Brick Township’s public schools will eliminate 62 positions for the 2019-20 school year, officials confirmed, while taxes will increase well beyond the state’s 2 percent cap.
In a somber budget presentation late last week, officials detailed the grim news, wrought by a deal hatched between Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and Sen. President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) that will gradually reduce funding from Brick’s schools over seven years until a permanent $22 million cut will be applied annually. Over that same period, the state will mandate Brick school officials raise taxes to the maximum 2 percent allowed by law, however even the highest possible tax hike will not make up for the funding loss from the state. Under New Jersey’s funding formula, it is assumed that Brick’s property taxes are too low to support its school system.
The 62 positions slated to be eliminated for next school year include:
- 15 special education teachers.
- 17 grade 1-5 teachers.
- 3 Kindergarten teachers.
- 5 grade 6-8 teachers.
- 5 high school teachers.
- 1 art teacher.
- 1 media specialist.
- 1 world language teacher.
- 2 physical education teachers.
- 1 basic skills teacher.
- 1 business teacher.
- 5 teacher aides.
- 5 custodians.
“The unanswered questions around state aid make that more challenging for our administration,” said Superintendent Gerard Dalton, adding that he has been relentlessly traveling around the state meeting with politicians and policymakers in an attempt to stop the bleeding.
The number of staff members who will be laid off is not yet determined since the district has not fully accounted for retirements and resignations. Some of the positions will be lost through attrition, however layoffs are inevitable to some degree. The number of layoffs is currently estimated to be 49.
Within the district, the budget for professional training has increase – but with an eye on training remaining teachers on how to deal with larger class sizes.
“We know that large class sizes impede inquiry-based learning and risk-taking on the part of the educator,” said Susan McNamara, director of planning and development for the district. “Intense professional development which will instruct teachers on how to manage those class sizes.”
According to district estimates, the average high school class will have 18 (BMHS) or 19 (BTHS) students next year. Middle school classes will have between 26 and 29 students (though VMMS will have 22 students per class in grade eight). Elementary classes vary from 20 to 26 students per class, depending on the school and grade level.
The total expenditure budget for the school district next year will remain relatively steady, increasing by 0.82 percent, however much of that funding is made up through a single grant that allows the district to offer in-house preschool classes. Most other areas of the budget suffered major reductions, including a total 7.68 percent drop in state aid, a 1.88 percent drop in federal aid and a 37 percent decrease in surplus funding.
The tax levy will rise by 3.51 percent. While the state maintains a 2 percent cap, the district can use what is known as a “cap bank” to go back three years, calculate the amount of taxation that was under 2 percent, and front-load it onto the current year’s budget through a tax increase. The district also utilized a rarely-discussed state statute that allows school districts, under certain circumstances, to exempt its own healthcare cost increases from the cap.
The district has budgeted for some new hires, including five preschool teachers (whose salaries will be funded through a separate state grant), three multi-sensory reading teachers, two academic coaches, two ELL (formerly English as a Second Language) teachers, a financial literacy teacher, a science and humanities supervisor, a behaviorist (BCBA) and a keyboarding clerk.
The district will also maintain its STEM Academy.
The budget also includes a COPS grant for school security, new security cameras, 802.11ac access points for school WiFi, the replacement of Chromebooks for students and out-of-date laptops for teachers.
The district’s capital budget – which is funded through bonding rather than the operating budget’s direct tax levy – includes a section of roof replacement at BTHS, parking lot improvement sat Emma Havens Young and Drum Point elementary schools, auditorium HVAC systems that BTHS and Vets Middle School, exterior and wall work at Osbornville School, a grandstand refurbishment at BMHS, an upgraded fire alarm system for the BMHS gym, asbestos abatement at three rooms at BTHS and a new handicap bathroom at Lake Riviera Middle School. The district is planning to bond $4,739,870 for the improvements.
Brick’s total school budget for 2019-20 will be $155,855,316, which will be supported by a tax levy of $113,091,233. Compared to the current school year, taxes will increase by $3,833,104.
In all, this year’s state funding cut – year two of seven – included the elimination of $2,741,834 in dollars that went toward Brick students’ education during the current school year.
The school district is currently waging a lawsuit against the state with the aim of restoring funding. Numerous districts in Ocean County have been forced to lay off similar numbers of staffers this year, including Toms River and Lacey Township.
With such uncertainty, school officials are hoping professional development will help teachers deal with the new reality.
“The key here as we move forward with funding cuts is to make sure we provide professional development … so they can continue to provide quality instruction and a quality education to all our students,” said McNamara.