Hazlet school board reduces budget by $360K to account for loss in state aid

HAZLET – The Hazlet Township Public Schools Board of Education has reduced its 2018-19 budget by $360,000 to accommodate a sudden reduction in state aid as the start of a new school year approaches.

Under Gov. Phil Murphy’s initial funding proposal in March, Hazlet’s state aid package for 2018-19 was expected to total $12.91 million. Using that number as directed by state officials, district administrators crafted and adopted a $58,084,662 budget for the upcoming school year.

However, the district’s state aid amount changed in mid-July when Murphy and leaders in the state Legislature renegotiated New Jersey’s school aid funding law and trimmed Hazlet’s allocation to $12.55 million – a loss of $360,000 from what the district had been told it would receive.

Board members were given until July 31 to account for the loss of state aid in the 2018-19 budget.

During a meeting on July 30, board members voted 7-0 to cut the budget by $359,124 with reductions in more than 20 accounts ranging from textbooks ($3,750) and instructional supplies ($4,900) to classroom aides ($78,752). The board also trimmed health benefits ($57,438), a middle school teacher ($55,425), instructional supplies ($44,050) and administrative salaries ($17,680).

The revised budget now totals $57,725,538 for 2018-19.

In an interview on Aug. 1, Hazlet Superintendent of Schools Scott Ridley said three classroom aides, also known as paraprofessionals, were let go. Those individuals will be kept on the district’s payroll with benefits through Sept. 30, Ridley said.

He said the paraprofessionals have been encouraged to place their names on the district’s list of substitute teachers so they may work when needed, and he said they have been given the right of first refusal if and when a paraprofessional position opens in the district.

Ridley said changes in the school district’s curriculum and certain classroom assignments meant those positions would have been eliminated for the 2019-20 school year. He said the July 13 reduction in the district’s state aid caused that decision to be made a year earlier than intended by district administrators.

In another move, a middle school teacher was reassigned to a permanent substitute’s position to fill the position of an individual who will be on medical leave for the 2018-19 school year. The vacated middle school position was “absorbed” due to an increase of math minutes which resulted in a decrease of language skills minutes in the block schedule, the superintendent said.

Ridley commented on the the broader point of the recent changes in the amount of aid the state will provide to school districts, saying, “At this point, we have absorbed the cuts by downsizing the school supplies budget and not expanding some additional programs.

“We will continue to prioritize not eliminating any teaching lines, though the fiscal reality of what is possibly still to come may prompt us to revisit this commitment. Unless our enrollment reverses its recent trend and increases, we are likely to see continued reductions (in state aid) over the next three to five years,” he said.

Recently, Charles Sampson, the superintendent of the Freehold Regional High School District, said superintendents from Monmouth County are planning to meet with state representatives to discuss the impact the changes in the school funding law will have on their districts.

In July, the Freehold Regional High School District had to accommodate a sudden $1.27 million reduction in its state aid package for 2018-19.

Ridley said that in his role as Hazlet’s superintendent, he will be part of the effort by Monmouth County’s school superintendents to address the issue of state aid with the county’s representatives in the Legislature.

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