BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The Bridgewater-Raritan Regional Board of Education budget for 2020-2021 has been approved.
The board approved the nearly $165 million budget ($164,939,279) for next year at its meeting Tuesday, with eight affirmative votes and one abstention. Last year's total budget figure came in at just over $161.3 million.
The meeting was again conducted entirely online, with local schools still closed by state order, at least through mid-May, due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The budget, which had tentatively been introduced in March, was approved following a short presentation and board discussion. The presentation had been made available a number of days before the meeting, on the school district’s web site, although no members of the community asked any questions at Tuesday’s public hearing.
Business administrator Peter Starrs said there has been no new state aid forthcoming in the interim, and that the state has indicated that school districts should move forward with the amounts that were previously provided.
“We’re proposing a 2 percent tax levy,” said Starrs.
There was also a slight increase in state aid from last year of just over $1 million, according to the presentation.
The Bridgewater-Raritan district was not able to exceed the cap this year, as it had no adjustment waivers and no banked cap to use.
The district was able to include additional special education aides in next year’s budget, however.
Factors driving the budget were led by salaries, which take up nearly 60 percent of the budget, while expenditures are headed up by regular education at nearly $50.6 million.
The tax levy for 2020-2021 came out to $146,817,259, an increase of 2 percent from the 2019-2020 budget.
Bridgewater residents will see a $12.96 decrease per $100,000 of assessed value this year, with the average assessment in Bridgewater being $448,933. Raritan residents will see a $64.75 increase per $100,000 of assessed value, with the average assessment in Raritan being $320,525.
Starrs said the latter increase was due to the fact that “ratables went down slightly” in Raritan, by about 2.8 percent.
School board member Barry Walker asked if there has been any change in the per pupil allocation, and Starrs replied that that figure has stayed the same for at least the last five years.
Permanent allocations in this year’s budget included curriculum, which is fully funded at $1.5 million; technology which is also funded 100 percent, at $1.415 million; and facilities, which are funded at 85 percent, with a total of $3,812,698.
Uses of the facilities allocation include replacing the roof of Building 200 at Bridgewater-Raritan High School, upgrading the fire alarm system at Adamsville Primary School, replacing the bleachers at Hillside Intermediate School and implementing the VOIP district-wide phone system. Improvements to the high school auditorium have been put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic and the need for some fiscal conservation, according to facilities committee chair Walker.
The technology allocation will be used for laboratory replacements at Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School and Building 300 of the high school, along with computer replacements in school libraries and replacements of staff and faculty computers.
The curriculum allocation will be used for program evaluation in grades kindergarten through 12 science and ESL (English as a Second Language). It will also be used for curriculum writing and projects for grades kindergarten through 12 in English language arts and performing arts, along with world languages, mathematics and professional staff development.
Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Karen Jones said there are “different phases in the five-year cycle of program evaluation” with regard to how funds are spent in terms of designing curriculum, purchasing supplies and other facets.
“Science and ESL are in the beginning phases,” said Jones of the five-year cycle.
Those phases include surveys, research and site visits. She added that advisors will make recommendations this spring, for next fall.
Prior to the budget vote, school board member Lynne Hurley expressed concerns about the class-by-class section report, and said the numbers are “not accurate.” She said she had asked for the numbers, had reviewed them the day before the meeting and felt she would have to abstain from voting.
Superintendent Russell Lazovick said the numbers were 100 percent pulled from the district’s Powerschool software.
Some staff members had been cut from the budget as time went on. According to the budget presentation, reallocation and reduction in staffing due to class size and program expansion had resulted in a net reduction of three full time employees.
Hurley said there is still not enough information. She pointed out that one primary school has seven kindergarten classes, but two of those are extended day programs, and that some of those students therefore stay later.
Walker proposed holding off on the budget vote until May 12, since it is not due until May 15.
Hurley said she was “not happy,” having asked for the numbers in question three times, but added she didn’t want to hold the budget back.
Board president Jackie Barlow asked if the matter could be discussed at an academic committee meeting the following day, while Lazovick said he could provide Hurley with more information, which she agreed to.
The budget passed, with Hurley abstaining and the other eight members voting yes.