Edison school budget anticipates enrollment surge, funds armed officers

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EDISON – With an expectation of 300 additional students in September, the Edison Township Public Schools’ 2019-20 budget reflects what is needed to accommodate the growing and overcrowded school district, according to district administrators.

On Oct. 15, 2018, the enrollment was 14,884 pupils. The estimated enrollment for Oct. 15, 2019 is 15,141 pupils. District administrators said Edison schools have seen a 10-year increase in enrollment of 2,375 students (16.75%).

“We’re not just throwing numbers out there,” Business Administrator Dan Michaud said. “We go over these numbers with a fine-tooth comb.”

The $262.11 million budget for 2019-20 reflects the addition of 20 teaching staff members and 13 additional staff members from grounds maintenance, secretary and nurses, to teachers at the elementary school and middle school levels, and additional supervisors.

“This is what we need for operation as we expect another 300 students next year,” Michaud said.

Until the presentation and final adoption of the budget at a meeting on May 6, Michaud said, officials were having discussions and making reductions to the budget.

Board of Education President Jerry Shi said the board members made sure the reductions did not affect the education of the children. He said the reductions were made to vendor services and insurance line items.

“We tried to be as responsible as possible and not impact our kids’ day-to-day classes,” he said.

The board adopted the $262.11 million budget, an increase of $9.78 million (4.55%) from the $250.68 million 2018-19 budget.

The 2019-20 tax levy to be paid by Edison’s residential and commercial property owners will be $224.7 million, an increase of $2.28 million (1%) from $222.42 million in the 2018-19 school budget.

The school district will receive $23.2 million in state aid for 2019-20, which administrators said is an increase of $6.7 million from 2018-19.

In 2018-19, the school tax rate was $3.04 per $100 of assessed valuation. The owner of a home assessed at the township average of $178,300 paid about $5,420 in school taxes.

In 2019-20, the school tax rate is projected to be $3.10 per $100 of assessed valuation. The owner of a home assessed at the township average of $178,300 will pay about $5,527 in school taxes.

District administrators said negotiated teacher salaries and transportation costs, which are a problem across the state due to lack of drivers, are the biggest drivers of the budget.

The instruction budget totals $129.04 million, an increase of $4.21 million from 2018-19. The transportation budget totals $15.93 million, an increase of $3.38 million from 2018-19.

The 2019-20 budget reflects an increase in costs in special education tuition, related services and transportation, and meets health benefit contractual obligations. Premiums are reduced by $8 million through employee contributions, administrators said.

The budget allows for the continuation of the one-to-one initiative for MAC Books for every student in grades nine through 12; inclusion of technology improvements with bandwidth, instructional software, computer workstations and internet connection using fiber optics; provides one additional technology secretary to coordinate and implement operational needs of the technology department; and provides for the expansion of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) program for grades nine through 12.

Also included in the budget are salaries for armed Class III Special Law Enforcement Officers (SLEO) for the schools. The security budget totals $2.57 million, an increase of $61,968 from 2018-19.

Under state law, Class III SLEOs are retired, fully-trained police officers under the age of 65 who will be authorized to carry police department issued service weapons.

Township officials and police department representatives initially presented the proposed plan for 20 Class III officers to the board in July 2018. Board members subsequently approved the plan. The Class III officers will be assigned to public schools in the fall and will supplement the district’s 25 full-time security officers.

Preliminary estimates show the board will save as much $356,500, according to Maureen Ruane, who is the municipality’s business administrator.

The board’s contract with the township requires the school district to pay $3,186 per day – for a total of $573,500 during the 180-day school year – to hire, train, supervise and equip the Class III officers.

School district administrators also agreed to pay for the new special officers to attend a state-mandated school resource officer training course before they are deployed to the schools.

The school budget also provides funding for a director of school safety and security to align with the district security plan, and it provides a wide area of video network for instruction and security platforms.

The 2019-20 budget allocates funds for facility maintenance, including the replacement of roofs at four schools and improvements to Woodrow Wilson Middle School with the addition of 10 modular classrooms, and replacement of bleachers and the cafeteria floor.

Board members are working with SSP Architects, Bridgewater, on a proposed referendum for September to address the ongoing increase in enrollment.

The district has two high schools, four middle schools, nine elementary schools, one intermediate school and one primary school, and operates a preschool program.

The enrollment situation calls for John P. Stevens High School to add 40 classrooms to fill in for the 1,000 seats the school is over capacity. Edison High School needs to add 23 classrooms. Also, the needs call for about 40 classrooms to be added to John Adams Middle School, James Madison Intermediate, and the John Marshall and Lincoln elementary schools.