MANCHESTER – Manchester Township school administrators rolled out their proposed $58.9 million budget for 2019-20 recently.
The average homeowner in the township, whose home is assessed at $161,100, will see an increase of $25.72 in their school tax bill this year.
Each school had to cut 10 percent from its desired budget this cycle, Business Administrator Craig Lorentzen said. Although no positions or programs are being cut this year, some purchases and projects had to be eliminated or postponed, keeping the overall budget within the state’s mandated two percent cap.
The proposed budget of $58,889,520 comes in under the 2018-19 actual budget of $58,904,349, despite the tax levy increasing from $45,262,715 to $46,167,969. Taxpayers carry 83 percent of the local school budget. Less than 10 percent of the budget is funded through state aid, whereas surrounding districts get at least 40 percent of their budgets from that source. Federal aid and other aid make up the remaining 7 percent.
Salaries and benefits comprise 77 percent of the district’s budget, Lorentzen said. Most of the budget is made up of mandated items and fixed costs the district has no control over, other than to pay.
“Some things we have control over, but there’s very little of the budget we have control over, between the salaries and the pensions and the transportation, the utilities,” Superintendent David Trethaway said.
There are few revenue streams for school districts, but Manchester benefits from the tuition it receives from Lakehurst, which sends its high schoolers to Manchester Township High School. The district also tries to slash costs through cooperatives with other school districts and municipalities. They also do a lot of work in-house with their maintenance staff, rather than relying on outside contractors.
The district will make any staffing cuts through attrition and possibly two non-renewals of contracts.
While neighboring districts like Toms River and Brick townships are experiencing devastating cuts due to the state’s new school funding formula, known as S2, Manchester escaped drastic state aid cuts this year, losing only $32,569. However, the district has already been underfunded for nearly a decade now, having never recovered more than $1 million in state aid it lost back in 2010. The district expects $5,374,263 in state aid for 2019-20.
Manchester is part of the Save Our Schools coalition, 72 schools around the state that are asking the governor to look at the funding formula and its negative impact on schools.
The problem Manchester has always faced is that despite a majority senior citizen community, the funding formula considers the district “wealthy.”
“We’re hopeful that (the state) will make some adjustments. But I don’t think they’re ever going to correct our situation, because there’s only three of us in the whole state: it’s us, Berkeley, and a district in Cape May County. But what we are hoping is that they will adjust some of the other pieces on the funding formula. For example, special education,” Lorentzen said. At present, special education is funded at only 14 percent. “If they fund special education fully, that would be a tremendous help for not only us but for many districts.”
Included in this budget:
- Funding for curriculum revisions to meet state standards
- Funding for 35 out-of-district placements
- Funding for professional development
- Funding for new textbooks in some classes
- Funding for new math curriculum
- Funding for security upgrades, including new security officer at the middle school
- Replacement of six school buses
- Funding for new and replacement classroom technology
- Maintaining and refurbishing buildings and grounds