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Officials propose ways to handle increased student enrollment in Monroe

Staff Writer

MONROE — Some 427 new students are projected to come into the Monroe Township School District next school year, according to a recent demographic study.

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“Student enrollment has been growing leaps and bounds,” Schools Superintendent Michael Kozak said. “It is [taxing] on our available resources.”

Nine years ago, the student population was 5,398 during the 2008-09 school year.

This school year, 2016-17, the population is 6,728 students, and for the next school year, 2017-18, the population is projected to increase by 427 for a total of 7,155 students, according to a demographic study by Ross Haber Associates of Milltown.

“That is a small school,” School Business Administrator Michael Gorski said of the growth increase.

As school officials start the budget process, Kozak, Gorski and Dori Alvich, assistant superintendent and district affirmative action officer, presented the administration’s annual conceptual budget philosophy to the Board of Education on Sept. 14.

The board voted in favor of a resolution accepting the administration’s budget philosophy.

With the projected student enrollment growth, Kozak said they will have to continually add staff members, facilities, furniture, desks and more.

“It would be irresponsible for us to wait until we are ready to build a new school or to start planning for it,” he said.

Kozak said a number of developments are already being built, which were depicted through photographs in the presentation.

“The homes will be built and sold before the opportunity for us to build a new school,” he said.

In July, school officials presented a recommended plan to the Board of Education to construct a new addition on the high school, a new elementary school and a new middle school.

Gorski said the projected amount of students is extraordinary.

“It is very difficult at an administrative standpoint to keep up with facility needs as well as student instructional needs,” he said.

The conceptual budget philosophy is an idea, considerations and recommendations of what the district needs are. The administrators said not all needs would be met as they move forward in the budget process.

Budget appropriation considerations in transportation include fleet replacements for safety and enrollment growth.

Gorski said four passenger buses with cameras, two passenger vans with cameras and three additional contracted drivers with benefits are needed to accommodate enrollment growth and reduce contracted routes, including special education-needed van routes.

Capital improvement considerations include a partial roof replacement at Barclay Brook Elementary School; construction of a bus parking lot at a new site on Route 522; repaving an existing bus parking lot; asphalt paving at Barclay Brook and Monroe Township Middle School; and sealant, coating and restriping at Oak Tree Elementary School.

Additional capital improvement considerations include replacing pre-K and kindergarten playground surfacing and equipment at Mill Lake Elementary School; restoring and painting structured steel exterior columns at the middle school; and replacing carpet and providing maintenance at the Marasco Performing Arts Center (PAC) at the high school and instrument and music classroom spaces at the middle school.

Also, the purchase of a dump truck and a truck replacement for snow plowing are planned.

Alvich said some items for curriculum and instruction in the presentation have been requested for a few years.

Due to the increased enrollment expectations, the district would need to purchase 170 new Apple iPads for next year, provide industrial arts equipment maintenance at the middle and high schools and purchase lockers for the middle school.

“In our middle school, we are out of student lockers,” Alvich said. “As we continue to get more students at the middle school, we need to increase the number of lockers for our students.”

Alvich said they would like to provide more team sport offerings in the middle school to include football, girls’ volleyball and boys’ and girls’ track.

“Over 450 students tried out for middle school sport teams, and we had only 150 spots,” she said.

For Monroe Township High School, Alvich said that the school does not field a boys’ volleyball team, which is somewhat rare for a Group 4 school. High schools in New Jersey are classified by groups due to enrollments. Group 4 is the largest of the four groups.

There has also been interest in forming a swim team, she said.

Marching band and football uniforms need to be replaced.

Additional budget considerations are the creation of a middle school career center and clubs and a senior option where seniors would have the opportunity to take college courses and intern and work in the community.

Also, there is a need to replace the middle school science textbooks, ELA reading classroom, the exploratory business textbook and Math iBooks.

With the enrollment growth, there is a need for an additional 21 certified staff positions including eight middle school teachers — five content area, one special education and two physical education; four high school teachers in special education and physical/health education; one reading specialist at the elementary level; two elementary technology staff members; four elementary teachers; one child study team; one nurse; two security guards; a secretary at the middle school; assistant principals at the middle school and elementary schools; and a Marasco PAC coordinator.

Also needed are four full-time equivalent paraprofessionals.

School officials said they will continue to fight for fair, equitable funding.

“We have done everything expected from an administration and board to solicit fair, equitable state aid funding because of the gross injustice for taxpayers in this community to have to pay 88-89 percent of resources required for public education [while] the state commits less than 2 percent,” Gorski said.

School officials said despite the student growth projection, preliminary reports have shown ratable growth may be slightly higher than the preceding year in the township, which will have a favorable impact on tax rates.

Gorski said because of incredible negotiations with a health-care provider, they were able to present a budget that was $600,000 under the 2 percent cap for the 2016-17 school-year budget.

This year with the demands of student growth projections and the anticipated negotiations with the Monroe Township Administrators Association and Monroe Township Education Association, the district does not have that luxury. School officials have proposed to spend up to the 2 percent cap.

Board member Michele Arminio said it has been her philosophy of not allowing to spend to the 2 percent cap.

“But we are constrained by the necessity that we don’t have control over with the construction and building,” she said.

Board member Marvin Braverman had voted against the resolution. He said he felt the resolution handcuffs the administration in their decisions with the projected extraordinary growth.

Board President Steven Riback said the Monroe school district has a serious problem.

“This budget presents a philosophy, which has to be sensitive to the taxpayer and sensitive to the students and staff,” he said. “How to come up with a balance takes a tremendous amount of work having to keep the school system above par. Students deserve a quality education and taxpayers deserve a quality fiscal management … we are working hard to provide that.”

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@gmnews.com.

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