WOODBRIDGE – Nothing takes the place of being in the classroom with a teacher.
With that in mind, the Woodbridge Township School District’s administration and the Woodbridge Board of Education (BOE) felt strongly about providing extra supplemental instruction after the school year ends on June 10 – a summer skills bridge program and individual instruction for students via distance learning.
The summer skills bridge program is funded in next year’s 2020-21 budget and individual instruction for students is funded in this year’s budget and funding will continue next year.
“We want to make sure when we come back in September all our students are where they need to be academically and emotionally,” Schools Superintendent Robert Zega said. “We are very happy and proud that we will be able to offer students some additional instruction and some additional reinforcement.”
The Woodbridge BOE adopted the $263.66 million budget at a meeting on April 30. Board members Dan Harris and Ezio Tamburello abstained from the adoption.
The 2020-21 school budget is supported by the collection of a $187.21 million tax levy from the township’s residential and commercial property owners.
The school district’s 2019-20 budget totaled $249.44 million and was supported by the collection of $183.54 in a local tax levy.
District administrators said for the owner of a home assessed at the township average of $75,000, school taxes will increase by $110 from 2019-20, which saw a $35 school tax increase. The average homeowner will pay $4,393 in school taxes from $4,283 during the 2019-20 school year.
Zega said the district expects $53.24 million in state aid, an increase of $11.9 million from last year.
The superintendent said last year’s increase in state aid of $10.9 million went towards tax relief; however, this year he recommended the proposed state aid increase remain in the school budget due to the unknown circumstances with the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The budget includes the use of revenue sources – $22.14 million in surplus, $312,735 in Special Education Medicaid Initiative and $750,000 in miscellaneous funds.
The district is receiving additional revenue sources from solar renewable energy credits of $1 million; a federal E-rate funding program of $23,000; grants – a safety grant in the amount of $74,100, a JROTC (Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) grant in the amount of $61,500 and a Middlesex County Education Association grant in the amount of $79,000; annual vending commissions of $120,000; and interest income of $870,000.
Instruction, 36%, employee benefits, 20%, and special education, 19%, take up the majority of the budget expenditures, Zega said.
The budget supports a number of new curriculum, pilot programs, revised curriculum and continued programs.
New curriculum include Google Gurus, where students can receive their Google certification; meteorology; piano; African American studies; history of sports; American sign language III; screen writing and film production; physical education project adventure; health – Erin’s Law addendum; and grade five writing.
Pilot programs include illustration, fashion design and piano II at the high school level and benchmark literacy for select grades 1-4.
The budget supports technology advances to keep the district up to date including a new district app, a one-to-one iPad upgrade for grade eight and teacher classroom technology upgrades.
The district is opening an autism program, a preschool disabled program, additional kindergarten classes and continuing and expanding Effective School Solutions, which partners with school districts to help implement mental health programs, in the elementary and middle school levels.
School district projects supported in the budget include fire alarm system upgrades, asphalt and concrete paving, heating, ventilation and air conditioning upgrades at Woodbridge High School, and upgrades to all locations to comply with Alyssa’s Law, which requires public schools to install silent panic alarms.
The district, which has 17 elementary schools, five middle schools, and three high schools, is estimated to have 12,611 students as of Oct. 15, an enrollment increase of 346 students. The Woodbridge Township cost per pupil is $13,716 as of the 2018-19 school year, which is below the state average cost per pupil of $16,599.
Harris and Tamburello suggested in light of COVID-19 to use $1.5 million of the $22 million of surplus towards tax relief, which would bring the tax rate increase from $110 to $75 for the average homeowner. Zega said the measure would not cut any programs or staff.
Board member Jonathan Triebwasser said in normal circumstances he would agree with Harris and Tamburello’s position as taxes are an absolute concern. He said he was concerned with the uncertain variables of social distancing and the impact it would have on school reopening in September.
“Social distancing will significantly impact our transportation lines and we have to take into consideration, we may have to buy PPE (personal protective equipment) for students, staff and support staff,” he said.
Triebwasser noted the district had additional expenses that were not foreseen for the 2019-20 budget with a special needs transportation and health and environmental costs.
“If we’re not careful, we may find ourselves having to cut programs as a last ditch effort to be able to supply services that we need,” he said.
Harris said overall the 2020-21 school budget is a good budget. From a taxpayer’s standpoint, he felt district administrators could have done better.
“For many, many years we have been underfunded [with state aid] and as a result we were hyper-efficient about the ways we find our dollars,” he said. “As we are gaining more, we have lost our way a little bit.”
Harris said he will work with the administration on ways the district can spend more efficiently.