in any of the next three succeeding budget years.

If a district does not go to 2 percent in a given year, the money that would have been used to go to that cap is saved for a three-year period.

The 2017-2018 budget includes the $562,087 banked from the 2014-2015 budget and $262,728 from the 2015-2016 budget, for a total of $824,615 extra dollars in this year’s budget.

With that, plus a slight increase in state aid to account for special needs requirements from the state from $9,445,829 to $9,464,127, the district is looking at a 3.54 percent increase in the tax levy over the 2016-2017 budget.

“The state aid increase is really just associated with special education purposes,” Business Administrator Peter Starrs said.

In Bridgewater, for an average assessed home at $426,854, the tax rate is set at 1.415, or an increase of $24.37 over last year per $100,000 of assessment.

In Raritan, for an averaged assessed home at $319,815, the tax rate is set at about 1.362, or an increase of $40.34 per $100,000 of assessment.

Part of the district’s goals regarding using the banked cap money was to increase expenditures for facilities, technology and curriculum, three items that superintendent Russell Lazovick has said should have permanent allocations in every budget.

The goals are for $4 to $5 million allocated each year for facilities, $1.5 million allocated for curriculum and about $1.3 million allocated for technology.

“We approached the budget this year differently than in the past,” Lazovick said. “We have a seven- to 10-year technology plan, and a 25-year facilities plan.”

“We appreciate the fact that the board is buying into the budget philosophy where we don’t have to keep asking for an increase, and we can run the district efficiently,” he added.

This budget, according to Starrs, allows the district to fulfill the technology goal of $1,315,000, while also allocating $726,422 for facilities and $815,049 for curriculum.

For facilities, Starrs said, the work included in the budget will be funded either by capital reserve or the general operating budget.

The plans are for replacement of the roof at the 100 building at Bridgewater-Raritan High School; replacement of roof top units at the 900 building at BRHS; a re-wiring project at the 300 building at BRHS; paving improvements at Hamilton Primary; technology back end equipment; and gym dividers at Eisenhower Intermediate and BRHS.

For curriculum and instruction, the budget supports the five-year program review; invests in professional development for staff; helps with curriculum alignment to New Jersey Student Learning Standards; and provides instructional software for students.

On the technology side, the budget includes money for replacements of equipment, namely primary computer labs, Chromebooks, teacher devises and projection devices.

“This puts us on a four-year replacement plan, and this would be the first year of that to replace outdated technology,” Starrs said.

Aside from those budget allocations, it includes a required $1,049,000 in staffing costs for the expansion of the special education program. That money is allocated to staff in the autism program, pre-k program, behavioral program and multiple disabled program.

In addition, the budget includes another $1.2 million in new full time staff members, including a pre-kindergarten teacher, one high school math teacher, 11 instructional assistants and one assistant superintendent.

Lazovick said the last will be an assistant superintendent of personnel, who will handle two important tasks that have in the past been parceled out to others.

The first task, Lazovick said, will be to oversee personnel operations, which haven’t had consistent leadership.

“We need recruitment of the most effective candidates and to ease the burden on the principals,” he said.

Just as important, Lazovick said, will be centralizing safety plans under this new assistant superintendent to make sure all buildings are up to date, and consistent and compliant with training.

“The county is moving to a new updated response system, and every district is required to make changes,” he said. “This is going to be a huge undertaking, and there has to be ownership at the district level.”

“Between these two tasks, we had to restore a position that had had something similar in years past,” he added. “I would like to restore that consistency to the district.”

Public hearing for the budget is planned for April 25 at the Harmon V. Wade Administration Building. There will also be several sessions in early April for questions from the public regarding the budget, but the dates have not yet been set.

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