Middletown school board cuts budget after $1.7M reduction in state aid

MIDDLETOWN – The Middletown Township School District Board of Education has accommodated a $1.7 million decrease in state aid by reducing certain personnel positions and postponing the implementation of textbook adoptions in the district’s two high schools.

In March, the school district was awarded a state aid package that totaled $18.35 million for the 2018-19 academic year. District administrators subsequently adopted a $163.3 million budget which included that allocation from the state.

After a bill that revised New Jersey school state aid funding was signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy on July 24, Middletown’s state aid was cut by $1.7 million to $17.17 million. Administrators who oversee the district’s 17 schools were given two weeks to revise the budget and accommodate the reduction in state aid.

“After years of neglect, we are turning the page to bring a balanced approach to school aid by removing the growth cap on funding increases and finally beginning the process of fully implementing the state’s school funding formula established in 2008,” Murphy said in a statement.

However, the change in the law meant a reduction for Middletown. Board members met on July 25 to review and approve a revised budget.

In an interview on July 31, Middletown Superintendent of Schools William George said, “The board focused balancing our budget cuts to recurring costs in curriculum, programs and personnel. The goal for this approach was to make changes that would carry over into future budgets.

“Middletown, along with many other districts in the state, was placed in the unfortunate position of reducing its budget for the 2018-19 school year after previously receiving approval from the state. The state aid cut (that was announced) on July 13 limited the district’s options for making the cuts because purchasing and hiring for the 2018-19 school year began after the budget was previously approved on April 25.

“The central office administrative team was charged by the Board of Education with the responsibility for working with the building level administration to comprehensively review the entire budget and develop a balanced approach to minimize the impact of this state aid reduction on student programs, student activities and student services,” he said.

The board made a reduction of $860,972 in personnel (faculty and staff) and a reduction of $317,005 in curriculum and instructional materials.

According to the board, two middle school teachers, four elementary school teachers and one educational technology specialist which were vacant at the time of the cut have been eliminated from the revised 2018-19 budget.

Regarding personnel, a revision in the new security staffing plan which would have ensured 12 elementary school security guards and two Class III officers has been revised to accommodate the change in state aid, according to the board.

In an interview following the adoption of the budget in April, Business Administrator Amy Gallagher said administrators have regularly reviewed the need for an increase in the security presence in the public schools.

While some changes have been made as a result of the reduction in state aid, “the revised plan includes adding security guards at each elementary school, making no change to the number of security personnel at the middle schools, and reducing security guards at each high school by one position,” George said.

“However, in place of that security guard position (at the high schools), one Class III officer – retired police officers who will be employees of the Middletown Police Department, but paid by the school district – will be headquartered at each high school,” the superintendent said.

According to the revised budget, the reduction of instructional materials calls for the postponement of grade nine World Literature textbook adoptions, grade 10 American Literature textbooks, and the deferral of updated science textbooks for each grade level in both high schools.

George said board members chose to make cuts in the budget rather than appropriating money from the district’s surplus funds (savings).

“The board and the administrative team discussed all of the options provided by the state Department of Education for addressing the state aid reduction. Our district does not have an emergency reserve, which was one of the options. We did not use funds from our maintenance reserve because we have needed those funds in the past for unanticipated facilities repairs that went beyond what was budgeted,” he said.

The new law that reallocates New Jersey’s state aid outlines a six-year reduction in the amount of state aid the district will receive moving forward.

“Middletown’s state aid is projected to be reduced by a total of $6.3 million by 2024. These trends require the district to focus on changes to our budget that will be sustained in future budget years,” George said.

“We also felt that allocating additional surplus, above the $534,377 we had already included in our 2018-19 budget, would not be fiscally responsible because it would not be a recurring revenue source in subsequent budget years. The district maintains no more than 2 percent of its operating budget in unallocated surplus in accordance with Department of Education requirements.
“Over the past several years, the excess surplus that has been available to use as a budgeted revenue source has decreased from $2.8 million in 2013-14 to $534,377 for 2018-19. We anticipate the district will not have any excess surplus to use for its 2019-20 budget,” the superintendent said.
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