MONROE – The preliminary Monroe Township school budget for the 2022-23 year continues to “meet the needs” of personnel, instruction, resources and transportation, according to Assistant Schools Superintendent Adam Layman.
The Monroe Board of Education (BOE) approved the tentative $146.77 million budget at a meeting on March 15, to fund the operation of the school district from July 1, 2022, through June 30, 2023.
The proposed total budget for the 2022-23 school year is an increase of $4.18 million from the 2021-22 school year budget of $142.59 million.
Residents with homes assessed at the municipality’s average $331,952 value can expect a $9.08 decrease in their school taxes.
The proposed budget is supported by the collection of a $112.43 million tax levy, up $2.2 million from the 2021-22 budget year, from the township’s residential and commercial property owners.
For 2022-23, the school district tax rate is decreasing by approximately a quarter – 0.27 cents – per $100 of assessed valuation.
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.
State aid accounts for 7% of the district’s funding, while federal aid comprises just 1%. Local taxes provide the vast majority of Monroe Township School District’s financial resources at 83%, which is down from being as high as 88% on the local tax levy.
“We’re making progress there with S-2 (New Jersey School Funding Formula) where we are getting more state aid in the [state’s] pathway to full funding, but still not satisfactory in my opinion,” School Business Administrator Michael Gorski said.
State aid increased 22% to the tune of $1,727,807, from $7.97 million in 2021-22 to $9.74 million this year.
State aid is just one factor influencing the tax rate. Fund balances, ratables and the effect of enrollment on appropriations are also contributing elements.
Ratables in the township have increased $143.75 million, or 1.77%, for the 2022-23 school year. Last year, the township saw an increase of $244 million, or 3.11%, in ratable growth.
Gorski said the administration has been able to grow extra surplus and has recommended the BOE reduce the restricted fund balance 4% COVID mandate back to the historical 2% number and appropriate the difference to the budget, which is approximately $1.6 million, in additional funds.
In addition, some $478,000 surplus in the debt service fund is also applied against the tax levy this year from a refund of a bond. Gorski said by state statute, the funds have to be applied against the tax levy.
Spending in the budget is driven by student enrollment. As of Oct. 15, 2021, the district has 6,853 students with a projection of 6,962 students, or an increase of 109 students, for the 2022-23 school year, Gorski said.
The biggest portion of the budget – 65-75% – is for classroom instruction and special education, followed by transportation, 25%, and health benefits, 21.79%.
“This year is a bit of an anomaly with comparing our projections for a quote-unquote normal school year without impairments because of COVID, hybrid schedules to a year that contained all of those items,” Gorski said.
The proposed budget includes an addition of 19 instructional and support staff totaling $900,371. Inclusive of class resources and resource room teachers, the addition includes self-contained teachers, paraprofessionals; bus drivers; a nurse; a Spanish teacher and a custodian, Layman said.
“We are looking at our growth needs anticipating what they are and fortunate to be able to include what we anticipate to be adequate within budget,” he said.
The proposed budget includes maintaining technology totaling $2.17 million; revising textbooks totaling $368,684; and the purchase of six 54 passenger buses with cameras for $690,000, and two 20 passenger vans with cameras for $130,000.
The budget also maintains a variety of support systems to aid students who may be struggling coming out of the pandemic; the standard support system process for special education; it maintains co-curricular and academic activities; and maintains focus on supporting social, emotional learning for students, Layman said.
Capital improvements in the budget include replacing heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment at the Performing Arts Center at Monroe Township Middle School totaling $1.68 million; interior renovation of a home economics lab to create special needs classrooms totaling $150,000 at the middle school; and interior renovation of a graphic arts room to create two general education classrooms totaling $50,000 at Monroe Township High School.
The district is conservatively budgeting $200,000 of projected income for the before and after school Falcon Care and Early Children Enrichment after the care was closed during COVID.
“This fund normally earns about $600,000 a year in net income and has earned over $2.5 million in retained earnings since inception,” Gorski said, noting they are anticipating a road to recovery with enrollment numbers at 35% and growing.
Also included in the budget is 3.5% for staff salary increases; 5% increase for health benefit costs and 2.9% tuition from the Jamesburg community.
Gorski said the district was able to negotiate health benefits from 8% to 5% and the Jamesburg tuition is increasing for an addition of $85,000.
The BOE will present the budget at a public hearing on April 25. For more information, visit www.monroe.k12.nj.us.