SOUTH BRUNSWICK – The members of the South Brunswick School District Board of Education have introduced a $154.65 million budget to fund the operation of the school district during the 2021-22 academic year.
A public hearing on the budget will be held on April 29 and at that time, residents may ask questions or make comments about the budget. The board may adopt the budget following the public hearing.
The budget was introduced during the board’s March 11 meeting, which was conducted in person at Crossroads North Middle School and also broadcast live.
South Brunswick’s residential and commercial property owners will pay a local tax levy of $116.77 million to support the 2021-22 budget.
During the current 2020-21 school year, the total budget amounted to $157.75 million and property owners paid a tax levy of $114.48 million to support the spending plan.
South Brunswick’s state aid will decrease by $260,000 from 2020-21 to 2021-22, from $21.75 million to $21.49 million, according to figures on the New Jersey Department of Education website.
Superintendent of Schools Scott Feder and Business Administrator David Pawlowski provided information regarding the tax impact of the budget on property owners.
In 2020-21, the school tax rate was $3.04 per $100 of assessed valuation. The average home in the township was assessed at $200,000 and the owner of that home paid about $6,040 in school taxes ($503 per month).
In 2021-22, the school tax rate is projected to decrease to $3.02 per $100 of assessed valuation. The average home in the township was assessed at $200,000 and the owner of that home will pay about $5,960 in school taxes ($497 per month).
An individual whose home was assessed at $300,000 in 2020-21 and is still assessed at $300,000 in 2021-22 will see his/her school tax bill decrease from about $9,060 ($755 per month) to about $8,934 ($745 per month).
School taxes are one item on a property owner’s total tax bill. South Brunswick property owners also pay municipal taxes and Middlesex County taxes.
The amount an individual pays in property taxes is determined by the assessed value of his home and/or property and the tax rate that is set by each taxing entity (i.e., municipality, school district and county).
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, South Brunswick had a population of 45,942 residents in 2018. Enrollment in the school district was 8,783 pupils in 2017; 8,567 pupils in 2018; 8,416 pupils in 2019; and 8,228 pupils in 2020, Pawlowski said.
The role of S-2
In 2020, Feder addressed S-2, a 2018 state law which changed the distribution of funding for New Jersey public school districts. He said that three years prior to the enactment of the law, South Brunswick received $24.5 million from the state to offset taxpayer costs.
In 2019, district administrators received a schedule showing how much money the state would take away over the next six years.
The estimated state aid reduction, according to S-2, as of March 2019, showed a loss of $1.15 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2020; a loss of $1.77 million in FY 21; a loss of $2.19 million in FY 22; a loss of $2 million in FY 23; a loss of $1.27 million in FY 24; and a loss of $403,000 in FY 25; for a total loss of $9 million over six years.
S-2 has been “very, very problematic” for South Brunswick, Feder said.
However, for 2021-22, according to administrators, because South Brunswick’s ratables have decreased by $700 million, the school district will see its state aid drop by $260,000 and not by $2.19 million as previously indicated in the S-2 schedule.
Feder said despite any loss in state aid, administrators are tasked with ensuring that all programs run properly, that class size is maintained and that students do not feel the effects of any budget restraints or cuts.
He said although the school district will lose less in state aid for 2021-22 than previously indicated, there is no way to know if South Brunswick will feel it worse in the 2022-23 and 2023-24 school budgets.
“Imagine running a business with this information,” Feder said. “We are lucky this year. We could be lucky again next year or they could take $4 million next year.”
South Brunswick schools will receive $2.4 million for coronavirus pandemic relief.
He said that money is not part of the budget yet, “but will help make up for any lost ground due to the pandemic” such as staffing, materials, impact on learning and impact on social emotional learning.
Feder said that in January, Chapter 44 offered a new insurance plan that allows staff members to downgrade their health insurance for less money, but this causes a $450,000 loss to the district.
In terms of revenues, the summer institute will be down because of fewer students, community education will be flat, facility rentals are non-existent because buildings are closed, and food service will break even at about $200,000.
Another impact to the budget could be a legislative bill that would offer an extension for special education students until age 22; that could be a $700,000 to $900,000 expense, Feder said.
The bill could also allow parents to keep their children in school for another year of education, which would have a “massive” impact on budgeting, Feder said.
He rhetorically asked what would happen if a child is held back in kindergarten? Where is the space? Where is the staff?
Feder said administrators need to assess the impact of the pandemic, review program efficiencies, assess enrollment, seek grant opportunities and review vendor relationships.
Board member Lisa Rodgers urged parents to petition state administrators in Trenton to stop cutting state aid.