Old Bridge superintendent offers ‘hopeful optimism’ as BOE adopts 2020-21 budget


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OLD BRIDGE – Schools Superintendent David Cittadino expressed “hopeful optimism” as school officials moved to approve the 2020-21 budget.

“We know the revenue generated by the state has taken a hit during COVID-19,” he said. “It’s with hopeful optimism that this budget and state aid will remain the same as we move into the summer.”

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Cittadino said the 2020-21 school year will bring a lot of unknowns and uncertainties out of their control.

The Old Bridge Board of Education (BOE) adopted the $152.32 million operation budget, an increase of $1.6 million from the 2019-20 budget at a meeting on May 5. Cittadino said while the 2020-21 budget maintains all existing programs, he said there would be “very little” shifting of personnel as they look forward to the next school year.

The budget is supported by the collection of a $104.95 million tax levy from the township’s residential and commercial property owners.

The school district’s 2019-20 budget totaled $150.72 million and was supported by the collection of $102.89 million in a local tax levy.

For 2020-21, the school district tax rate is increasing by $0.0399 cents to $3.02 per $100 of assessed valuation.

District administrators said for the owner of a home assessed at the township average of $152,500, school taxes will increase by $60.83 per year, or $5.07 a month, from 2019-20, which saw a $126.33 school tax increase.

The amount of school taxes an individual pays is determined by the assessed value of his home and/or property and the tax rate that is set by the school district.

The budget includes the use of $1.09 million in extraordinary aid, which officials said goes towards special education costs, $1.48 million from capital reserves, $450,000 in maintenance and emergency reserve, and $500,000 from the Cheesequake lease agreement with the Sayreville Board of Education.

School Business Administrator Joseph Marra said the lease agreement is a piece of good news for the district. The Old Bridge BOE approved a 10-year shared services agreement with Sayreville for the lease of the Cheesequake Elementary School in February.

The school on Route 34 closed its doors last school year as part of the budget reductions in the 2019-20 school year.

The Sayreville BOE will lease the school at an annual rent of $500,000 over a 10-year period – July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2030. Sayreville Schools Superintendent Richard Labbe had said the district is going to use the building to educate about 320 preschool students.

Marra said ratables in the township, which also influence the tax rate, has increased by $21.09 million.

The largest drivers of the budget are program costs, 51.89%, employee benefits, 20.52% and maintenance and operations at 10.70%.

The budget supports eight projects totaling $1.48 million. The projects include upgrades to the TV Studio production, computer infrastructure upgrades, sidewalk, curb replacements, boiler at Cooper Elementary, public address system at Carl Sandburg Middle School, hydroponics lab at Old Bridge High School, lighting system at the Ellen McDermott Grade Nine Center, and HVAC (heating, ventilation, air-conditioning) unit at Miller Elementary, Marra said.

The budget also supports the purchase of three buses and ongoing technology infrastructure upgrades.

The district is expected to receive a $3.87 million reduction in state aid for the 2020-21 budget following Gov. Phil Murphy’s revamp of the School Funding Formula, which was approved by the New Jersey Senate and the House of Representatives on July 21, 2018.

Last year, the district saw a $3 million reduction in state aid with $42,209,527.

Old Bridge Township Public Schools will receive an approximate $12 million reduction in state aid over the next seven years, from approximately $45 million to $33 million according to the S-2 School Funding Formula.

The news of the reduction in state aid last school year left the district reeling, with officials calling the reduction “irresponsible” and “detrimental” for its students.

Based on the amended formula, the Old Bridge schools are considered to be overfunded, Schools Superintendent David Cittadino has said.

Since 2008, enrollment in Old Bridge schools has decreased about 1,000 students. As of Oct. 15, 2019, the district’s enrollment totaled 8,466.

BOE members praised the Old Bridge Township Public School District administration for their efforts to not repeat the grim reductions of the 2019-20 school budget, which saw the closure of Cheesequake Elementary School and the cut of 85 positions.

“The budget proves the district can do more with less,” said Board member Richard Dunn calling the budget a fair deal for district students and the taxpayer.

For more information visit www.oldbridgeadmin.org.

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