By KAYLA J. MARSH
The Middletown Township Public School District has introduced a $168 million tentative budget that calls for the hiring of additional staff and the implementation of new programs and technology services to support student success.
The Board of Education voted to introduce the budget at its March 16 meeting.
“I think what really jumps out when you look at our mission statement … is that we are providing students with a rigorous and relevant education … and motivating them to recognize and develop their full potential as responsible citizens,” Superintendent William O. George III said.
“We have a higher standard in Middletown of what we expect as a community and have a high expectation of providing more than just an appropriate education.”
The proposed total budget for the 2016-17 school year, $167,903,250, is an approximately $3.6 million increase over the 2015-16 school year’s total budget of $164,298,191.
The proposed budget includes a tax levy of $133,982,086 — up from the 2015-16 levy of $131.4 million.
For township residents, the budget includes an estimated school tax rate of $1.341 per $100 of assessed value.
The owner of a home valued at the township average of $402,547 would pay $101.07 more in school taxes, a monthly increase of $8.42.
The proposed budget is in compliance with the state-mandated 2 percent levy cap law.
According to officials, the tax levy funds approximately 86 percent of the budget; state aid funds 11 percent; the fund balance, money saved out of each year’s budget and dedicated to a future budget, has decreased from .83 percent to .67 percent; capital reserve funds about 1.2 percent of the budget and the remaining 1.13 percent is funded by a variety of sources.
“Approaching this budget is a process … and we did things a little differently this year and did it in a way where we all came together at the same time instead of individually and came up with common goals … and looked at what was going to be important, what we needed in terms of resources,” George said.
“These changes are made looking at our per pupil needs per building, looking programmatically at changes we need to make and looking at where we are now and how many students [are] coming in next year.”
At the high school level, George said the district is looking to add a business teacher at Middletown North, a history teacher at Middletown South and two special education teachers at Middletown South.
At the middle school level, George said the district is looking to add special education teachers at Thorne and Thompson as well as a special education resource official at each of the three middle schools to help develop the program. The district is also looking to add a language arts teacher and a science/social studies teacher at Thompson, an educational technology specialist that will be shared and a music teacher at Bayshore.
At the elementary level, George said the district is looking to add a shared social behavior support specialist, a grade level teacher at Harmony and a special education teacher for Navesink.
“In addition, technology tutor stipends are proposed for all three levels to work with students and to work with staff before, during and after the regular school day to make sure we have the opportunity to fully implement all this new technology … to help us deliver the best instruction we can,” George said.
A total of 15.4 new positions are proposed to address specific needs that will be offset by seven projected eliminated positions across the district, resulting in a net personnel increase of about eight full-time positions, according to George.
“We worked with principals to see where we can expand, where we can collapse some sections … so we can efficiently and effectively maximize the educational and the personnel potential,” he said.
Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Jill Takacs said the district has 17 areas where it will be working on curricular revisions to align with adopted state standards, including the Next Generation Science Standards.
“We will also include in this budget professional development to support new adoptions, intervention groups for struggling students and state mandates,” she said.
“We will have continued development and revision of our benchmark assessments so that we can obtain data on how our children are learning and pace out teaching after that, and we will have continued training for teachers in Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop.”
Takacs said the district will continue with its after-school tutoring program and summer remedial and enrichment program and will continue and implement new K-5 literacy and mathematics intervention programs, monitoring them in order to determine effectiveness.
Business Administrator Amy Gallagher discussed some of the technology initiatives the district would be undergoing for the 2016-17 school year.
“We have over the past several years done a lot with technology and bringing new devices to students,” she said.
“Next year we have to start to address the replacement of three- and four-year-old Chromebooks and will continue upgrading classroom and lab computers … and we will continue wireless network improvements and other infrastructure improvements to accommodate the increased number of devices we have.
“We will also do some additional projection/smartboards installations at the secondary grade level, and we will also be looking to do some upgrades to the HSS television studio.”
Capital projects included in the budget consist of the High School North track replacement; HVAC replacements at both the Middletown North and Middltown South bubbles; elevator replacements at Middletown North and New Monmouth Elementary School; continued floor tile replacements at Lincroft Elementary School in about nine classrooms; some other small building improvements and equipment purchases that are primarily in the area of facilities, such as cleaning equipment, and some vehicle replacements.
“The total increase in the district’s operating budget between 2011-12 and the proposed 2016-17 budget, which highlights a five-year period, is about 7.5 percent or 1.5 percent per year,” Gallagher said. “The total increase in the general fund tax levy for the same period, including the proposed 2016-17 budget is 8.2 percent or about 1.6 percent per year.”
Despite the district remaining consistent with the state-mandated 2 percent tax levy cap, Gallagher said state aid is still deficient.
“In 2009-10 our state aid was cut by $7.2 million or 35 percent, and while we have seen some subsequent increases, [there have] been very minimal increases and we are still $3.1 million less than we were in 2009-10,” she said. “We should be getting nearly $21 million in state aid and are only receiving $17.8 million, so we are still $3.1 million short.”
A public hearing and final adoption of the 2016-17 school budget is tentatively scheduled for April 26.
“We are always looking at cost-saving initiatives,” Gallagher said. “We have in the past done debt service refunding, every year we review our health benefit options, we’ve installed a variety of energy-efficient equipment and are looking to do more on that, we’ve initiated numerous paperless systems and have an active shared services committee with the township.”