JACKSON – The Township School District will see the loss of 64 positions through its tentative $165,790,499 budget for the 2023-24 school year adopted during a special Board of Education meeting.
Business Administrator Michelle Richardson explained, “this year’s budget contains a general fund tax levy increase of 2% which is the cap that the state allows.” This will translate into a $2 increase for the owner of the average home assessed at $330,688. The tentative school rate is $1.4203 per $100 of assessed home value.
The loss in staff is in addition to the 151.5 staff reduction already realized in the last five years – bringing the total loss to 215 positions.
“That is a reduction across all staffing. We reduced yet again, our school budgets and put on pause any Tier 1 capital improvement projects unless they are related to safety. We’ve reduced much needed upgrades to our technology department. Due to the reduction in staff, we will see class sizes increase,” Superintendent Nicole Pormilli said.
The dire financial position was created by the bill commonly referred to as S-2. This transferred state aid away from some districts like Jackson and gave it to other districts. Local school officials have been fighting this change but have been unsuccessful in overturning it.
Pormilli said that revenue cuts like this “are impossible to have without an impact on a school district. We’ve been meeting with our Ocean County School Superintendent multiple times to review, line by line, our budget.”
The S-2 formula was to be based on a school district’s pupil population but “our state aid cuts far exceed our enrollment decreases,” Pormilli added. Decreases in enrollment are leveling a bit.
Pormilli also reported, “there will be a reduction in extracurricular activities. We will be eliminating transportation for offsite practices. There will be reductions of assistant coaches in many of our sports. We took this approach so we could keep the majority of our athletic program.”
Ice hockey and gymnastics will see a reduction based on participation levels and expenses. “Even with all these cuts we are still not in a place where we have balanced our budget,” Pormilli added.
District Needs Loan
The spending plan has put the district in the position of having to take out a $10 million loan to balance its budget. “We can’t cut anymore. We have lost way too much over six years. Cutting any more unravels the school district. We cannot raise the revenue any other way,” Pormilli said.
Board of Education President Guiseppi Palmeri said, “even with this loan we had to make hard decisions for the 2023-24 school year by cutting over $5 million from our budget. These decisions never come lightly and they hurt every time.”
Palmeri told the superintendent, “I know this was not easy. I know what you and your staff put together is the best possible outcome of a very terrible situation.”
In March the district learned that instead of losing an expected $2.5 million in aid, it would be hit with a $6.2 million reduction. Bills passed in the legislature in response to the budget emergency brought that figure to $2.1 million.
“We have other aid that has kept us afloat,” the superintendent said. She noted stabilization aid and ESSER Covid-19 fund. “That has helped us over the last two years to not hit this fiscal cliff, earlier however those funds have now dried up and we find ourselves in this scenario.”
No Surplus Left
Pormilli added, “year after year we have chipped away at our surplus. We have now expended all of that surplus. There is no more surplus to use and we have a constant rise of required expenditures that are outside the district’s control.”
“The majority of what we spend our money on is what we should be spending our money on – which is our students The second largest expenditures are for salaries. We have a lot of staff and we need to pay for their salaries and their increments in their contracts and for health benefits,” she explained.