Sayreville school budget allocated for security measures, academic enhancements

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(Editor’s note: The Sayreville Board of Education’s introduction of its budget took place during “Let the Children Lead,” where students in the district participated in the place of and under the names of board members and district administrators during the March 20 meeting. The board members’ votes and comments during the meeting described in this article were made by the students under the direction of the board members.)

SAYREVILLE – The Sayreville Board of Education introduced a $95.4 million budget that will pay for the operation of the school district during the 2018-19 school year.

Following a discussion among district administrators and board members, the budget was introduced on March 20. A public hearing and possible adoption is scheduled for May 1.

The budget will be supported by a tax levy of $65.8 million to be paid by the borough’s residential and commercial property owners. Other revenue includes $24.5 million in state aid and $2 million from the district’s surplus (savings) account.

The school district’s 2017-18 budget totaled $93.2 million and was supported by a tax levy of $63.7 million. The average home was assessed at $144,543 and the school tax rate was $2.79 per $100 of assessed valuation. The owner of that home paid $4,032 in school taxes.

For 2018-19, the school tax rate will increase to $2.88 and the average home assessment is estimated at $144,724. The owner of that home will pay $4,168, an increase of $136.

Board President Kevin Ciak, board Vice President Anthony Esposito and board members Christopher Callahan, Lucy Bloom, Karen Rubio and John Walsh voted “yes” on introducing the budget. Board members Daniel Balka, Phyllis Batko and Thomas Biesiada voted “no”.

“The budget presented to me tonight increases the tax levy by 3.39 percent,” Batko said. “This is 1.39 percent over the 2 percent cap. The 2 percent increase would be $1 million and this budget is a $2 million increase. In last year’s budget, the health care costs were over-budgeted by approximately $1 million. This budget presented tonight is requesting approximately $500,000 in additional health care benefits be passed along to the taxpayer over the 2 percent cap. I disagree with passing these additional costs to the taxpayer.

“Also, with the additional state aid, there was a large petition to fund more positions,” she continued. “While I agree with the additional security measures in the budget, I would have liked to see some of the money used for additional technology devices for our students, as well as educational supplies.”

After the votes were cast on the tentative budget, Ciak noted the board recently received the state aid figures for 2018-19, and said he hoped as board members continued to work on the budget, the vote on adopting the final budget would be unanimous.

The 2017-18 budget was supported by $22.3 million in state aid, including $999,361 that was awarded to the district after the budget was adopted. For 2018-19, the state aid will increase to $23.5 million combined in the district’s general and debt service funds, along with $900,000 in anticipated extraordinary aid and $25,000 in anticipated non-public transportation aid to increase the total amount of state aid to $24.5 million.

Following the meeting, Superintendent of Schools Richard Labbe spoke about the benefits of the increase in state aid to the district in 2018-19 and detailed what the state aid and other funds in the budget would be dedicated towards.

“We are naturally very pleased that the board approved the tentative 2018-19 school district budget,” Labbe said. “Moreover, we were elated to learn that the New Jersey Department of Education will be providing our district with about $1.16 million more in state funding next year. While we still are about $15 million below adequate funding, based upon its current funding formula, we are most appreciative to the DoE for the $1 million in equalization that they provided us this year and next year’s increase. As a result of this additional funding, we will be able to accomplish many of the goals that we established in our new four-year strategic action plan that was collaboratively developed by the school community during an education summit held back in September 2017.

“For instance, this budget will fund the most needed renovations of our facilities and infrastructure, particularly projects that will enhance student and staff safety, such as new exterior doors at one of our elementary schools, sidewalk reparations at our middle and upper elementary schools, and the installation of interior and exterior security cameras,” he continued.

Labbe also said the budget will fund several major projects that will enhance the district’s infrastructure.

In addition, it will be used to improve the security of the school buildings.

“[W]e will fund the hiring of Class III police officers at each elementary school and continue to fund the school resource officers, as well as campus security monitors, at our middle and high schools,” Labbe said.

“Additionally, we will continue to use funds to renew our licenses for our two anti-bullying/hazing software systems, and to fund the purchase of needed supplies for the Responsive Classroom and Playworks character education programs currently being implemented at our elementary and upper elementary schools. Likewise, we will use funds from this budget to continue to address the social, emotional and behavioral needs of our students through the utilization of effective school solutions in our high school, Rutgers Behavioral Health in our middle school, and NJCARE behavioral services district-wide.

The grant will fund new instructional positions at Sayreville War Memorial High School: a behavioral disabilities teacher, a French teacher, a computer science teacher and an economics teacher. It will also continue to fund the new Kindergarten-First Grade Fountas and Pinnell Reading System implemented last year.

“Furthermore, it will fund the extension of this program into the second grade in 2018-19. Similarly, the finds from this budget will be used to expand licenses for the Achieve 3000 reading software from students in just grades 6-8 to students in grades 4-8. In addition, funds will be used to purchase a new research-based writing software called ThinkCerca for our at-risk students in grades 9-10.

“Lastly, we will use funds to continue to provide our students with several other very effective and research-based instructional resources, such as ST Math, Math IXL, Ten Marks, Catch-Up Math, RAZ Kids, Project Read, and leveled readers,” he said.

Contact Matthew Sockol at [email protected].