Berlin Borough School District passes 2020-2021 tentative budget

Residents to see average expected increase of $97

Although classes have moved from Berlin Community School to a remote learning process because of the COVID-19 pandemic, school officials are actively preparing for the upcoming school year this fall.

Following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Berlin Borough School District Board of Education held its monthly meeting March 18 in the cafeteria of BCS, with all participants 6 feet apart as the board unanimously passed the tentative budget.

The budget, according to Business Administrator and Board Secretary Particia Palmieri, comes in at $13,192,285. Earlier this year, the board was notified it will see a slight increase in state aid for the upcoming fiscal year of $4,151,015, according to figures from the New Jersey Department of Education, or roughly 4 percent from the previous year.

For the average assessed home value of $233,700 in Berlin Borough, residents should expect  an increase of approximately $97, if the tentative budget is approved by the county executive superintendent and passed at the board’s public hearing on Wednesday, April 15. Borough residents are expected to see a decrease of approximately $80 next year from Eastern Regional High School.

Jon DeMasi addressed the board during the meeting’s public comment period about establishing a partnership between the borough athletic association and the board. Having worked with the Berlin Borough Athletic Association (BBAA) the past five years, DeMasi said he’d heard the board and the association had previously partnered to help keep the seven baseball and softball fields behind BCS in good playing condition. He hopes to see such a union again.

DeMasi pointed out that the athletic association has seen skyrocketing participation from the community in recent years, with over 300 kids signed up this spring to play in leagues where ages range from 4 to 12 years old.

“We’ve really gotten a lot of momentum with Berlin AA and it seems to be growing somewhere beyond our control,” DeMasi said. “This is the fourth year in a row that enrollment of boys and girls in our target age … has increased; we’re up to over 300 kids.”

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down any potential practices, games and other activities on the fields until at least April 20, the BBAA is seeking a partnership that could benefit the fields and the kids who play on them, whether it be this spring or summer.

Over the past several weeks, DeMasi said a team of community volunteers has been getting the various fields ready for practices and games,and they have determined that some fields are “relatively unsafe” for players and coaches. Issues range from drainage problems to holes, so the athletic association is looking for assistance.

“The end result is that we need help and we would like to reinvigorate a partnership that Berlin AA previously has with the school board,” DeMasi said.

He added that the association is looking for a donation from the school board that it would match. Through the partnership, DeMasi says Berlin AA would still be responsible for maintaining the fields.

During the meeting, the board approved a resolution, with one abstaining vote, for an agreement to create a partnership that would provide Berlin AA with up to $12,000 in financial support, or $4,000 in each year over the next three years.

“To the best of my knowledge, I can’t find anywhere how much the board has given in terms of financial support in previous years under previous administrations,” said Superintendent Joe Campisi. “So we’re potentially giving $8,000 to kind of make up for those years prior, and then the $4,000 we intend to give the association yearly.”

In return, Campisi says the expectation is that the association will follow with upkeep of the fields and that all upgrades and renovations done for the boys’ fields must be done to the girls’  fields as well..

“We’re happy to begin the process of having a concrete agreement where both BCS and Berlin AA are both supporting each other,” Campisi said. “It’s all the same kids … we like that relationship and we look forward to working together with them. 

“We’re trying to do everything that’s best for our kids.”

The board also approved, with one board member abstaining, at the meeting a shared services agreement with Berlin Borough for the Berlin Community Center (BCC). According to Campisi, the district plans to utilize the community center from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. as a learning center to provide therapeutic and education instruction with First Children Services, which addresses students with varying disabilities.

“The ultimate goal is to transition students back into our BCS school setting [through First Children Services in Cherry Hill],” Campisi said. “So we thought that if we could secure the community center from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and First Children Services was willing to discount any students that we have there, while allowing them to bring in students from other districts, that it would be a win win for the students, the borough and the school district.”

Campisi says the anticipated start date for the center is Monday, April 20, but that may be postponed because the COVID-19 pandemic is keeping students away from schools. But  Campisi says the center may be reevaluated to include mental health operations and to address needs that become more prevalent in the future.

The board’s next meeting is currently scheduled for Wednesday, April 15, starting at 6:30 p.m. at Berlin Community School.