Eastern Regional adopts 2018–2019 budget

Also at its latest meeting, the board of education considered new security measures provided by the state department of education.

At its latest meeting, the Eastern Regional Board of Education approved the 2018–2019 budget. The budget stands at $40,599,494, which includes $39,170,519 of general funds, $510,400 of special revenue funds and $918,575 of debt service funds.

Voorhees Township total is about $20 million, Berlin Borough’s total is about $4 million, and Gibbsboro’s total is about $1 million.

The local tax levy is $26,471,442, a 2 percent increase since last year, which is distributed among the three communities based on student enrollment and equalized property values.

The annual tax increase for the average assessed home in Berlin is $12. Gibbsboro homes will receive a decrease of $48.89, and Voorhees homes will see an increase of $34.94.

“They’re not significant numbers, and we’re happy that we can keep them modest,” said Diana Schiraldi, business administrator and board secretary.

More than a million dollars of the budget will be designated for next year’s capital projects, including the installation of a new HVAC rooftop unit, network infrastructure upgrades and a roof-mounted photovoltaic system.

The photovoltaic system, or solar panels, will cost $1,318,860. Only $700,000 will be paid with capital reserve funds, as the balance of $600,000 will be paid over five years under a lease purchase arrangement.

The district has hired Cambria Solar Construction, LLC for the project. The company was the lowest possible bidder when analyzed on a 20-year process, according the agenda. The project has a 20-year positive net cash flow of $2.5 million through electricity savings and sales of renewable energy credits that can be sold on the market.

The district is receiving about $9.6 million in state aid. This is an increase in state aid of more than $153,000 since last year. The district also received a notice it has to pay the state $106,000 for state facility students; it used some of the $153,000 in state aid for those funds.

Encompassed in the $9.4 million of state aid is about $116,000 for security, as, during the meeting, the board considered new safety measures presented by William Westerby, school safety, security and anti-bullying coordinator.

Westerby discussed the district’s safety issues and potential resolutions that came out of a mid-April school security committee meeting conducted at Eastern. The attendees included inspectors of the state Department of Education’s School Preparedness and Emergency Planning and officers from the Voorhees Township Police Department.

After evaluating Eastern’s campus and security measures, the state’s inspectors, who have visited more than 900 schools in the past three years, recommended various adjustments and implementations, including minimizing the entry points, raising outside fencing by two feet and installing protective window coverings.

“Some of the recommendations, though, you start to wrestle with convenience,” Westerby said. “You’re up against convenience. You’re up against costs — things like that.”

A major point of concern, which was expressed by both students and parents at the last two board of education meetings, is lockdown procedures, also referred to as active shooter drills, particularly during open lunch periods.

Students are regularly directed that during such drills, or actual disasters, they must take shelter in the nearest open classroom.

“The reality is, when you do the math, that’s difficult during an open lunch,” Westerby said, as students are moving around the hallways.

Now, in the event of an incident, the staff will be trained to intently scan the hallways, finding as many students as possible, before shutting and locking their doors.

Along the lines of drills, Westerby says the “№1 problem” identified by the Department of Education is the audibility of such announcements, as students and staff say they often can’t distinguish what type of procedures are being broadcast over the PA system.

In notifying an emergency, the inspector suggested using strobe lights, automated announcement and even panic buttons. Westerby says members of the district met with a vendor the other day regarding the purchase of this equipment.

The state department also advised double-locking the school’s vestibule, alarming outside gates, pushing back the daily time doors open and mandating that outside community members only enter the school with an appointment.

“There are some costs factors, but again, I don’t think we can put a cost on safety,” Superintendent Harold Melleby said. “Again, I would recommend to the board that obviously we want to be prudent as far as expense, but I think we need to be as safe as we can possibly be.”

Melleby says these committee meetings are scheduled to occur on a regular basis and will include the insight of staff, students and parents.

In other news:

  • In the first semester, which ran from Sept. 1 to Dec. 31, there were nine incidents of violence reported, including two assaults, six fights and one simple threat. There were no reports of vandalism. There were two confirmed HIB incidents. There were six substance cases, including four confirmed uses and two refusals of drug tests. There were 59 incidents leading to student removal, which includes out-of-school suspensions.
  • There were no HIB reports since the March 28 board of education meeting.
  • During the first semester, Eastern’s new academic coaching program, which specifically mentors and tutors freshmen, experienced a nearly 40 percent decrease in the failure rate of freshmen, according to teachers Elizabeth O’Keefe and Susan Bunnell-Jackson — the program’s advisors. Some 95 percent of classes being failed by ninth-grade students was reduced to 57 percent.
  • Senior Rachel Waro was named Scholar of the Month for April 2018.