South River school board approves $40M budget for 2021-22

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SOUTH RIVER–Updating residents on the South River Public School District’s 2021-22 budget, Superintendent Sylvia Zircher explained the funding behind the yearly financial plan.

“So how do we come up with a yearly district budget? Well, we begin by looking at our district goals and objectives, and our district goal number four is actually our fiscal responsibility goal, which says exactly that we assess the needs of our students, we assess the needs of the district, and then we align our fiscal resources and prioritize them with those needs,” Zircher said.

Using PowerPoint slides, Zircher and Business Administrator Kenneth Kokoszka presented the 2021-22 school budget to the Board of Education on April 26 via video conference.

After Zircher’s budget presentation, the board voted and approved the budget.

Before the board voted, Kokoszka said the total budget amount is $40,010,950, which is a $3,138,439 increase compared to the 2020-21 total budget amount of $36,872,511.

From the revenue side of the budget, Kokoszka said the audited excess surplus from the prior-year budget in 2020-21 was $589,111 and for 2021-22 it is $1,593,193, which is a $1,004,082 increase.

Kokoszka said that both the 2020-21 and 2021-22 local tax levy was $16,820,436. The state aid received for this year’s budget is $20,608,639, which is a $3,266,669 increase compared to the 2020-21 state aid received of $17,341,970.

The capital reserve for the 2021-22 budget, Kokoszka said, came out to $880,700, which is a $376,767 increase compared to the 2020-21 capital reserve of $503,933.

“There’s no tax increase, as it relates to the operating budget for the taxpayers in South River, which is a good thing,” Kokoszka said.

Kokoszka said the amount that will be raised by taxes is $16,820,436 and the tax point is  $150,957. The 2021-22 tax rate per $100 of assessed valuation is $1.20. The averaged assessed home is $291,087.

For the year, Zircher said the district also had to respond to the pandemic and its impact, as well as its forthcoming recovery.

Other factors that had to be aligned with the budget include:

  • The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which gives the district compliance guidance as to how it’s permitted to use district and district funds;
  • The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which is also the compliance that the district needs to follow as it does budget planning;
  • The New Jersey Student Learning Standards (NJSLS), which is a little bit different this year from prior years, because usually the district gets data from the New Jersey Student Learning Standards assessment; however, the district doesn’t have the assessment data due to the pandemic. Regardless, the district still has to implement those standards.

“So who was involved in putting this budget together? Well, we of course got the feedback from our staff, [and our] district administration had a meeting with our Board of Education Finance Committee, and then also the full the board had an opportunity to review it,” Zircher said.

Talking a little bit more about how the process works, Zircher said the district’s teachers and staff began by having some conversations within the department or grade level with the manager or department supervisor, and discuss what the needs are for their department, school grade, etc.

“Then Kokoszka and I meet with each member of our school administration. So each building principal, as well as each supervisor of departments, and we discuss what the priority needs are,” Zircher said. “We make some adjustments throughout this process. … After those meetings take place, then we meet with our Board of Education committee to give us the first level of approval. We send our budget of course to the county. We received their approval.”

Some things that the district does to be fiscally responsible, Zircher said, is use several co-ops, such as the Middlesex County Cooperative pricing system, for supplies, maintenance and equipment.

“We explore different revenue sources such as private and public brands that we can take advantage of,” Zircher said. “If you know anything about our preschool program that’s probably our best example of how we’ve been able to apply for grant funding and bring a great program into the district. We look at where we can reduce special education costs.”

Zircher said the budget will enable the district to provide several things that include:

  • a new math program for kindergarten to eighth graders
  • additional whiteboard desks for four high school math classrooms
  • expansion of mental health services
  • new risers at the high school
  • additional Google Chromebook devices and desktop devices
  • the transition from smart boards to Smart TV technology

For new hires, Zircher said the district is hiring a special education teacher, a high school ESL teacher and a Student Information Systems specialist.

Zircher said the district proposed capital/maintenance projects include tennis court replacement, track resurfacing, a new roof and improvements for the board office building, and a wiring/infrastructure project.

“We continue to allocate … $108,000 to our security personnel. We have four full-time plus three officers, one at each of our schools, and we are also adding for this coming year. Additional unarmed security staff at the high school,” Zircher said. “This is purchased additional supervision as students transition back really to make sure that our students are transitioning back to that in a healthy and safe format.”

Board President Cindy asked Zircher if she could confirm that these new hires and new technology will all be sustainable in future years to come and not just a one shot fix.

“We’ve been probably for the past three years have been able to add staffing to our school district, and have had the good fortune to be able to maintain that staff. What I can also say is that when it comes to my process as superintendent and budgeting … when it comes to a position having to be cut I will look at every avenue possible,” Zircher said. “I will look at staffing as a last resort, because it is really a priority for the district to have the right staffing in place for our kids, so that will always be the last place that we go to in my recommendations.”

For more information about the 2021-22 school budget, visit bit.ly/3vOS2ND.

Contact Vashti Harris at [email protected].