Upper school board working on school budget

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UPPER TOWNSHIP – A public hearing on the budget for the Upper Township school district will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, March 25 prior to a re-scheduled monthly school board meeting at 7 p.m.

At a Monday, Jan. 28 school board meeting, business administrator Laurie Ryan said the budget is a work in progress but a lot has to happen before it is introduced to the school board.

 

Ryan said school officials worked very hard to keep line item costs down and that an increase is not expected.

“We don’t anticipate an increase in the budget,” she said, but with the largest variables still unknown, including tuition and state aid figures, she said it is difficult to predict.

“Hopefully,” she said, it will not go up. “Keep your fingers crossed.”

Gov. Chris Christie is scheduled to make state aid figures public on Tuesday, Feb. 26, the day after the board is scheduled to introduce the budget at its Monday, Feb. 25 monthly meeting.

“It will be approved by the board, and any changes to the state aid beyond what I feel there will be then I will modify accordingly,” said Ryan, adding that she did not think that state aid would come in higher than she predicted.

The budget, once introduced, must be submitted to Cape May County officials by March 7.

Ryan reminded the board that the budget does not have to meet voter approval if it stays within the state-mandated two percent cap. To stay within the cap, the budget could not increase more than $447,331.

Two years ago, the school board did not go to cap, and was able to “bank” the cap. The board capped $614,335 which they have one more year to use. Banked cap funding is good for three years, Ryan said.

The banked cap is similar to a credit limit, she said. The board can effectively increase the budget by $1,061,666 and stay within the two percent state-mandated increase, Ryan said.

“The only reason I’m cautioning you is having to do with adjustment aid,” she said. Christie has promised to eliminate adjustment aid over the next five years, so she said she assumes that it will be limited this year.

“It used to be called a thorough and efficient education, now it’s adequate,” she said. Districts are required to provide an adequate education, according to state standards, which is measured in dollars. Anything over that and a district is penalized, she said.

“The Ocean City tuition drives that,” she said. Ocean City and Upper Township both provide better than an adequate education, she said. Upper Township is considered $3.2 million over adequacy, she said.

“Every way we look at it we are down to where we need to be,” she said.

In 2011, the district received $2.7 million. In 2012 the number was reduced to $2.5 million.

“They are talking a 20 percent reduction, and that’s about a half million dollar loss, that’s quite a chunk of change,” she said. Enrollment continues to drop, she said, which means less state aid.

“We see about a 2.3 percent per year drop in enrollment,” she said.

“It’s very difficult to reduce adequacy,” she said. “A lot of us move here because Upper Township provides a very good education. Ocean City provides a very good education.”

Ryan said she was meeting with Tom Grossi, Ocean City’s business administrator, this week to discuss tuition figures. Upper Township students attend Ocean City High School in a sending/receiving relationship. Ocean City charges Upper Township tuition for each Upper Township student attending OCHS.

This year, 174 Upper Township students will graduate OCHS, and 176 eighth graders will graduate Upper Township Middle School. If they all attend OCHS, then there will be two more students attending than leaving.

Upper Township paid for 702 students to attend OCHS this school year, but only 655 actually attended so Upper Township should receive a tuition adjustment for those students.

“By the nature of that, we have less students so the tuition should go down,” she said, adding that she had “no idea, not even a ballpark,” where the tuition would come in for next year.

“I can’t see it going up too much,” she said, adding that a “significant number” of School Choice students attending OCHS could help keep tuition costs down.

“I’m not sure what that will do for us,” she said.

The district will charge preschool students $5,350 next year, up from the $5,200 charged this year, Ryan said. A two percent increase would have put tuition at $5,303, she said. The extra money would go towards supplies and parents would not be asked to provide glue sticks, paper towels and other items. 


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