JACKSON – With two members on a seven-member panel voting “no,” the Jackson School District Board of Education has adopted a $150.6 million budget to fund the operation of the school district during the 2021-22 academic year.
The budget for the upcoming academic year will be supported in part by a tax levy of $97.5 million that will be collected from Jackson’s residential and commercial property owners.
During an April 28 meeting, board President Tara Rivera, Vice President Michael Walsh and board members John Burnetsky, Gus Acevedo and John Spalthoff voted “yes” on a motion to adopt the budget.
Board members Scott Sargent and Tzvi Herman voted “no” on the motion to adopt the budget.
Herman said, “(Superintendent of Schools Nicole Pormilli) described it as a perfect storm this year. That we have to cut, that we have significant cuts coming to us, and a lot of things are hitting us at the same time that is causing us to squeeze our budget for this year. But I could argue just the opposite. I am going to argue that we are in the eye of the storm.”
He said next year Jackson will exhaust the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund money with which it has been provided.
“We are relying on (that funding) this year, about $3.5 million. … (Next year) we are probably going to have about 3,000 private school kids (and) about 600 will get bused, so that is going to be about $2.4 million in the beginning of the year. Simple math, ” Herman said.
In regard to 37 positions being lost, Herman said district administrators cannot keep cutting positions because class sizes will get out of control.
“This is not a perfect storm, this is the beginning of a much larger storm brewing for the future. If we vote for this (2021-22) budget and we pass it, next year we are going to be sitting here over $10 million in the red that we are going to have to come up with. We can’t cut teachers, we can’t cut therapy, we can’t cut essential services we have to offer. This is what we are going to set ourselves up for,” Herman said.
Sargent said he knows how hard the district’s administrators worked to develop the budget for the upcoming academic year.
“This administration has worked tirelessly and for that I am going to owe Ms. Pormilli an apology because I did inform her I would be supporting this budget,” Sargent said.
Sargent said there are areas that need improvement. He said he believes redistricting students could help save money.
Another issue was transportation.
“There are so many areas of transportation we could improve,” Sargent said. “We have had difficulty hiring the proper leadership for transportation.”
When the budget was introduced in March, administrators anticipated the loss of 40 positions prior to the start of the 2021-22 school year. The budget as adopted shows the loss of 37 positions through retirement, attrition and a reduction in force where necessary.
For the 2020-21 school year, the board adopted a $152.6 million budget. Property owners paid $95.79 million in a local tax levy to support the budget.
From 2020-21 to 2021-22, the budget has decreased by $2 million, but the local tax levy has increased by $1.71 million.
In 2020-21, Jackson’s school tax rate was $1.39 per $100 of assessed valuation. The owner of a home assessed at $250,000 paid about $3,475 in school taxes, the owner of a home assessed at $325,000 paid about $4,520 and the owner of a home assessed at $400,000 paid about $5,560.
In 2021-22, Jackson’s school tax rate is projected to increase to $1.41 per $100 of assessed valuation. The owner of a home assessed at $250,000 will pay about $3,525 in school taxes, the owner of a home assessed at $325,000 will pay about $4,580 and the owner of a home assessed at $400,000 will pay about $5,640.
The average home in Jackson is assessed at $329,181 and the owner of that home will pay about $4,640 in school taxes (1.41 x 3,291).
School taxes are one item on a property owner’s total tax bill, which also includes Jackson municipal taxes and Ocean County taxes.
State aid for Jackson’s schools has continued to decrease under the terms of a state law known as S-2 that was enacted in 2018. The reduction in state aid is expected to continue through the 2024-25 school year.
During the 2018-19 school year, Jackson received $48.77 million in state aid. During the 2019-20 school year, state aid decreased to $46.47 million. During the 2020-21 school year, state aid decreased to $42.99 million. During the 2021-22 school year, state aid will decrease to $38.75 million.
The reduction in state aid is occurring as administrators continue to deal with annual factors such as increasing contractual obligations; rising costs for items such as software licenses; increasing gas prices; increasing insurance premiums; tuition increases to send some students to out-of-district educational facilities; and changes to the district’s health plan.
Administrators said the 2021-22 budget maintains investments in curriculum and technology. They said the budget does not allow for needed capital improvements or significant curricular advancements.
Administrators said the budget will increase class size in some grade levels.
For 2021-22, curriculum adoption will be reduced to what administrators described as the bare minimum of updates needed to maintain programs; a reduction in summer curriculum writing; significantly reduced professional development; a reduction in school supply budgets; and an increase in participation fees for sports and activities.
The participation fees were put on hold during the current school year due to COVID-19.
During the April 28 board meeting, Pormilli said, “We have a significant amount of cuts due to state aid based on enrollment according to the formulas in S-2. It forces us to make some hard decisions because not only do we have to cut $4 million based on a reduction of state aid, but we also have, obviously, increases every year in our budget.”
Jackson’s enrollment has been declining steadily. The enrollment in October 2017 was 8,203 students. In October 2018, enrollment was 8,096 students. In October 2019, enrollment was 7,955 students. In October 2020, enrollment was 7,651 students. The projected enrollment for October 2021 is 7,647 students.
The superintendent said increasing costs in various areas of the budget must be accounted for on an annual basis. She said tuition for out-of-district student placements continues to rise even though the number of students being sent out of Jackson to be educated remains about the same.
“We have the same number of out-of-district students now as we did in 2015 and the cost is $2 million more, and that is out of our control. We do not have control of those contracts and those prices going up,” Pormilli said.
She said staff members are applying for grants and “working hard (to find) other ways to bring opportunities to our students.”
The superintendent said administrators are continuing their efforts to provide savings to the district and to retain positions.