School budget introduced with no tax increase

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OCEAN CITY — The Ocean City Board of Education approved a preliminary school budget with no tax increase at its Wednesday, Feb. 29 meeting.

The $38,711,113 budget increases spending by 2 percent for the 2012-2013 school year, but the increase is offset by anticipated revenue. The budget includes a proposed tax levy of $21,640,721, which business administrator Tom Grossi noted has not increased over last year.

Crediting the district’s School Choice program for making it possible, Superintendent Kathleen Taylor said that the state will pay for 68 out-of-district students to attend Ocean City schools. Dispersed throughout three facilities, she said, the students help fill otherwise empty seats and – at $12,330 per student for a total of $838,440 – made it possible to deliver the “zero increase” budget.

The school board voted unanimously to send the budget to the county superintendent for review. The preliminary budget, by law, has to be sent by Monday, March 5.

A public hearing on the budget is set for March 28 in the community room of Ocean City High School. More details about the budget would be presented at the meeting, Grossi said.

A law signed by Gov. Chris Christie in January permits school districts to move school elections to November to save the cost of hosting a separate election. The law allows school districts to increase the tax levy up to 2 percent without voter approval.

With the proposed tax levy coming in with a zero increase, the public does not have to approve the budget. Grossi said the district will be able to “bank,” or save $432,814 from this year’s budget in case it needs to exceed the cap within the next three years. Last year the district banked $75,000, bringing the total cushion to $507,814.

When formulating the school district’s budget, Taylor said many factors come into play. Budgeting priorities include, in this order, state mandated items, the strategic plan and safety of the students, classroom instruction, enhancements and opportunities outside the classroom, operations and facilities.

Emphasizing the importance of the School Choice program, Grossi said Ocean City was able to save sending districts $350 per student and lower the cost of educating every student in the district.

“It replaces revenue we’ve lost and we’re filling empty seats,” he said. “Without it we would have to go all the way to cap, and still would have had a budget shortfall of $406,000.

“The School Choice program allows us to maintain the quality of the programs we are offering,” Grossi said.

Class sizes in the primary school are 20-21 for kindergarten and first grade, 21-22 for second and third grades, 22-23 for fourth and fifth grades and 23-24 for 6-8 grades.

“Staffing needs are always reviewed,” he said. “In making a decision about staffing, we have to look at what we need not what we want. We are looking into grant funding for new staffing.

“The 2-percent cap is a buzz word,” he said. “While it affects the expenditure side, it’s not a direct cap on expenditures. It’s a cap on the tax levy.”

Certain items, he said, fall outside the cap, including health insurance costs, defined pension and enrollment. Salary increases fall under the cap law, Grossi said.

Resident Vic Staniec thanked Taylor and Grossi for “the transparency you have provided.”

“Whether you agree or disagree” with the decisions being made, he said, Taylor and Grossi have made it “extremely clear where the money is coming from and where it is going.”

“I can’t say that happened in the past,” he said.


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Follow the link to read a letter from Taylor regarding the district budget:

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