The South Brunswick School District will be seeing a boost in state aid for the upcoming school year; the question is by how much.
Figures released by the state on Thursday indicate South Brunswick will receive an increase in state aid of about $1.7 million (8.3 percent), for a total of $23.2 million. However, a question remains on whether the district will receive that exact amount, because the data released by the state shows an inaccurate aid figure for the 2011-12 school year.
State figures show the district received $21.4 million last year, but South Brunswick actually received about $20.1 million.
"We're still trying to verify that. From the paperwork we received, we don't think the 2011-12 numbers are accurate," said Superintendent Gary McCartney. "That number is the basis for the 2012-13 aid figure, which shows an 8 percent increase. If that number is accurate we'd be delighted. The issue is the number they started from to make that determination isn't the number we had."
The $20.1 million in state aid South Brunswick received last year, represented an increase of $1.26 million, but was still short of the $6.3 million in aid that was cut in 2010-11.
Dr. McCartney said if this year's increase in aid is correct, the total would come close to restoring the aid lost during the historic cut in Gov. Chris Christie's first year in office.
"If the 8 percent increase is accurate and we get up to about $23 million in aid, that would take us back closer to the high water mark we received of about $24 to $25 million," he said. "It's nice to be getting some level of state aid restored, but we're still not back to where we were under (former Gov. Jon) Corzine's last year."
The district could also lose money from state aid for the total number of students the Department of Education projects to attend charter schools. Last year the state projected approximately 150 students from South Brunswick to attend charters.
South Brunswick voters approved the 2011-12 school budget by a margin of 2,161 to 1,546. The overall budget was about $134.5 million, with a $95 million general fund levy that carried a 12.2-cent tax rate increase, which raised the school tax rate to $2.802 per $100 of assessed valuation.
A township home with an assessed value of $200,000 saw an increase of about $244 in school taxes under the approved budget ($20.33 per month) and a home assessed at $300,000 saw an increase of about $366 ($30 per month).
The budget eliminated 34.1 full time equivalent employees from across the district. The layoffs included five employees from administration, 12.6 from the teaching staff, two employees from educational services, 10 paraprofessionals, 2.5 secretaries, and two maintenance employees.
The layoffs represented the third consecutive year of double digit staffing reductions in South Brunswick’s schools. The 2009-10 budget cut 25.3 full-time equivalent employees, and eliminated 111.9 full-time equivalent employees in 2010-11.
Also exacerbating the financial problems for the district and township are declining revenues.
The township ratable base dropped 4.3 percent to approximately $3.6 billion, with a high number of tax appeals blamed for the decrease. Over the last seven years, the township's ratable base has decreased by $180 million.
"During the last three years alone, 8 percent of our ratable base has been diminished from the net affect of tax appeals," said Chief Financial Officer Joseph Monzo, at a Township Council meeting earlier this month.
The drop in ratables is largely based on tax appeals by corporations. Mayor Frank Gambatese said about 100 companies successfully sued the township for a tax reduction last year, which accounted for over $100 million in lost ratables
The school district also dealt with a projected increase last year to health benefits (includes health, dental and prescription) of $1.8 million or about 10.5 percent, and a pension cost increase of about $89,000 or 4.8 percent, according to Business Administrator Anthony Tonzini.
Earlier this month the South Brunswick Board of Education voted to move the annual school election from April to November. Officials estimated the move could save the district $36,000 and the township $14,000 on the cost of running the April election. By moving the election, the legislation eliminates a budget vote entirely for spending that falls within the 2 percent tax cap. The district will still hold a public budget hearing as in previous years.
Dr. McCartney said the work crafting this year's budget is ongoing.
"We have subcommittee meetings starting (this week) so we're in full gear," he said.
The district should get verification on the aid total this week, but any boost would be welcome news to the administration.
"Any increase would obviously be welcomed," McCartney said. "But if the increase is in the vicinity of 8 percent, I would do back flips now and worry about back surgery later."