Jackson school board adopts $153 million budget for 2019-20

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JACKSON – The Jackson School District Board of Education has adopted a $153.21 million budget for the 2019-20 school year that will result in larger class sizes and a reduction in positions, but not in the size of the district’s staff.

No residents spoke during a public hearing on the budget that was held at the board’s April 30 meeting in the Fine Arts Center of Jackson Memorial High School.

Board President John Burnetsky, Vice President Sharon Dey and board members Gus Acevedo, Vicki Grasso, Thomas Colucci, Tara Rivera and Michael Walsh voted “yes” on a motion to adopt the budget.

Administrators said that during the upcoming school year, Jackson will see its state aid decrease from $48.77 million in 2018-19 to $46.47 million for 2019-20 – a decrease of $2.3 million.

The decrease is the result of legislation that was signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy in 2018, which redistributes state aid across New Jersey’s school districts. The reduction in Jackson’s state aid began in 2018-19 and is expected to continue through the 2024-25 school year.

The school district’s 2018-19 budget totaled $154 million. Jackson’s residential and commercial property owners paid $91.85 million in taxes to support the budget.

In 2018-19, the school tax rate was $1.33 per $100 of assessed valuation. The owner of a home assessed at $250,000 paid $3,325 in school taxes, the owner of a home assessed at $325,000 paid $4,322 and the owner of a home assessed at $400,000 paid $5,320.

The 2019-20 budget totals $153.21 million. Jackson’s residential and commercial property owners will pay $94.16 million in taxes to support the budget – an increase of $2.31 million.

In 2019-20, the school tax rate is projected to be $1.37 per $100 of assessed valuation. The owner of a home assessed at $250,000 will pay about $3,425 in school taxes, the owner of a home assessed at $325,000 will pay about $4,452 and the owner of a home assessed at $400,000 will pay about $5,480.

School taxes are one item on a property owner’s total tax bill, which also includes Jackson municipal taxes and Ocean County taxes.

When the budget was introduced a month ago, Superintendent of Schools Stephen Genco said the district is seeing attrition in its staff. He said it was hoped attrition would account for an anticipated reduction in staff during the upcoming school year, without layoffs.

On April 30, Genco said that since the budget was introduced, administrators were able to “put some things back in because some numbers have come in more exact.”

Regarding the decrease in state aid which almost 200 New Jersey school districts are dealing with, he said, “We are one of the districts that is considered one of the bigger losers. We are losing funding each year for the next five years …”

Genco said that under the 2018 legislation, which is known as S-2, Jackson could lose at least $18.5 million in state aid over a seven-year period.

“Now that being said, I have to believe something will change because I cannot imagine the impacts (of losing $18.5 million). We are not alone with this kind of funding impact. I cannot imagine the state would sit by and watch what could occur to districts with those types of losses and not have any ability to make up that revenue. That being said, at this point, that is what S-2 looks like,” the superintendent said.

Genco said he was proud because administrators were able to maintain their investments in social studies and Chromebook laptop computers to support curriculum updates. He said the school district will be able to maintain all of its athletic teams, but will limit freshman and junior varsity tournament participation and games beginning in 2019-20.

He said that as a result of the reduction in state aid, administrators had to modify their five-year curriculum plan and postpone updates for English Language Arts in grades six through 12.

Genco said the board is dealing with increases in contractual payments, rising gas prices, rising insurance premiums and other factors. He credited the district’s staff because he said he believes the 2019-20 budget “allows us to maintain the integrity of the district.”

“This is the second year in a row we lost positions. We lost 14 positions through attrition and retirement, so we did not have to do a reduction in force of anybody, but we do have a reduction in force in which somebody is going to be bouncing to another position,” he said.

In 2018-19 the district lost 16 positions.

“In two years we lost 30 positions. That is a lot of positions. We are starting to feel it from a class size number and we are going to start feeling it with electives at the high schools,” Genco said.

Acevedo commented on the budget, saying, “We, the seven board members, are representatives of the community. The school district has a board, it has a paid superintendent and administrators, and their job is to run the schools so they are being run well and effectively.

“I am the new guy on the board, I am the new kid on the block, I have been able to observe what is going on … for the sake of the community that is here, feel free to tell other people the job was done to keep the school district from cutting its own throat and diminishing its effectiveness from being less than it could be,” he said.