Manalapan-Englishtown school board to introduce budget for 2020-21

The Manalapan-Englishtown Regional School District Board of Education may introduce its budget for the 2020-21 school year when it meets on March 17.

The spending plan for the upcoming school year will incorporate a $2.3 million reduction in state aid.

Board members and district administrators discussed the 2020-21 budget in general terms during a meeting on March 3. The financial impact of the budget on residential and commercial property owners in Manalapan and Englishtown was not discussed.

The school district’s 2019-20 budget totaled $93.44 million and was supported by the collection of $68.3 million in taxes from property owners in Manalapan and Englishtown.

The 2019-20 school year saw a continuing reduction in the district’s state aid in accordance with legislation known as S-2 that was signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy in 2018. State aid to the district declined from $18.77 million in 2018-19 to $17.23 million in 2019-20.

For the 2020-21 school year, the district’s state aid will be reduced to $14.93 million, according to information released by the New Jersey Department of Education.

According to Manalapan-Englishtown administrators, the district’s state aid is scheduled to be reduced by an additional $2.93 million for 2021-22, by an additional $2.7 million for 2022-23, by an additional $1.7 million for 2023-24 and by an additional $540,000 for 2024-25.

Manalapan-Englishtown is among a group of New Jersey school districts that have filed a lawsuit against the state as a result of S-2. The Freehold Regional High School District is also a party to the legal action.

During the discussion of the budget on March 3, Superintendent of Schools John J. Marciante Jr. said the district has been “lucky and good” in terms of its finances. He said the district will be able to absorb the $2.3 million reduction in state aid without compromising the educational program.

“Several things we did for the (2019-20) school year helped us,” he said, explaining those decisions included charging higher fees for the use of the district’s athletic fields and charging fees for students to participate in school clubs and sports.

In addition, a significant number of employees retired and their health benefits came off the district’s books and were not replaced, Marciante said.

The district received additional money ($500,000) for special education services and administrators negotiated one-year contracts in the face of the uncertain state aid picture, the superintendent said.

“Even though we are among the districts being hit the most (by a reduction in state aid), we are managing our budget in a way that does not require major cuts for 2020-21,” Marciante said. “However, we are not doing the major maintenance issues we have done in the past … nobody sees those cuts, but they are happening.”

Business Administrator Veronica Wolf said $69 million of the district’s 2020-21 budget will pay for personnel in the form of salaries, benefits and pensions. District staff will pay $3.5 million toward their healthcare costs, which she said represents a significant increase from as recently as five years ago.

Wolf said the total tax levy to be paid by property owners in Manalapan and Englishtown to support the 2020-21 budget is expected to increase by $1.3 million from 2019-20. She said the increase in the tax levy does not keep pace with the loss in state aid for the upcoming school year.