In tough budget year, Metuchen school officials keep education at the forefront

METUCHEN – Since Dan Benderly joined the Metuchen Board of Education, his goal has been to see equity across the science curriculum program at Metuchen High School.

Next school year, Benderly will see that come to fruition as the board approved the 2019-20 budget, which includes a new science teacher. The addition of the science teacher allows for six periods of science including another lab period for all levels of science.

“I’m happy the budget includes the science teacher,” he said.

In 2017, the board had approved the proposal by EI Associates, a Cedar Knolls-based architectural design and engineering firm, for the detailed design and construction and administrative services of the two story addition of two new science laboratories at the high school, which has since been built.

The board approved a $39.7 million operating budget, up 3.25% over the 2018-19 budget, at a meeting on April 30.

When the board introduced the budget in March, Schools Superintendent Vincent Caputo said it has been a tough budget year having to make a number of accommodations and changes to reach the district’s goal to have a flat even budget.

Benderly said the past few weeks have been an excellent demonstration of the hard work of Caputo, School Business Administrator Michael Harvier, members of the administration, board and public as they came together to find a way to address the needs of the district in the right way.

Board President Justin Manley said it took the entire nine-member dais to determine the final budget.

Harvier said 90% of the budget appropriations are made up of salaries, which total $24.36 million: health insurance, $5.70 million; tuition for therapy services for speech, $3.38 million; and transportation contracts, $1.56 million.

The local tax levy is $37.23 million, an increase of $993,024, from $36.24 million in the 2018-19 school budget.

For the average assessed house of $206,806, the tax rate will increase $19 from last year and homeowners will pay $7,525, or .3% over last year.

The district is receiving $1.53 million in state aid, an increase of $237,680 from last year.

Along with an additional science teacher, the budget also includes one special education teacher, a one-to-one initiative for rising fifth-grade and ninth-grade students, an additional Chromebook cart, a partial locker replacement at Edgar School, various safety enhancements, and reconditioning of uniforms and protective equipment as per National Federation of High School Sports.

Board member Ben Small, who chairs the board’s finance committee, said this year’s budget cycle has been the most challenging one he has gone through during his time on the board. He said the board had to make some difficult decisions to make sure the district “continues to deliver an excellent education and a safe and sound environment” for all students and staff.

In the 2019-20 school year, Caputo said it includes many big initiatives for special education including the implementation of a transition program for students with disabilities for ages 18 to 21 and the implementation of Effective School Solutions (ESS) programming at Metuchen High School, which started this month for a select group of students.

Come November, the Metuchen Board of Education, in a separate budge proposal, or second question, will ask for $700,000 for the proposal to broaden services of ESS, which provides innovative clinical programs for districts seeking to reduce costs while increasing the quality of their in-district education for students with emotional and behavioral problem.

If the second question is passed, the taxes on the average home would increase $133 per year, or $11 per month. In total taxes will have risen 2% over a two-year period.

The Metuchen School District includes Metuchen High School, Edgar Middle School, Campbell Elementary School and Moss School. The district serves grades kindergarten through 12th grade and includes an integrated preschool program. The current enrollment as of Oct. 15 is 1,997 students.