Berlin Community School BOE approves 2018–2019 budget

The new budget includes the funding of two school resource officers, improvements to the school roof and a revised district website.

At its latest meeting, the Berlin Borough Board of Education approved its 2018–2019 budget. Next school year’s total operating budget stands at $12,595,682, which includes a general fund total of $11,527,844, a special revenue fund total of $473,213 and a debt service total of $594,625.

The district will exceed the 2 percent tax levy due to expanding enrollment and an increase in health-care costs, allowing a 2.8 percent increase in the general fund local levy.

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This tax levy rise equates to a $194.43 increase on the average assessed home in Berlin Borough.

Although the district received an increase of about $186,000 in state aid, which is the first increase in nine years, the tax levy also climbed because of the 2017–2018 debt service, in which the state required the school to hold $426,000 in the bank to make a last payment on a bond.

Roughly $31,345 in banked cap will be used to fund new school resource officer positions. Over the last couple of months, the district agreed to enter into a contract with the borough to jointly fund two school resource officers at Berlin Community School.

The borough will be funding various police expenses, include uniforms, equipment, weapons and a vehicle. The borough will also partially fund the officers’ extensive training, as the district, which will be funding the $25 per hour salary

Both new officers, Harold J. Talbot III and Robert H. Brunges III, were introduced at the meeting and will begin May 1. One full-time SRO will serve from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on any day the school is in session.

“We are very excited about that and to begin to implement that,” said Superintendent Kristen Martello.

Next year’s budget includes a nearly $40,000 withdrawal from the maintenance reserve to fund a new sealant on a section of the school’s roof. Over the next seven to 10 years, the district hopes to pay the roof costs in full rather than go out for a referendum, according Martello.

The new budget also encompasses various educational and technological improvements.

Starting next year, the district plans to update the math curriculum in sixth to eighth grade, as well as implement a reading workshop for second graders.

BCS will be increasing its basic skills skills instruction, including adding a full-time BSI position in the elementary school. There will also be a new hire for a part-time technology technician.

The 1:1 iPad ratio will be implemented in the fifth grade. There will also be a set of eight to 10 iPads in all classrooms from kindergarten to fourth grade.

The district will be expanding counseling services as, currently, BCS sustains a part-time counselor who works two days a week. Next year, a counselor will be in the building four days a week.

Along with maintaining its three-year facility plan, the school will continue its “Going Green” efforts and air quality testing.

Current class size averages will also be maintained.

The budget will also fund the renovation of the district’s 12-year-old website, which will feature a corresponding app through Blackboard software.

Using a singular platform, parents will be able to add money to lunch accounts, look at Google assignment, check on attendance and discipline and more. The new website and app will start in June and be finalized in August.

“Hopefully communication — the things that we’re sending out — is a little more clear and embedded within the emails,” Martello said.

In other news:

  • On first reading, the board passed a new policy on public participation during board meetings. According to the policy, “persons wishing to address the Board shall sign in on the BOE established public participation form at each BOE meeting, requesting permission to speak during the public participation portion of a regular Board meeting.” Anybody wishing to speak must register with a form provided by the board at the start of the meeting. The second reading for this policy will take place at the May 10 meeting.
  • Principal Dr. Shelly Ward-Richards presented a review of the 2017–2018 Strategic Plan. This is the first of a three-year improvement program implemented by the New Jersey School Boards Association. She says BCS is ahead of the schedule for its 2017–2018 goals.
  • Parents voiced concerns regarding communication between the board and the community, particularly expressing, what they say, as the governing body’s insincerity during public comment and lack of follow-up after meetings. “You were elected by the people in this room,” said resident Tracy Salvatore. “Over the last year that I’ve been attending these board meetings, I watched parents come up here and express their concerns. Valid concerns and serious concerns.” Along with eye-rolling and lack of eye contact, she noted the setup of the board’s table indicates a closed-offness from the public. She suggested the board use social media, town hall meetings and focus groups to increase transparency. “Elections are every November,” Salvatore said. “If you can’t take the time to foster communication with the community, then we’ll make sure that we’re at the polls in November to ensure our voices are heard then.”
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