The $14,642,213 budget for the 2020-2021 school year calls for a 3-cent tax rate increase. For a home in Shamong with an assessed average value of $308,812, property owners can expect to see an annual increase of $93.19.
Laura Archer, business administrator at Shamong Township School District, presented the proposed budget to the board of education at its March 17 meeting. Archer cited increased health care costs, reductions in state funding and a sharp increase in private school tuition for special education as factors in the increase.
“We were expecting $257,000 for the ’20-’21 (school year), and they (the state) took $266,467,” Archer explained during the meeting. “Then in the coming years, you’ll see that it’s almost $300,000.”
Projections show Shamong losing approximately $311,795 in the 2021-2022 school year; $291,991 in the 2022-2023 school year; $181,566 in the 2023-2024 school year; and $57,336 for the 2024-2025, which the state has set for all districts to be “right-sized” according its’ S2 School Funding bill.
One of the factors leading to the district’s losses is the decline of enrollment. Archer noted that Indian Mills School expects to lose 12 students, with 16 expected to be lost at Indian Mills Memorial School.
“We talked about our enrollment and we will be going down a staff member at the elementary school due to enrollment just because of the changes,” she admitted.
IMS has 18 teachers; IMMS has 16 as of this school year.
Costs of paying the special education tuition to private or parochial schools led to a 100-percent increase in the line item, as explained by both Archer and Superintendent Christine Vespe.
Vespe and Archer attended meetings with state and local lawmakers in the past to seek legislative relief from tuition rates the non-public schools charge for special education instruction.
“For many of these children, they need to be out of the district and it is what’s best for them,” Vespe said. “When we’ve exhausted everything that we wanted to do for the children here, and we can’t provide the education for them, there is no cap on what private schools can charge.”
Litigation is not an option the district sought as Vespe learned fees for doing so would “bankrupt the district.”
Bills charged to the district by non-public schools include tuition, transportation, bus aides if needed and an extended school year cost.
“You’ll then finish the school year and the state allows for them to change the tuition rate based on how many students they have,” Archer noted. “They are allowed to adjust the tuition rate and say that the cost could change.”
Board member Frank Locantore inquired if relief could be given to Shamong or other districts who have had the same issue, but Vespe said nothing has come up yet.
She hopes for special education to receive full funding and for it to be looked at closely and regulated, but does not want to override parents who seek what’s best for their children.
“You’re in a very hard place,” Vespe added. “It’s the schools we have to go after, not the parents.”
As Archer explained the rising costs of the population’s tuition, she reiterated that the budget retains the district’s fiscal responsibility for educating students, for continual review curriculum, for maintaining and improving district infrastructure and facilities and for keeping all existing programs.
The proposed budget was approved and will be sent to the county superintendent for review. The board will hold its public hearing on April 30 at 7 p.m. in Indian Mills Memorial School, not the previously scheduled April 28.