SPARTA, NJ- The board of education passed the 2020-2021 budget 8-1 on Wednesday.  The budget is mostly unchanged from the preliminary budget approved in March, with a couple of exceptions.  The public had to listen closely as Superintendent Michael Rossi, Assistant Superintendent Patrick McQueeney and Business Administrator Pam Hinman raced through their portions of the $68,289,713 budget without any presentation for the public to see.Board member Kate Matteson asked Hinman where the power point was. Hinman only offered she tried to load it before the meeting but it would not work. 

“The goal is as it has been every year, to maintain current program of study, maintain what we have,” Rossi said.

As with the preliminary budget, the Mohawk Avenue School playground project took center stage.  Board members voted to amend the budget to move the total allotment to $200,000 though it may be moot.

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Board President Kim Bragg said the board members had received an estimate at noon that day for the drainage work needed to complete the project at the back of the third grade school.  Board members found out that it would likely be an additional $200,000 for the drainage work necessary to construct the playground and basketball blacktop because of the proximity to the Wallkill River.

Board member Kate Matteson had sharp words for both Superintendent Michael Rossi and Business Administrator Pam Hinman.

She began her criticism of Rossi for his last minute work on the playground.  She said when they were first discussing the playground months ago she was told “there is no drainage issue at Mohawk Avenue School.”

Hinman said there currently was not an issue “but there will be an issue after the improvements.”

Matteson continued, “The administrators didn’t do their side of the work…It’s a real fail.”  There were questions about why the drainage issue did not rise to the top sooner, knowing the river was back there and having dealt with the very same issue with the high school turf field project.

Rossi said, “We gave it our full attention.” He said they did not “anticipate drainage to be where we are.  No one did.”  When Matteson asked Architect Greg Somjen said his “team had been contacted sometime this month” prior to the meeting despite the Playground Committee having been meeting for months.

Rossi said, “I had no belief there would be a need for an architect.”

Matteson said she did not understand “why great minds running a $70 million budget couldn’t think of this.”

Board vice president Jen Grana said she agreed with Matteson, “I really hope the dedicated money does prove to do something.” She said she was surprised and disappointed the architect was not brought in sooner.

Parent and Playground Committee member Lauren Collier thanked the board members for increasing the budget for the project to $200,000.  She said if the drainage could not be worked out in the back of the school she hoped another location could be found.  “Why didn’t we look at it sooner,” Collier said.

Somjen had indicated they would look at moving the playground to the front of the building. 

New board member Robert Zywicki asked about the kindergarten aids.  The preliminary budget had six initially for $101,104 allowing each of the 10 sections of kindergarten to have an aid. At the March meeting that number was cut back to two making it a total of five aids. 

Zywicki asked Rossi if he had recommended one for each classroom, given the possibility of “PPE being required when school reopened.” Rossi said he committed to revisiting the topic but did not want to hire the aids only to have to fire them if state aid was cut. 

The state aid numbers are expected prior to school opening in September. Typically, anticipated expenditures for the upcoming year need to be addressed in budget allocations prior to the budget’s approval.  Should the district decide to add the aids for September, that money will now have to be appropriated from some other area of the budget.

Matteson asked Hinman if there had been any attempt to quantify savings realized because of the shutdown. Hinman said she would be looking at that in May.

Hinman said there definitely have been savings from not operating, but it goes away June 30.

Following up on Matteson’s question, Zywicki asked how much roll over fund balance there was last year and how much she was anticipating this year.  Hinman said it was $1.6 million last year and she anticipated at least as much this year.

Details about the budget from Hinman:

The Appropriations:

  • Alpine Elementary School- 21.3%
  • Mohawk Avenue School – 10.2%
  • Helen Morgan School – 36.2%
  • Sparta Middle School – 7.1%
  • Sparta High School – 24.8%

Hinman noted approximately 60% of the budget was pegged for the elementary schools.

The Expenditures:

  • Instruction- 42.5%
  • Benefits -16.8%
  • Buildings and Grounds and Transportation- 16.2%
  • Administration – 7.1%
  • Capital – 1.5%
  • Special Education – 8.3%
  • Support Services – 6.4%

Hinman pointed out approximately 70% of the budget was for classroom education.

The curriculum budget will include: English Language Arts to Text program for first grade, reading interventionist at Alpine, Special Education position and Instruction Internationalists at Helen Morgan, a heath teacher and Eduguide at the middle school, full time nurse, gymnastics, boys volleyball, clinician at West Mountain Academy, expand the Align program and “access to all levels of instruction” at the high school.

Facility budget will include a public address system, security cameras, parking lot paving, flooring, HVAC replacement, dugouts for baseball and softball, swapping gym wall pads from main gym to auxiliary gym/new pads for main gym, bleachers for high school.

For the district the budget includes purchase of science text and resources, purchase a truck, lease of a bus, Special Education Occupational Therapist, 25 electrostatic guns for sanitizing.

“We think we’re canvasing all program of studies, augmenting what we are doing at the elementary schools with resources,” Rossi said. “We think we’re hitting all areas of studies."

The tax levy impact is 2.67% using $388,201 from cap bank for one time purchases including a truck, sound system, bleachers and mats for the high school, Hinman said. The tax impact for the average assessed home of $369,700, is including debt service is $155.07.

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