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Millstone school board introduces $39.4M budget for 2019-20

MILLSTONE – The Millstone Township K-8 School District Board of Education has introduced a $39.4 million budget that will fund the operation of the district during the 2019-20 school year.

Following a discussion among district administrators and board members, the budget was introduced on March 11. A public hearing is scheduled for April 29. The budget, which may be revised until that time, may be adopted by the board following the public hearing.

The $39.4 million budget will be supported by a tax levy of $32.2 million to be paid by the township’s residential and commercial property owners. Other revenue includes $508,300 from the district’s surplus fund (savings).

The 2018-19 budget had a school tax rate of $1.692 per $100 of assessed valuation and the average home in the township was assessed at $534,657. The owner of that home paid about $9,045 in school taxes.

For 2019-20, the school tax rate will increase to $1.722 per $100 of assessed valuation. The owner of a home that is still assessed at $534,657 will pay about $9,205 in school taxes, an increase of $160.

School taxes are one component of a property owner’s tax bill, which also includes Monmouth County taxes, Millstone Township municipal taxes and other assessments. Individuals pay more or less in taxes depending on the assessed value of their home and property.

In 2018, the $38.7 million budget adopted by the board for the 2018-19 school year was supported by a tax levy of $31.3 million and $5.2 million in state aid.

However, the district’s state aid allocation changed following negotiations between Gov. Phil Murphy and leaders in the state Legislature which resulted in a bill that trimmed the district’s state aid to $4.7 million, a decrease of $255,316.

For 2019-20, the district will receive $4.5 million in state aid, a decrease of $236,100 from the current school year. Millstone is projected to lose a total of $2.1 million in state aid under the new funding formula through 2024-25, according to district administrators.

“While preparing the budget is always a very involved process, this year was especially challenging,” Superintendent of Schools Christopher Huss said. “For the second year in a row, we suffered a a significant loss of state aid, while expenses such as building operations, special education services, healthcare coverage and out-of-district tuition continue to rise. The funding formula created by the state (known as S-2) appears to ignore these factors, among many others, while over-relying on enrollment data and previous years’ property taxes.

“The state Legislature, unfortunately, believes the residents of Millstone have not been paying their ‘local fair share’ in taxes,” he continued. “That is the exact terminology used in the funding formula and a primary reason why our state aid has been reduced nearly $500,000 in two years.
“Essentially, the legislators have used these cuts to send a message that districts like Millstone should balance their budget by raising local property taxes or reducing spending, which can only be done by cutting programs and raising class sizes,” Huss said.
“If the S-2 funding formula continues to be implemented as it is currently designed and cuts persist through 2025 as projected, difficult decisions will have to be made. Educational programs, key resources and all non-essential support services will be compromised, and the educational experience we have become accustomed to in Millstone will drastically change.
“I applaud our business administrator, Bernie Biesiada, and the members of our Board of Education for working diligently to create and approve a preliminary budget that is as fiscally responsible as possible while avoiding catastrophic impacts to the schools and students. Despite the state’s cuts, we remain committed to doing what is best for the students and steadfast in our mission to stay at the forefront of education.
“We are proud of our cutting-edge STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) electives, robust curriculum, progressive character education programs, commitment to the arts, and extensive extracurricular activities. All of these are supported by this year’s budget and we are hopeful we can maintain them for the foreseeable future,” Huss said.
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