The Bayonne Board of Education has adopted a $154,839,001 operating budget for the 2021-2022 school year. The budget includes a one percent increase in the tax levy bringing it to $70,451,920. The total budget is up $697,544 from the previous year.
Business Administrator Dan Castles presented the budget to the board. He said the $173,058,385 in total appropriations consists in part of a $154.8 million operating budget that funds day-to-day operations, instructional costs, facilities, and utilities.
The district is anticipating receiving special revenue totaling $18,334,884 that accounts for the cost of the preschool program totaling $12,033,705.30, title programs totaling $3,608,059, and special education supplemental funding totaling $2,405,750.
This year, the district anticipates receiving $80,793,252 in state aid included in the budget, an increase of $12,324,018 from the previous year. The district also anticipates receiving extraordinary aid, given for the extra cost for special-ed programs, totaling $688,925.
Federal sources include $358,352, up $1,863 from last year. This is a Medicaid reimbursement for programs provided for Medicaid eligible students. The budget fund balance, surplus funds from the 2019-2020 school year budget, is $2,540,477, down by $33,591 from last year.
The budget will consist of of 52 percent state aid, with 46 percent local sources, 2 percent fund balance, and one percent federal sources.
“We’ve shifted from being dependent on local sources or the local tax levy, to being dependent on state aid as our state aid increases,” Castles said.
He explained that the state funding formula for schools has been reworked.
“Since Bayonne has been historically underfunded, what they did is uncap state aid,” Castles said.
According to Castles, state aid is based on student enrollment; an adequacy budget, or what the state determines each district needs to provide adequate education; and the local fair share, or what the state deems local taxpayers should contribute to the school district based on equalized evaluation and district income.
The district’s adequacy budget is approximately $198 million based on state figures, and the local fair share is approximately $97 million. According to Castles, that’s 27 million over what the district is currently asking local taxpayers to provide in the $70,451,920 tax levy.
The district’s uncapped state aid is $101 million. That’s $20 million more than the $80,793,252 in state aid anticipated for the 2021-2022 school year.
“It’s important for the board and the community to realize we’re going to have to continue to increase taxes at a certain level to show the state that we have for a lack of a better term, ‘skin in the game,'” Castles said. “As long as we’re putting the effort forward with the local tax levy, our state aid is going to continue to jump up based on the new funding formula.”
Over ten years, the tax levy has increase by $12 million. Over the same time period, state aid has increased by $26 million.
The biggest item is salaries totaling $94,578,487, up $4,629,440 from last year. Following that is benefits totaling $26,239,896, up $1,280,458 from last year.
The only other significant item is purchased property services which consists of capital projects such as replacing the rooves and repairing many older buildings. This totals $11,837,260, up from $5,830,502 from last year.
Salaries represent 61 percent of budget expenses, followed by 17 percent for benefits and eight percent for purchased property services.
“That’s a really good number,” Castles said of the combined 78 percent of expenses going to salaries and benefits. “One of the things I like to say is: ‘People teach people. Things don’t teach people.’ The more people you have, the more teachers you have, that’s a good thing for our overall goal of educating kids. Textbooks are great and useful, but you need a good person to have that textbook as a tool.”
Increase in staffing
Included in the budget is the hiring of new staff: three child study teams, four guidance counselors, a student assistance counselor, an occupational therapist, a speech teacher, a behaviorist, security guards, and four vice principals.
“There’s a major focus on increasing our special-ed staffing and also providing support services for those students as they return to in-person instruction,” Castles said. “We want to have a support structure in place for those students so that they can thrive in the classroom and overcome some of the hurdles they had during virtual instruction.”
The budget’s capital projects include roof repair and replacement, facility upgrades, and building restoration projects. Last, the budget accounts for English and language arts textbook replacements to allow for a digital component.
The cost per pupil is $15,482, according to a chart Castles displayed. Bayonne was the second to last in five surrounding towns with similar school districts, with Kearny having the lowest cost per pupil at $14,827.
Union City topped the list with $17,820 followed by West New York at 16,979, Jersey City at $16,395, and North Bergen at $16,122. The state average is $17,028. Castles said Bayonne’s numbers reflected the district’s efficiencies.
Following the presentation, Vice President Christopher Munoz asked Castles about state aid. Castles responded that if the district doesn’t keep up with its local fair share, there would be repercussions with state aid.
The board voted 8 to 1 to adopt the budget. The only no vote was Trustee Jodi Casais, who did not explain her opposition.
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