The preliminary 2020-2021 district budget for the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District was recently introduced to the public at over $160 million, and is expected to undergo some adjustment and alteration before its final approval in hopefully two months’ time.
Business administrator Peter Starrs gave a short presentation Feb. 25, starting with enrollment numbers in the district as of Oct. 15, 2019. Students numbered at 8,477 total, with 8,789 students in all being transported, while staff was calculated at 1,235 individuals.
“We are a fairly large operation,” he said.
Starrs said firmer numbers will be plugged in after state aid figures became available Feb. 27. According to the information released by the state Thursday, Bridgewater is set to receive $11,063,556 in state aid this year, a 6 percent increase over last year.
The district is also trying to reduce appropriations by a quarter of a million dollars annually. Hampering that effort this year have been the lack of any banked cap and the lack of waivers available for a flat enrollment.
Pension contributions, Starrs said, are also being deferred, although there is no increase in health care costs this year.
Considerations for the budget include special requests; fee increases; per pupil allotments, including supplies; co-curricular activity and athletic fees; and transportation.
“It’s all in the mix on the expenditure side of the budget,” Starrs said.
The total budget figure for the 2019-2020 school year was determined to be $161,309,758, with $143,938,489 of that generated from the tax levy.
By contrast, the 2020-2021 budget is being projected as $164,313,528, a difference of 1.86 percent from this year's figure, while the tax levy for next year is projected at $146,817,259, an increase of 2 percent.
Regarding permanent allocations, curriculum is to be fully funded at 100 percent, or $1.5 million. Technology will also be fully funded at 100 percent, at $1.415 million, while facilities will be funded at 85 percent, or $3,812,698.
The facilities allocation is broken down to include repairs or replacement of the roof at Building 200 at Bridgewater-Raritan High Schoo,; the fire alarm system at Adamsville Primary School, the bleachers at Hillside Intermediate School, the main gymnasium section of the high school bleachers, the district-wide phone system, improvements to the high school auditorium and fieldhouse lockers at the high school.
Regarding the use of curriculum allocation, curriculum revisions include Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC) alignment, and mathematics and world language work. Professional development includes primary report card implementation and training on program changes.
“We have a five-year cycle,” said Karen Jones, assistant superintendent of curriculum. “Programs are always going through it.”
She also spoke of curriculum revision, and the efforts that entails.
“We’re writing and doing things across 11 buildings,” Jones said.
As for technology allocations, those include lab replacements, library replacements and a computer lab at the high school; lab replacements and lab devices at Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School; and replacement of staff computers.
Superintendent Russell Lazovick cautioned that permanent allocations are not a “blank check,” and that those monies are put aside for support. He said nothing is done during the year without board approval.
Starrs pointed out so-called “budget drivers,” topped by salaries, which make up 59 percent of the budget. Benefits encompass 17.5 percent, while everything else makes up the remaining 23.5 percent.
The current status of the budget finds expenditures exceeding revenues by approximately $1.5 million. Also needed for the budget, Starrs said, are revenue adjustments, a review of staffing models and continued expenditures analysis.
Board member Lynne Hurley asked if the district is looking at having to find an additional $1.5 million if things in the budget remain the way they are.
Starrs said yes, and added that there are a few other options, including the possible anticipation of extraordinary aid on the revenue side, and a continued analysis of expenditures.
“We’ve worked hard as a board to build a healthy budget,” Lazovick added.
He said that money is also needed for professional development and the like, which is less than $7 million out of a $161 million budget. Also, without a banked cap or available waivers, another goal is to minimize the impact of the budget on the taxpayers.
Lazovick added that with so much of the budget tied up in staffing, the district has to look at its programs. There is no desire to take away programs that the district has worked hard to provide for the students, but they are also working at ways to not impact current staff members too, he said.
“It’s a more efficient budget,” said Lazovick.
The expectation at this point is that the board will approve a tentative budget by March 20, before submitting it to the county. A public hearing and potential final budget adoption is expected around April 28.