Shamong Board of Education approves 2019–2020 proposed budget

The board discussed communication concerns, transportation concerns and the 2019–2020 proposed budget.

At this week’s Shamong Board of Education meeting, the board discussed communication concerns, transportation concerns and the 2019–2020 proposed budget, which could include a tax hike of about $95.

Shamong resident April Foga expressed concerns with the board regarding communication between parents and the school, stating she is unsure of how to reach out for follow up information on issues from previous meetings and urging more fluid communication overall.

“A lot of parents feel like it’s school versus parents,” Foga said. “We don’t want to feel that way, we want to kind of bridge the gap between the school and the parents. I feel like a lot of us don’t know how to do that and where to start.”

Superintendent Christine Vespe said she previously attempted to host a communicators group for parents, focusing on key topics of concern, and no one attended. She suggested a similar group could be started again, either at the superintendent level or at the principal level, recommending a “breakfast talk,” and she is open to further suggestions of increasing the levels of communication.

Foga also expressed concerns regarding the contract with Garden State Transportation following alleged issues with bus driver Franck Lafortune, along with claims of drivers being on their cellphones and leaving children on the school buses.

According to a press release from the Office of the Attorney General, “staff members from the Indian Mills Elementary School were notified that two children informed their parents that they observed their school bus driver, Franck Lafortune, watching a pornographic video on his cell phone prior to exiting the bus at 8:30 a.m. [on Feb. 4].”

Board Secretary and Business Administrator Laura Archer said she spoke with officials at GST and the drivers are strongly regulated. She said they are all certified drivers and are required to provide fingerprints every four years that go through the FBI database. Drivers on medications must complete annual physicals, and 25 percent of the driver population is randomly drug tested.

She said they undergo training twice a year and perform bus inspections every six months. The state can host inspections randomly. GST’s phone policy is that drivers are not to be on their phones, and their disciplinary action follows a chain of verbal reprimand, written reprimand, suspension and termination.

Archer said she is looking into shared services with a neighboring district in the future, however it is too close to go into effect for the 2019–2020 school year.

If they do not take part in shared services with another district and go out to bid once their contract with GST is complete, by law they must go with the lowest bidder, which could be GST.

Archer then discussed the logistics of the 2019–2020 proposed budget, which totals $14,846,179, with $14,464,326 in the general fund.

With the district facing state aid reductions, it will be receiving $4,030,793 in state aid for the 2019–2020 school year. In the 2018–2019 school year, it received $4,194,324, making this a loss of approximately $163,000. The district anticipates the loss of about $1,221,078 in state aid by the 2024–2025 school year.

The tax levy is $9,560,498, facing a 2 percent increase from the 2018–2019 year at $9,373,037.

For the average assessed home of $308,498, residents could see a tax increase of about $95.86.

Archer said, for the 2019–2020 budget, they were able to maintain all instructional programs and services, maintain current class sizes, focus on student achievement, maintain staffing, develop a fiscally responsible budget at the 2 percent cap, sustain technology software and support programs, reduce spending on supplies and non-instructional equipment/maintenance projects, maintain professional development, maintain all extra curricular clubs and athletics and will have a preventative maintenance focus on facilities.

The public hearing on the 2019–2020 budget will be held on April 30 at 7 p.m. at Indian Mills Memorial School.

In other news:

  • The future educators from Indian Mills Memorial School visited Indian Mills Elementary School on March 6 for the Read Across America celebration to read Dr. Seuss books and participate in activities.

The next board of education meeting will be held on April 16 at 7 p.m. at Indian Mills Memorial School.