Millburn Township BOE Presented Preliminary 2016/17 Budget Overview; Referendum Discussions Continue

Dr. Christine Burton, Superintendent of Schools Credits: Jonathan Sym
John Westfall-Kwong, Chair of the Finance Committee Credits: Jonathan Sym
Regina Truitt, Chairwoman of the Property Committee Credits: Jonathan Sym
Emily Jaffe, Chairwoman of the Program Committee Credits: Jonathan Sym
Michael Ryan, Assistant Superintendent of Schools Credits: Jonathan Sym
Millburn freshman expressing concerns over Chinese AP exam waiting list. Credits: Jonathan Sym
Sharyn Stein Berezin, PTO Co-President of the Glenwood School Credits: Jonathan Sym

MILLBURN, NJ – Dr. Christine Burton opened Monday’s Board of Education meeting with a comprehensive overview of next year’s school budget. The first view of the budget included planned expenditures in the areas of curriculum and instruction, personnel and technology. These are additional items that would be included in the annual forecast.

The district currently has an annual operating budget of approximately $89 million, which reflects almost no change from the previous year. Though there is a minor $62,000 gap at present, further details and projections will be presented at the Febr. 8 board meeting.

Tax revenue makes up 94 percent of the township’s school budget with the remainder coming from state aid and other revenue sources. Eighty percent of the budget for the 2015/16 fiscal year was spent on salaries and benefits while 20 percent was allocated for discretionary expenditures.

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“The administration presented a close-to-final draft of a balanced budget per the Committee’s request at the last meeting.” Said John Westfall-Kwong, chair of the Finance Committee.  “There are a few significant variables that we’re still waiting to have finalized prior to the presentation of the final draft budget.”

Estimates for the forthcoming school year may be more complex this time around depending on the referendum, which includes the purchase of the Millburn Regional Day School, safety and structural upgrades to current buildings and higher operating costs to maintain an additional educational facility.  

Though the specific initiatives and projects to be contained within the referendum are still a work-in-process, the current estimate for the purchase and approved items is approximately $24 million. This, however, does not factor in state aid of up to 40 percent on certain items such as upgrades to heating and cooling systems, bathrooms and structural repairs. The board recently received confirmation from the state that many projects would be eligible for state reimbursement. 

Westfall-Kwong also commented, “The Administration is in communication with state officials to find out whether the District would be able to connect a vote affirming additional expenditures necessary for the annual operating expenses of the MRDS facility directly with the vote pertaining to the re-acquisition of that facility. Specifically, they are looking into whether or not it’s possible to include a budget increase question with referendum questions.”

The current population within the district stands at 4,935 students and is projected to rise to 4,986 by 2019. This number does not reflect any estimates that could arise from the Mack-Cali development.  The administration is currently working with demographic subject matter experts to determine the potential impact to the township’s student population.  On a related matter, the District has confirmed the residencies of all students currently attending Millburn township public schools.

Details on the budget and the budgeting process will be discussed at the upcoming open forum to be held on Sunday, Jan. 31 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Millburn Free Public Library auditorium.  Members of the community are invited to meet the new members of the Board of Education and take advantage of this annual occasion to ask questions, get answers about the school budget, the referendum and other school issues.  

The preliminary budget and related financial information can be viewed on the district’s website.  

Assistant Superintendent Michael Ryan announced that the District will be participating in the federal Seal of Biliteracy program, the objective of which is “to recognize linguistic proficiency of high school students.” Said Ryan.

In order for a student to receive this seal a student would have to score a three or better on the AP exam or the equivalent on a proficiency exam and achieve a 750 on a PARCC assessment.   There are 43 Millburn High School students who currently qualify for this designation.

A freshman at Millburn High School spoke during the public comments who expressed concern over the current waiting list to take the Chinese AP exam.   Currently, priority is given to those students who are enrolled in the Chinese AP program, upper classman, then lower classman.  Given that there are more students desiring to take the AP exam than there are resources, he was concerned about being on the waitlist and his chances of passing at a later date.

His concerns were shared by many in the audience who came out to show support for a resolution to this issue.  The Board was highly receptive to community’s concerns and stated that they would make it a high priority to accommodate every student desiring to take the exam in the current cycle.

Sharyn Stein Berezin, PTO Co-President of the Glenwood School, voiced her concern that a segment of the Township’s student population may be under represented due to privacy issues of coming forward at board meetings and expressing their concerns.  She was talking about children with special needs.

Westfall-Kwong responded by stating the finance committee in coordination with the Superintendent has made special education resources a top issue and details will be forthcoming in future board meetings.

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