Public hearing for 2018–19 budget leads to approval

Superintendent Joe Bollendorf gave a detailed budget presentation at the Board of Education meeting on April 24.

By Krista Cerminaro

The Washington Township Board of Education approved the 2018–2019 school budget on Tuesday, April 24. The budget included roughly $150 million in total appropriations, with $147 million in the general fund and $1.2 million in debt service.

Superintendent Joe Bollendorf noted the local tax levy, which was at $84.7 million last year, will increase by $84,700 — an increase reflective of 1 percent — and the total budget increase overall is 1.48 percent. Total increase in expenditures is roughly $2.1 million.

This year, taxpayers can expect a yearly increase of $59.84 on the average home assessed at $210,000.

“In 2018–19, we see an increase of $1 million in state aid — that number’s probably going to disappear sooner rather than later, but right now it’s there,” Bollendorf said. “If we lose that million dollars, or more, you’re talking about that 1.48 percent being greatly reduced,” Bollendorf said.

President Ginny Murphy said there are mechanisms in place to deal with any cuts that may come once the budget is approved.

“When the board comes out and makes a recommendation that they reduce the spending to 1 percent, it’s kind of our way of saying, ‘we’ve taxed our community to the point where we need to respect that.’ And, I think that’s represented in the 1 percent.”

Bollendorf explained that, over the years, there was little variation in state contributions — including years of tremendous growth — and the district wasn’t getting enough support from the state. As a result, the district has had to increasingly tax the community to continue to provide for students, pay staff and provide services.

“You hear this rhetoric about being over-funded. We understand that. But, there were a lot of years where we were one of the largest-growing communities in all of New Jersey, where that tax revenue wasn’t coming in, and these schools continued to improve on the backs of the people who live here,” Bollendorf said.

“We paid our way in the years that we were growing, when we didn’t get the state aid,” Murphy said. “And that’s not a real great argument to make to the state. … If you’re in education for the good of all students, you have districts out there, some that don’t even have enough books for their kids.”

The budget appropriates funds for developing a new autism program in the middle school and the development of an integrated preschool, two additional special law enforcement officers, student information upgrades, various curriculum adoptions — including the world language program at Washington Township High School, financial literacy and library studies — and capital projects, such as new exterior doors, boiler replacements, HVAC units and asbestos abatement, among many other projects, totaling roughly $3.5 million.

Budget goals for 2018–19, according to Bollendorf, include continuing to provide a safe learning environment, meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse student population and maintaining high academic standards, working to an average class size of 25, minimizing the tax impact while maximizing efficient use of tax dollars and ensuring staffing is commensurate with enrollment.

Bollendorf said some cost-saving implementations include purchasing through cooperatives, utilizing the Energy Savings Improvement Plan, being cost-conscientious of staff training and implementing more turn-key training, and working cooperatively with the municipality, among other measures.

To view the school budget, visit wtps.org.

In other news,

  • The board approved WTHS principal Ann Moore’s retirement and commended her for a job well done as principal over the years. Moore has worked in the district for roughly 34 years.
  • WTHS students Lexie Wells, Ivellise Morales, Tina Ho, Brandon Eshelman and Marco Santos gave a presentation on a recent anti-bias training they underwent through the Anti-Defamation League’s “A World of Difference” institute. Other participants in the training attended the meeting as well, and were recognized on behalf of the board.
  • Helping Hands Hoagie Sale representatives, including Ron Lucarini, spoke on behalf of the annual hoagie sale’s success, thanking community members for their involvement in helping raise $51,000 for local recipients.

“Every year, we produce like no other year before us,” said speaker Charlie Doud.

“This is remarkable, that we were able to raise these kinds of dollars through this hoagie sale,” Bollendorf added. “This money means so much to these people who are struggling with these battles.”