SPARTA, NJ – Linda Alvarez, business administrator for the Sparta school district, presented a preliminary budget to the members of the board of education and public at the meeting last week.

After noting the budget was the “fiscal plan to accomplish educational objectives and academic excellence,” she discussed the timeline of the budget development.  She noted state aid is flat, showing no increase from this year to next. 

The budget for next year has been based on a tax levy increase of 2 percent, with the offset of closing out the high school reconstruction account, using the $700,000 to reduce the debt payment on the bonds.  There will also be long term saving due to the mandated bond refunding done to take advantage of more favorable rates.  This refunding was described by Alvarez as being similar to refinancing a homeowner’s mortgage, with the savings being realized over the life of the loan.

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Alvarez explained that 86.18 percent of the school budget comes from the local tax levy.  An additional 9.8 percent from state aid, 1.6 percent from surplus, .5 percent from Extraordinary Aid and .36 percent from miscellaneous sources. 

On the expenditure side, Alvarez showed the budget allocations in two different ways: where the money goes and expenditures by department.

First she indicated 75.7 percent of the budget goes to pay contractual salaries and benefits.  The other categories are:

  • Transportation 6.3 percent,
  • Maintenance, Custodian, Security 5.7 percent,
  • Special Education 5.5 percent,
  • Regular Education 1.9 percent,
  • Administration and Technology 1.7 percent,
  • Equipment and Capital 1.6 percent,
  • Charter Schools 0.6 percent,
  • Nurse, Guidance, Child Study Team, Media 0.3 percent,
  • Athletics and Co-Curriculars 0.4 percent,
  • Curriculum and Instruction 0.2 percent   

As is the case every year, there are proposed cuts to the budget.  School districts are required to have a balanced budget and mandated to keep increases to the tax levy no greater than 2 percent.  Contractual obligations and other items such as transportation and utilities make up approximately 85 percent of the budget, leaving little discretionary spending in the budget. 

The budget includes $161,993 in savings realized due to retirement breakage.  Breakage is the difference in the amount of money being paid to a person leaving the district, in these cases due to retirement and the salary that will be necessary to hire a new person into that position. Breakage this year, according to Alvarez, comes from a science and an English teacher at the high school, intervention instruction teacher at Helen Morgan, Main Office secretaries at Alpine and Mohawk Avenue School and a bus driver.

Additional savings were to come from other reductions including:

  • Pre-K and Grade 1 teachers at Alpine school,
  • Grade 3 teacher at MAS,
  • Grade 4 and Language Learning Disabilities teachers at Helen Morgan,
  • Modern Living and Chinese teachers at the middle school,
  • TCC teacher at the high school.

Other positions were to be added to the budget.  Mohawk Avenue School would add two LLD aides and increase the guidance counselor to a full time position and the principal from 11 to 12 months.  At Helen Morgan there would be an additional aide for a student, the middle school would add a part time media secretary.  A Learning Disabilities teacher consultant would be added to the district.  Currently the LDTC is an outside contractor. 

Other, non-staffing reductions would include reallocation of technology expenditures and anticipated savings due to restructuring the busing routes.  The new plan is to tier the Helen Morgan and Mohawk Avenue schools together onto the same busses.  Additional savings were planned based on projected expenditures for heating oil, social security and PERS contributions, accumulated sick payouts and modern living supplies. 

New to the budget next year is a full day kindergarten program.  The anticipated cost has been projected at $650,248. There will also be a STEM Academy at the high school for incoming freshmen.  The anticipated cost for curriculum and materials is approximately $30,000.

Alvarez concluded the presentation with an explanation of class size, which is not anticipated to increase for next year.  Citing a declining enrollment of approximately 200 students primarily at the elementary levels, the reduction in staffing will keep class size close to where it is this year.  There is no projected change to the class sizes at the middle and high school.

Finally, a comparison in per pupil expenditures continues to show Sparta at the bottom for Sussex county districts with high schools and in comparison to other districts similar to Sparta demographically. 

The board members will continue to discuss the budget.  They are expected to approve a tentative budget to be sent to the County Superintendent at the March 16 board meeting.  There will be a public hearing for the budget, presently scheduled for April 27.