SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – At their April 27 meeting, the South Plainfield Board of Education (BOE) voted 9-0 in favor of the district’s 2016-2017 budget of $59.7 million. In passing the spending plan, the BOE also approved the elimination of several teaching and/or aide positions and a major revision to the district’s K-4 Spanish program effective September 2016.

“We’ve been working on the budge since August … and I would like to commend the board for their diligent work over the past seven months,” Interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. Joanna Ruberto told the more than 70 residents in attendance. “The budget is not a single person’s budget; it is the result of collaboration, analysis and review.”

By definition, added Ruberto, the school district’s budget is the financial plan that represents the academic programs a district must deliver to the children. “We must always be compliant with the state in the delivery of programs,” she said.

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South Plainfield’s 2016-2017 spending plan is comprised of three components: Fund 10 (operating): $57,311,572 of which a little more than 80 percent (or close to $46 million) is personnel costs (salaries and benefits); Fund 20 (local, state and federal grants): $1,170,003; and Fund 40 (repayment of debt): $1,223,625.

Of the total budget, $47.6 million will be raised through local taxes and, as a result, the new tax rate will be approximately 0.3371 percent for an increase of roughly $121/year (or $10/month) on an average South Plainfield home assessed at $122,000. For 2016-2017, the district is anticipating a $33,710 increase in state aid for a total state aid reimbursement of $9.2 million. Additional fund balance and miscellaneous revenue will account for the difference.

“State aid for the state has gone up but the money that goes to the district has remained flat … and funding for special education has been underfunded,” said Ruberto, adding, “They might be putting in the newspaper that schools are getting more state aid and they are when you look at the budget’s amount but is not coming into district … The extra money is going to pay off the debt service for construction and pensions.”

Another factor affecting the district’s budget is that the 2-percent cap in which New Jersey school districts are allowed to increase the tax levy. District’s, however, are allowed to utilize the health benefits waiver to exceed the cap and for 2016-2017, South Plainfield’s utilization of the health benefits waiver is $549,184, to make up the difference over the cap.

The 2016-2017 budget supports, complies and preserves curriculum and programming adhering to the Common Core Standards and the New Jersey Common Core Content Standards as well as special education.

It also maintains class size in K-4, and provides for required curriculum revision and required textbook replacement. Also included is required professional development; the continuation of LinkIt! (data warehouse system and student online testing) and other support programs (IXL, Brain POP, Core Clicks K-5, and Learn 360); maintaining of the district’s athletic program; and the introduction of Robotics III, Latin and Italian III at the high school.

With the cap set at 2 percent – and expenses increasing at much higher rates, even with the waiver – there isn’t a lot of wiggle room left in South Plainfield’s budget. As a result, in establishing the spending plan, the board of education was faced with some difficult decisions.

Among them include the restructuring of the special education department, which will lead to the reduction of numerous paraprofessional positions. Additionally, several tenured and non-tenured teaching positions and a K-4 program will be eliminated and new programs, such as a middle school Italian, which had been proposed to start during the 2016-2017 school year, have been scratched.

Specifically, at the high school, two tenured teacher positions (Spanish and math) will be eliminated due to scheduling while a guidance position and a secretarial position vacated due to retirement will not be refilled. At the elementary level, two non-tenured teachers positions have been eliminated along with two reading support staff (K-5) positions and two tenured foreign language (K-4) positions.

“No one of the board, not one administrator or any of the people we consulted in establishing this budget with have an agenda,” said Ruberto. “The decisions the board made were hard decisions. They were 360 decisions and they weren’t arbitrary. They weren’t made without careful decision.”

The South Plainfield School District, as of April 15, 2016, has an enrollment of 3,531 students among its seven schools (including the Future Stars preschool) and 537 employees (351 certificated, 23 administration and 163 non-certificated such as bus drivers, aides, secretaries, etc.)

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