BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Despite dissenting votes from Board of Education members looking to bring the budget to cap, the 2016-2017 budget was introduced Tuesday, with a public hearing scheduled for April 26.
According to business administrator Peter Starrs, the amount the budget will increase has decreased from the first presentation because the district received about $120,000 more in state aid than anticipated.
The tax levy has increased from $127,373,133 for the 2015-2016 school year to $129,859,985 for the 2016-2017 school year, a 1.95 percent increase.
The original projections had been for a 2 percent increase, but Starrs said they opted to use half of the extra state aid to reduce the tax levy. The other half will be used for security improvements at the high school.
The total budget has increased from $144,591,253 for the 2015-2016 school year to $146,168,031 for the 2016-2017 school year.
Interim superintendent Daniel Silvia said there were a few things the district had to do concerning personnel in the coming year.
“We tried to maintain the personnel numbers we currently have, and that might change based on enrollment,” he said. “But there were certain things we needed to do, some of them requirements.”
Included in the budget are $76,180 for a new ESL teacher, $81,180 for a special education teacher, $86,180 for a school psychologist and $255,900 for teaching assistants.
As for instructional equipment, the budget includes $237,720 for textbooks, $395,415 for supplies, $202,200 for curriculum development, $235,525 for professional development and $343,075 for technology.
Silvia said they are working on the transition to next generation science, purchasing some of the kits they will need for next year. In addition, he said, they are working on curriculum writing for a proposed new advanced placement computer science course and the addition of a kindergarten through fourth grade writing program.
In addition, Silvia said, they will be purchasing new technology devices, including chromebooks, iPads and more.
As for facilities, the budget includes $122,000 for a new phone system at Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School; $80,000 for district concrete work; $64,000 for tiling and carpeting at the high school and middle school; $122,000 for a school bus and maintenance vehicle; $58,783 for security at the high school; and $27,215 for the athletic program.
Starrs said paving is always important to do in the district, and they have other projects they want to do eventually, including finishing replacements of the bleachers at the high school, replacing boilers and more.
“The administration works with supervisors and looks at programs, and has to make tough decisions,” Silvia said of the requests that could not be accommodated this year. “There are lots of things we would like to purchase and personnel requests we want to fill.”
“We have to make decisions that are fiscally responsible and provide opportunities for students,” he added.
Silvia said, for example, there was a total of $1.9 million in personnel requests, and the overall increase in the budget is only $1.6 million.
As for the taxes in the coming year, for Bridgewater residents, with an average assessment of $424,130, the tax rate is set at 1.39, for taxes of $5,899.27. That is a decrease of $1.24 per every $100,000 of assessment over the previous year.
In Raritan, for an average assessment of $319,706, the tax rate is set at 1.32, translating to $4,224.51. That is an increase of $82.58 per $100,000 of assessment.
But board member Jeffrey Brookner voted against the budget introduction, saying that he believes they need to go to the 2 percent cap with the tax increase.
“I am not in favor of giving half of it back in the form of a lower tax increase,” he said. “I think it’s a relatively insignificant amount of money, and given how lean we operate, I think it’s much more needed to be spent.”
For example, Brookner said, he would be interested in seeing the district hire another supervisor of instructional technology. He said the district could advance someone to that position, and then use the extra state aid money to hire another entry level teacher.
“We need teachers who are implementing the program, and the one supervisor is spread way too thin,” he said. “To really roll out the program will require a staff.”
Jodi Siegal, a World Languages teacher at the high school, said she would like to see a supervisor brought in for their program, rather than the department administrative assistant they have now.
“For new teachers to be successful and continue to grow, we need a supervisor,” she said.
Right now, Siegal said, the departmental administrative assistant is simply spread too thin.
“The job is unfairly compensated and not sustainable long term,” she said. “We need someone solely dedicated to moving our department forward.”
Middle school counselor Ann Rock said it is embarrassing that the school is dealing with a lack of working printers, and algebra books that are at least 10 years old. In addition, there are other capital projects that should be looked at, she said, and another counselor is needed to balance needs at Hillside Intermediate School and other schools.
Steve Beatty, president of the Bridgewater-Raritan Education Association, said the district should be budgeting to cap.
“Every year that you don’t is cumulative,” he said. “We hear so many worthwhile and necessary requests. Whatever the money may be spent on, to know that you have so many necessary requests and then leave $60,000 out (is wrong).”
Both Brookner and board member Barry Walker voted against the introduction of the budget, but it did pass, and will be back before the board in April for public hearing and final approval.