Despite the restoration of a portion of the millions of dollars in state funding slashed from Brick Township schools for the upcoming 2023-24 school year, officials say they are still hoping to avoid layoffs despite having to reduce staff by the equivalent of 64 full-time positions.
Meanwhile, class sizes in the large suburban district are due to rise while the effects of a reduction of more than 250 staff since the state’s school funding formula was put into effect in 2018 are beginning to be seen. This year, Superintendent Thomas Farrell said, student programs were able to survive the budget cuts.
School property taxes will rise by 1.77 percent this year for residents, despite a reduction of total expenditures in the amount of $4,282,000. The district’s total operating budget rose by just 0.68 percent this year. The Board of Education approved the $160,370,747 spending plan at a meeting last week, which will be supported by a local tax levy of S120,466,734, up from $118,369,977 during the current school year.
“We continue to do more with less, and for that I would like to thank our amazing staff,” said Farrell, describing the state’s school budgeting process as “harrowing and backwards.”
“We’re basically asked to run a $160 million organization with unknown information,” he said. “The state also codifies certain requirements such as class sizes and student support services, but does not provide money for these unfunded mandates. We will have six to seven elementary classes next year with 30 or more students.”
Farrell said the last-minute restoration of $889,791 compared to the $2.54 million cut that was initially proposed, is estimated to save 22 positions. But 64 will still be eliminated, including 34 instructional staff and 30 support staff.
“Many of these reductions are being absorbed through vacancies not being filled,” said William Kleissler, the district’s human resources director. “It is our hope that the balance will be fulfilled through retirements or attrition.”
Reductions will include the non-renewal of non-tenured teachers, and could potentially turn to a formal reduction-in-force measure if there are not enough retirements or breakage. In all, the district is planning to cut 13 positions from the high schools, nine at the middle schools, seven basic skills teachers, and five at the elementary school level.
Inevitably, class sizes are expected to rise, as demonstrated in a number of charts the district released, which appear below.
Despite relaying thanks to his financial team, labor leaders and administrators, Farrell said “this is not a budget I am proud of, though, as we cut positions once again.”
“We continue to reduce staff in order to balance our budget due to a lack of state funding, and consequently, student services diminish,” he said. “Although we maintain programs at a bare minimum, our high schools are slowly moving away from what is considered a comprehensive high school with a reduction of classes and electives.”
While budgetary news has been grim for Brick residents, homeowners continue to pay below both the state and Ocean County average in their school tax bills. A Brick resident with an average-assessed home will pay $3,417 in school taxes this year, compared with the state average of $5,029. The average combined tax bill (encompassing school, municipal and county services) will be $7,133, well below the state average of $9,490, the highest in the nation.
The budget is subject to final approval by the Ocean County Executive Superintendent of Schools.