School Forming Budget While Figures Changing

School business administrator James Edwards discusses the budget process. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)
School business administrator James Edwards discusses the budget process. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

BRICK – Planning for the school budget is like trying to hit a moving target since the school enrollment shifts between eight and 13 percent on a monthly basis, making costs difficult to predict, officials said.

“This is based on enrollment data on years of history,” said school Superintendent Gerard Dalton during a recent Board of Education meeting.

“Districts are not seeing the same level of stability we once saw,” he said.

Other factors that impact the budget is the increasing number of ELL (English  language learners) students, which has doubled over the last several years from 16 percent to 32 percent in that category, said Director of Curriculum and Instruction Susan McNamara.

She said that poverty has increased among the student body, evidenced by the fact that one-third of all district students receive free and reduced lunch.

Brick also has a higher state average of students who are classified as special needs, said the district’s Director of Special Services Kristen Hanson during the meeting.

The superintendent gave a PowerPoint presentation on the district’s 2019-2020 budget process and timeline overview, which would be developed using the most current and reliable demographic data to guide decision making, he said.

Every line item in the budget must be justified, which is difficult to do when the administration is dealing with projected enrollment, Dalton said.

The district stands to lose $21 million in state aid over seven years (a cumulative $42 million in state funding during that time frame). The state believes that Brick is one of about 100 other districts that are considered overfunded.

The S-2 bill would re-appropriate the adjustment aid to other districts that Senate President Stephen Sweeney said were underfunded.

Superintendent Gerard Dalton presents information about the district’s finances. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)
Superintendent Gerard Dalton presents information about the district’s finances. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

Some $1.9 million was slashed from Brick’s 2018-2019 school year budget, and state funding in the district will be down $2.7 million in the 2019-2020 school year budget.

Program managers began the budget-building process in November after they were provided with enrollment projections, and they have held meetings to review staffing accounts, Dalton said.

In January and February, they meet 20 times with Dalton and School Business Administrator James Edwards to review each budget and then present a budget overview to the Board of Education.

Governor Phil Murphy will hold his budget address on March 5, and Dalton said that Brick would be join some 70 other school districts who have also been impacted by the reduction in state aid.

Those districts have formed an advocacy group (called SOS, or Support Our Schools) to bring their message and concerns to state legislators and to the public about the negative impact the loss of state funding would have on students, educational programming and the taxpayers in their district.

“We want our voices heard,” Dalton said. “During the governor’s budget hearing we’ll find out our state aid amount.”

Adoption of the 2019-2020 tentative school year budget is scheduled for March 14; a public discussion of the budget is scheduled for Thursday, April 11, and a public hearing on the 2019-2020 school year budget is planned for Thursday, May 2.

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Judy moved to Ocean County from New York City in 1988, and began her second career as a feature and news reporter in the mid-1990's. She has worked for Micromedia Publications since 2008, primarily reporting for The Toms River Times and The Brick Times. Judy has also worked for The Leader Review in Point Pleasant Beach, The Brick Communicator and The Asbury Park Press. Reach Judy by e-mail at Judysmestadnunn@gmail.com.