School Taxes, Class Sizes Increasing With Aid Cuts

Board of Education members look over the numbers during a budget presentation. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  JACKSON – Members of the Jackson Board of Education voted to approve the district’s annual spending plan which includes a tax increase.

  District Business Administrator Michelle Richardson said the $153,211,598 budget includes a 3.6 cent increase.

  Superintendent Stephen Genco said previously while discussing the budget’s preparation that by raising to the full 2 percent of the tax levy taxpayers of an average home, valued at $327,707, taxpayers would see a $119 tax increase.

  The Jackson School District joined at least 11 school districts to fight against recent cuts to state aid from “what we consider to be an unjust and inequitable school funding law known as S2,” Genco said.

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  S2 redistributed state aid away from districts losing enrollment, such as Jackson, which was considered “overfunded.”

Superintendent Stephen Genco (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  Previously the district was looking at increasing its surplus account by $600,000 and was considering a reduction in staff by at least 20 positions.

  “We did lose 14 positions through attrition and retirements. We did not have to do a reduction in force of anybody. Last year we lost 16 positions so in two years we have lost 30 positions. That is a lot of positions and we are starting to feel it in a class size number,” Genco said.

  “We are one of the districts that is one of the biggest losers,” Genco said in regards to state aid reduction. The district lost $1.3 million in state funding during the 2018-19 school year and will see a reduction of $2.3 million during the coming school year with a $3.5 million reduction in 2020-21. The reductions will continue on for another five years for seven years total.

  “We put together a budget that kept as much as we could protect,” Genco said. “I have to believe that something will change because I can’t imagine the impacts. We are not alone in this funding impacts. I can’t believe the state would sit back and see the impacts that would occur.”

  The district raised the budget by the maximum allowed by law, but it doesn’t fill in the gap of what was lost in state aid, he said.

  That being said, Genco said he is proud of what the district has been able to accomplish given the losses: “We have been able to maintain our investments in curriculum in social studies, guidance curriculum revision, Chrome books to support curriculum updates.

  “We did protect our investments in technology initiatives. We have to maintain that technology infrastructure,” Genco added.

  Genco said, “we were able to keep all our co-curricular teams. We will be limiting freshmen and junior varsity in tournament games. We already have a pay to play, a participation fee including. We aren’t increasing that fee but it isn’t going anywhere.”

Board of Education members Thomas Colucci and Vikki Grasso listen to a budget presentation during a public hearing on the district’s spending plan. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  The superintendent added that the district will share a Plumsted Township School District employee three days a week as part of its child study team program. “We will be paying Plumsted for that three-day-a-week period,” Genco said.

  In its tentative budget the district planned to cut all its tier one facilities projects but was able to put “$100,000 back which is close to three fourths of our projects,” Genco said.

  “We are building a new satellite transportation facility,” Genco said. He noted that the $5 million facility to be located near the Jackson Liberty High School will be paid with capital reserve money.

  “We could not use that from the capital budget. It can only be used from the reserve fund for reserve projects. Our current facility is not cost effective,” Genco said adding that the district would continue its to upgrade its bus fleet.

  Genco noted the tax levy was raised to 2 percent, that is the maximum that can be raised by law. That figure represents $1.6 million. Genco said that meant the district was $600,000 behind the eight ball. “Things don’t typically go down (in costs). I believe this is a budget that allows us to maintain the integrity of the district.”

  Genco repeated his view that he did not believe that there is a district in the entire state that was overfunded. “Our population has gone down and because of that they are saying we’ve been overfunded. I think that is an oversimplified way of describing a very complex problem. I don’t think any district in the state is overfunded.”

  Board member Gus Acevedo said “the job was done to keep this school district from cutting its own throat from diminishing its effectiveness and from being less than it could be …and the money was being well spent. This district is not failing.”

  Vice Board President Sharon Dey said that any “cuts will eventually impact our kids. We have a great community and our schools are a big part of it.”

  No members of the public came forward to question or comment on the school budget’s preparation.