JACKSON – A measure calling for voter approval to hire six new security officers in the school district was discussed during a recent school board meeting which included a public hearing on the board’s $153,850,585 spending plan.
The hearing was held in the in the Fine Arts Center at Jackson Memorial High School. Audience members listened to Superintendent Dr. Stephen Genco outline the budget and the additional security force being considered. No one approached the podium to offer comments or questions about the budget or security plan following its presentation and public comment period.
Genco said that while he did not wish to see Jackson’s schools become a fortress “we’re also trying not to ignore what’s happening in society.”
Jackson currently has two school resource officers – Jackson police officers who are armed while on duty.
The Board voted to have a special question on the November Ballot to add school security officers which would be at a cost of $411,611 and would add six full-time security officers to provide full coverage of all schools. Approval of these funds would result in a permanent increase to the tax levy.
“It has been the policy for many years to look at security needs,” Genco said, adding that in the wake of the recent Parkland school shooting in Florida, that focus has been intensified by all school districts across the country.
“We will find a nice balance at knowing our schools are safe,” Genco said.
Not all of the six new officers would be armed but Genco referenced that he has met with Jackson Township police and Mayor Michael Reina.
Reina said, following a Township Council meeting, that the school district’s plan involved the township police who would provide any firearm training required. He said any costs from the district plan would not impact the township’s own budget which was adopted that evening.
The school budget, which was introduced on March 20, also includes the last phase of the district’s plan to install security vestibules at each school.
Genco stressed that the administration has the option of having armed and unarmed security. “It is unfortunate we have to talk about this, but it is the world we live in. We are looking to cover our buildings in a responsible manner.”
Taxpayers will see an increase in this year’s school board budget which Genco said required some scale back on improvement projects that had been looked at earlier in the year. Tier One projects include a concrete pad at the maintenance building at a cost of $25,000 and three Jackson Memorial High School security vestibules at $45,000.
Scrapped was a $105,000 asphalt paving project (a student access road) plus a $25,000 flooring project and a $22,000 prep and painting gymnasium project all at the Jackson Memorial High School. Other projects pulled from the Tier One list included resurfacing of tennis courts and an electrical upgrade of switchgear at Jackson Memorial High School which would have had a combined cost of $425,000. A $20,000 guardrail installation at the solar field at Jackson Liberty High School was also removed from the list.
The tentative budget will support the district’s curriculum and safety projects, but limits investments in other areas in the face of rising costs. The spending plan is up a total of 1.77 percent from the previous school budget. The general fund tax levy is increasing by 3.13 percent, or $2,547,602.
By law, districts can’t increase the levy by more than 2 percent. They call this the 2 percent cap. In this case, the district is utilizing a state-permitted cap waiver. This is allowed because it is facing healthcare costs that exceed the state limits to increase the general fund tax levy beyond the normal 2 percent cap.
The total school tax rate under this tentative budget is $1.33 per $100 of assessed home value, which is an increase of 2 cents per $100 from the previous year’s budget. It will cost the average homeowner approximately $92 more per year in school taxes, based on the average home assessment of $327,046 as provided by the tax assessor’s office.
The district will offset costs for taxpayers through a $486,500 increase in state aid – which at a less than a one percent increase is still the biggest state aid increase the district has seen in six years. The district is also returning $378,504 in unused funds from an old bond question to bring down the district’s debt service tax levy.
Genco stressed that the administration was being particularly protective of its curriculum plan in the development of this budget. The budget includes investments in the district’s math curriculum in grades 6-12, as well as district wide programs in media, technology and business.
The budget also supports programs related to responsive classroom training, which according to a PowerPoint presentation “provides practical strategies to emphasize social, emotional and academic growth in a strong, safe school community.” The district will be changing its curriculum in algebra, algebra 2 and geometry to incorporate more problem-based applications
Other plans include additional maintenance and investments in the district’s technology infrastructure including interactive boards in special education classrooms.
The budget also noted the loss of 14 positions, most being on elementary school levels which will be covered through attrition and retirements.