WARREN, NJ - The Watchung Hills Regional High School Board of Education approved the tentative 2017-18 budget on Tuesday after hearing from a room full of music students and parents in attendance pleading for additional funding for the school's music programs.
Enrollment is declining. The projected enrollment for the 2017-2018 school year is 2,046 students, which is approximately 60 less than 2016-17, but band participation is increasing.
Given the high student participation in the school's music program, band parents and students asked the board to consider growing the program by including an additional music teacher and music ensemble level in the budget.
Juniors, and co-drum majors, Emma Marzalek and Carl Petersen talked about the positive experiences they've had in the music program including the band room being a "safe and loving environment," and that "in creating music in an ensemble you learn to listen and respect each other" and that the program "instills the values of hard work, commitment and respect."
Parents Joelle Strona and Joe Horan expressed the positive impact music has had on their students and asked the board to consider additional funding to expand the music program.
While not promising anything, Superintendent Elizabeth Jewett explained that even though the tentative budget doesn't include additional funding for the music program, funding may be found after scheduling is finalized.
The board was in agreement to make funding for the arts a priority.
The budget includes some hefty uncontrollable costs like healthcare and special education related needs and a four percent tax levy-exceeding the state’s two percent tax levy cap - which was made possible by using saved healthcare waiver funds of $279,862 and cap bank funds of $306,805.
The 2017/2018 Total Expenditures equal $41,430,781 less anticipated revenue of $10,924,079 and nets taxes to be raised totaling $30,506,702.
Business Administrator Timothy Stys explained that the four percent tax levy affects all four sending districts differently based on a formula provided by the state:
Warren Township- increase of $128 on an average assessed home value of $738,628;
Long Hill Township- increase of $93 on an average assessed home value of $498,564;
Watchung - increase of $16 on an average assessed home valued at $701,243;
And Green Brook pays tuition so the tax levy increase isn't applicable.
After taking into consideration the uncontrollable costs, the district has a list of projects to fund investing in the maintenance of the school and in programs for students including:
an upgrade to the wireless network,
adding 500 Chromebooks for a proposed 1:1 initiative and adding 130 teacher laptops,
and improving the building systems like the exterior HVAC to help control utility costs.
State aid for the school year is estimated to be $992,398.
Board member Glenn Mastrobattista said, "it's a shame the band has to come here and beg for money."
The tentative budget will now be presented to the Executive County Superintendent of Schools with a public hearing scheduled for Tuesday, April 25 for the board vote.