By Matthew Sockol
MILLSTONE – The Millstone Township K-8 School District Board of Education has adopted a preliminary budget that will pay for the operation of the school district during the 2016-17 school year.
Following a discussion among district administrators and board members at a March 21 meeting, a $37.5 million budget that will fund the operation of the district from July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017 was introduced.
The 2016-17 budget, which could be amended prior to its final adoption, will be supported by a tax levy of $30.9 million to be paid by Millstone’s residential and commercial property owners, plus $4.99 million in state aid and $609,000 from the district’s surplus funds (savings), according to information provided by the district.
The school district’s 2015-16 budget totaled $37.95 million and was supported by a tax levy of $30.1 million. The average home was assessed at $496,600, the school tax rate was $1.74 per $100 of assessed valuation and the owner of that home paid $8,641 in school taxes.
The school tax rate for 2016-17 will decrease to $1.66 per $100 of assessed valuation, but the average home is now assessed at $532,000 and the owner of that home will pay $8,831 in school taxes over the next 12 months – an increase of $190, according to information provided by district administrators.
School taxes are one component of a property owner’s tax bill, which also includes Monmouth County taxes, Millstone municipal taxes, a fire district tax and other assessments. Individuals pay more or less in taxes depending on the assessed value of their home and/or property.
District administrators said the budget does not feature any new programs for the 2016-17 school year.
During a March 7 meeting, the idea of introducing a full-day kindergarten program to replace the district’s half-day kindergarten program was discussed, but in a straw poll, board members voted 6-2 against including the full-day program in the 2016-17 budget.
Board members John Sico and Amy Jacobson voted to move to full-day kindergarten immediately, while Billy Hanson, Cynthia Bailey, David DePinho, Kevin McGovern, Melissa Riviello and Margaret Gordon voted not to make the move at the present time.
Those opposed requested that full-day kindergarten be removed for the 2016-17 year to avoid adding more costs to a budget that already contains an anticipated tax increase.
In revisiting the issue during the March 21 budget discussion, Sico again made the case for an immediate move to full-day kindergarten.
While the board agreed to revisit the topic of full-day kindergarten for the 2017-18 school year, Sico said he was concerned the program would never be implemented. He noted that the board did not implement full-day kindergarten in years when the budget did not contain a tax increase.
A public hearing on the budget has been scheduled for April 25, to be followed by a vote to adopt the spending plan.
Superintendent of Schools Scott Feder and Business Administrator Bernard Biesiada informed members of the public that the budget that was introduced on March 21 could be changed prior to its final adoption.
“In a preliminary budget you are setting a tax levy to be advertised in the newspaper and seeking approval from the county superintendent,” Biesiada said.
Suggestions from administrators to help lower the budget before its final adoption included staffing reductions related to the district’s decreasing enrollment, administrative reductions and other program-related staffing reductions.
Gordon suggested adopting the preliminary budget as it was presented and working to reduce the spending plan prior to its final adoption.
Hanson said the board members needed to work toward bringing the budget closer to their intended goal before introducing it. He said he was not comfortable voting on a budget that was higher than the panel’s intended amount.
“I would rather advertise (the budget in the newspaper) at a higher number and go down, rather than advertise at a lower number and go up,” Bailey said.
In the end, the board voted to introduce the preliminary budget. Gordon, Bailey, DePinho, Riviello, Sico and Hanson voted yes. Jacobson voted no on the budget’s introduction.
McGovern left the meeting early for personal reasons and was not present when the budget was adopted.
In other business, Gordon was elected board president for the remainder of 2016 in a 6-2 vote, filling a vacancy created by the resignation of John Saxton, the board’s previous president. Gordon, McGovern,Bailey, Riviello, DePinho and Hanson voted yes. Sico and Jacobson cast the no votes on Gordon’s move from vice president to president.
Board members voted 7-0 to elect McGovern as vice president for the remainder of the year. Jacobson abstained from that vote.
With a vacancy on the board, any resident who wishes to apply for the open seat may submit a letter of application to Bernard Biesiada, business administrator, 5 Dawson Ct., Millstone Township, NJ 08535. Letters of application will be accepted until 4 p.m. April 6. Interviews with applicants will be conducted during the board’s April 11 meeting at 7:30 p.m.