BARNEGAT – The Barnegat Board of Education’s approval of its 2022-2023 school budget comes with some good news for local taxpayers.
Property taxes associated with funding the school district will actually go down once the new $64 million budget is in place.
“Someone with a house that’s assessed at $240,000 will see a monthly decrease of $1.75,” said Stephen J. Brennan, Board Secretary/Business Administrator. “We are seeing about a half a cent decrease attributable to school tax.”
Brennan said the reduction in part is due to the municipality increasing its rateables. More houses are being built and additional commercial properties are making a home in Barnegat. As a result, the tax levy becomes divided over more entities.
Although the Barnegat Township School District received additional state aid this year, 64 percent of the budget is locally funded. The district currently operates at almost 96 percent budget efficiency, with four percent falling into surplus funds for use in succeeding years.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian Latwis, Brennan, and members of the district’s administrative team outlined the budget at a public hearing held on April 26. Only a handful of people were present for the meeting.
The New Jersey average cost per pupil is estimated at $17,000, according to Brennan. Barnegat is below that average with an approximate cost of $15,000 per student.
A $4 million pre-kindergarten program in Barnegat receives all of its funding through the state.
One of the largest expenses the district has encountered as far as facilities involves the Brackman Middle School.
“We awarded a very large contract to our HVAC vendor to increase the climate in that building.” Brennan shared. “About two or three years ago, we took a real hard look and tried to come up with a long-term plan. We aren’t making this up as we go along.”
The impact on the budget has been supplemented by significant funding, which has allowed the district to invest in its assets.
Capital outlay is the investment in the facilities and shows a significant increase in next year’s budget, with the demolition of the Edwards School.
Barnegat’s construction of the high school and addition to Brackman School remains a debt owed to the state at $804,000 and comes out of the normal operating budget.
Personnel costs make up 75 percent of the budget between staffing and benefits. The ratio of administrators to faculty members is 17:1. Administrative costs are reportedly $900 below the regional average.
“It’s paying the people who make the organization and what’s provided to the whole child,” Jim Barbiere, Director of Curriculum, Instruction, & Human Resources explained. “It’s both the academic as far as reading, writing and arithmetic, as well as social and emotional needs.”
Staffing expenditures are generally tied to contractual obligations. The goal is to maintain staffing levels to the greatest degree possible.
Barbiere stressed the importance of addressing children’s social and emotional needs based on the challenges they experienced as a result of COVID.
Steve Nichol, Director of Special Projects, addressed the budget’s allotments for technology. He recalled problems the district experienced when there was a much smaller network. Additional WI FI points have increased accessibility, together with an internet speed that Nichol said was the fastest among Ocean County schools.
“As far as our technology and infrastructure, we went to a six-gigabyte infrastructure,” he said. “This now provides us with more capabilities among our six schools to speak among themselves as they couldn’t in past years.
“We also have a one to one (Chromebook) initiative for students and staff alike,” Nichol continued. “We’ve added ViewSonic boards in the high school and we’re going to continue to roll them out in the middle schools and lower grades as well.”
The high school recently upgraded the computer lab, which has resulted in many positive changes. Among them is the Cyberpatriots achieving statewide victory for e-sports.
Cameras throughout the district are being upgraded, as well as the integration of a new lockdown system to ensure safety within the schools.
Barbiere said that next year the district plans to look at new textbooks and instructional resources. District administrators plan to speak with the Board’s Education Committee to recommend a variety of changes.
News that New Jersey has changed its graduation requirements has suggested a need for a specialized program in the eleven grade to prepare students who might not be ready for the NJGPA exam. Changes to intervention programs have resulted in positive growth, which Barbiere believes will continue to close gaps.
“We are always trying to be responsive to our learners,” Barbiere said. “So, we’re putting in new programs and new courses like the high school ROTC program and the Shield program.”
Daniel Gundersen, Director of Student Services, said that Barnegat continues to see a large influx of special needs students who require an allocation of additional staff.
Many of the students have moved into the district and have come into the district with Individualized Education Programs. Whether they have specialized programs or they’re in the general ed classes with a special ed class, there’s been a need to increase programs and classes.
“Over the past couple of years, we’ve added some programs that we’re very proud of,” shared Gundersen. “One is the ACES program, which is a specialized program for our students with autism. We’re bringing those students together into one location where we’re able to have staff that’s cross-trained to work with all the different levels of students with similar disabilities.”
Gunderson cited other initiatives, including one designed to support some of the disabled peer students at the high school. These students will have the opportunity to learn job skills in a newly added school store.
Additional sections have also been added to meet the very specialized needs of different students and provide teachers with the tools to help them.
The Board of Education members in attendance unanimously passed the budget for the 2022-2023 school year.
“Mr. Brennan and the business office have done a great job this year managing the needs of the district, while also being mindful of the realities of the community,” said Sean O’Brien, board president. “Each year the requirements from the state and needs of the students increase.”
“While the ability to raise funds does not keep up, our district continues to find ways to continuously improve our infrastructure, while providing the necessary resources for our students and staff,” O’Brien continued. “The Board of Education will continue to work productively to ensure its spending is as efficient and equitable as possible so that our students, staff, and community thrive.”