South River school board adopts 2018 school budget

SOUTH RIVER – In a unanimous vote, the South River Board of Education has adopted its budget for the 2018-19 school year.

Superintendent of Schools Sylvia Zircher and Business Administrator Kenneth Kokoszka gave a presentation on the budget during the board’s April 26 meeting.

The budget totals $34.42 million, Kokoszka said.

The tax levy to support the budget will be $17.46 million, which he said is within the statutory growth limitation. The tax levy will be collected from South River’s residential and commercial property owners.

“We wanted to make sure we were fiscally responsible with developing our budget,”  Zircher said.

In 2017-18 the school tax rate was $4.06 per $100 of assessed valuation. The average home in South River was assessed at $81,908 and the owner of that home paid $3,325 in school taxes.

In 2018-19 the school tax rate is expected to be $4.25 per $100, a 19-cent increase. The average home is assessed at $81,908 and the owner of that home will pay $3,481 in school taxes during the next year, an increase of $156.

School taxes are one item on a property owner’s tax bill. South River residents also pay municipal taxes and Middlesex County taxes. The amount of taxes a property owner pays is determined in part by the assessed value of his home and property.

Zircher said as administrators were developing the budget, they had to consider many factors, including a state cap on the tax levy; increased costs for students with special needs; facility maintenance; federal and state mandates; safety and security needs; contract obligations; alignment with the New Jersey Student Learning Standards; alignment with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act; alignment with the Every Student Succeeds Act; and payments the district must make for South River students who attend charter schools in other communities.

“In safety and security, we allocated $80,000 to security personnel. We are looking for the district to fund two full-time Class III special law enforcement officers,” Zircher said.

Class III officers are retired law enforcement professionals.

Zircher said administrators are continuing to install and upgrade security technology and resources. Administrators are looking to use grant funding for security purchases.

Kokoszka said $1.55 million from surplus funds (savings) is being used as revenue in the 2018-19 budget. In 2017-18, the district received $13.31 million in state aid. In 2018-19, South River will receive $13.98 million in state aid, a $665,703 increase, according to Kokoszka.

The budget’s general fund appropriations will be allocated to instructional resource improvements, maintaining appropriate class size, technology and infrastructure upgrades, security personnel, and additional programs and courses, according to Kokoszka.

Regarding staff, Zircher said, “Our bilingual and English as a Second Language (ESL) population keeps growing and therefore the staff that services those students needs to grow as well. We are looking to potentially hire primarily primary and elementary bilingual teachers.”

Zircher said the district has reallocated the staff of the Academic Support Instruction and ESL programs. Administrators budgeted for an additional high school science teacher for new science courses and an additional media specialist.

“We are opening up an alternative high school for some of our special needs students at the high school level who could receive their services in our district as opposed to an out-of-district placement. We are going to budget for staff and resources for that program,” the superintendent said.

Zircher said having an alternative high school “will be a huge statement [for] the district, but more importantly, it will mean we can serve students in their home school in their own district, which is really valued.”

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermedagroup.com.