Jackson Superintendent: This Is A Difficult Budget Year

Jackson Superintendent Dr. Stephen Genco. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  JACKSON – School Board members and administrators heard several presentations from some of its departments recently in order to help them crunch numbers in preparation of next month’s school budget presentation.

  During a recent Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Stephen Genco expressed concerns about of this year’s district spending plan. He noted that state aid figures have not yet been released, “but under S-2, the state’s funding formula, the district’s overall loss in state aid is expected to be about $790,000 for the coming budget, and possibly $2 million less than that during the 2021-2022 school year.”

  “This is a very, very difficult budget this year, we are looking to be flat or less in every way we can be. Given the cuts we are experiencing under the state’s funding formula, we are looking at a very tough budget,” Genco said.

  The board and administration have begun formulating the tentative budget, which will be introduced at the board’s March 18 meeting at 6:30 p.m. in the administration building.

  A public hearing on the proposed budget will be held at its April 29 meeting at 6:30 p.m. in the Fine Arts Center of Jackson Memorial High School.

  Among the presentations made during the Feb. 19 meeting was the transportation department. The district has 110 contracted bus drivers and 20 substitute drivers, 34 contracted bus aides and 13 substitute bus aides. Last year, it had 116 54-passenger vehicles, 46 vans and one car on the road. This year that number has dropped to 115 buses and 44 vans. Mileage figures from last year was 1,879,783 and this year’s estimate is 1,826,250 while the fuel used total from last year was 363,750 gallons but is estimated at 357,250 gallons this year.

  The number of students in the district being transported went from 8,616 during the 2018-19 school year to 9,373 during the current school year and non-public students transported jumped from 540 to 657.

  The figure for aid-in-lieu also increased from 608 to 829. This refers to a state law that requires Jackson to offer either transportation or what is known as “Aid in Lieu of transportation’’ (AIL) to students who wish to attend a non-public school within two to 20 miles from their Jackson home.

  The district is able to accomplish this in a number of ways, including utilizing district buses and drivers to accomplish these bus routes, contracting out the routes to a private contractor or educational services commission, or entering into a jointure with another district to have its resident students join another bus run being managed by another district.

  If those options cannot be accomplished within the specific cost established each year by the Department of Education ($1,000 per student), then the district must offer the students AIL. The maximum amount is $1,000 per student. Parents receive AIL only if students are eligible for transportation and the district is unable to provide it another way for the state-designated amount.

  AIL is simply an alternate way of providing the transportation itself. Therefore, if students are not eligible for one, they are not eligible for the other.

  Representatives from Spiezle Architects gave an update about the district’s satellite transportation facility which had a listed completion date of March 27.

  “We expect that will be completed by the end of March,” Genco said. “This facility will be a tremendous help to us in terms of maintenance, but also in cost savings and efficiency. With this location, half of our fleet will not have to traverse the whole town in order to transport our students.”

  The Transportation Department’s goals moving forward were to improve on customer service, continue to monitor safety and efficiency of runs, make necessary changes, monitor the condition of buses, improve thorough preventative maintenance and determine life expectancy of individual buses and evaluate needs to replace those vehicles.

  The department is headed by Director of Transportation John Griffiths who previously served in that role within the Edison School District. He was hired by the district late last year.

  The budget presentations, as well as budget documents created while developing the spending plan, will be posted online so it can be discussed in the months prior to the public hearing in April.

   The school district is also getting closer to picking a successor to Genco who will retire on July 1. The superintendent updated the board and the public about the search for his replacement and said the process is going smoothly.

  Genco said the board may be in a position to vote on the position at the March board meeting.

“We are on track and we are getting close,” he said.