City School District Drafts $23 Million Preschool Budget

Jessica Zina teaches her New Brunswick preschool class in December 2016.

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – The school district’s citywide, largely state-funded preschool program is expected to run nearly $23.2 million in the upcoming school year, for an increase of about $375,000 from the current budget.

The New Brunswick Public Schools Board of Education approved the submission of the pre-K budget, which may still change, last week. The plan outlines how the district will spend money on the 1,542 kids who are projected to attend preschool during the 2017-18 academic year.

“The same program we’re running this year is the same program we’re running next year,” Business Administrator Richard Jannarone told TAPinto New Brunswick, noting that the spending plan doesn’t call for cuts to programs or staff.

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At this point, state officials are reviewing the draft budget. They may suggest changes to New Brunswick’s administration before giving it their stamp of approval.

What the state thinks of the budget is important because most of the money comes from its coffers. Of the $23.2 million tab, district officials expect New Jersey to pick up more than $20.8 million, according to the budget planning worksheet.

Another $1.7 million is slated to be carried over from this year’s state-granted preschool education aid.

Local taxpayers could pay $632,000 toward preschool in New Brunswick next year, according to district documents. That money would come from the regular operating budget, covering programs for children with special needs, whose preschool education isn’t paid for by the state, Jannarone said.

Employee pay and benefits and the rising expenses of third-party preschool providers account for most of the spending increase, according to the document.

Unlike most New Jersey towns, New Brunswick is required to offer preschool classes, Jannarone said. That’s because the school district is a former Abbott district, a label applied to poor communities whose schools in turn receive additional state money.

To meet that requirement, the school district has agreements with outside preschool providers, who are expected to take in more than 1,000 students next year, Jannarone said. Roughly $14.4 million of next year’s pre-K budget would fund those preschool classes, according to the draft budget.

The Puerto Rican Action Board holds preschool classes at six locations in New Brunswick. Catholic Charities, Acelero, Campus Kids, Noah’s Ark, Mt. Zion and Tiny Tots also have contracts with the district, according to the document.

“They follow the school district’s curriculum, too,” Jannarone said. “Everybody’s on the same page.”

But the district doesn’t hand them blank checks. Jannarone said the providers are reimbursed for what they spend on education, which includes rent costs and salaries for teachers and paraprofessionals, who are paid in line with the district’s salary guide, among other things.

Each year, the state audits some of those third-party providers.

Gov. Chris Christie is expected to announce next month exactly how much state education aid New Brunswick will receive.

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