Friday, September 29, 2023

Middle School Budget Hikes Tax .8cents

By Al Campbell

COURT HOUSE — April 18 anticipation has Middle Township Schools Superintendent Michael Kopakowski in high gear and on the speaker’s circuit.
 Like a traveling salesman, Kopakowski is ready to make a pitch to any group. Their time is his time.
 His product: The K-12 district’s $41.8-million budget to educate 2,922 pupils, approved unanimously by six of nine board of education members present March 30 at a special meeting at Elementary No. 2.
 That is up about $1.7 million over last year’s budget, and includes no new education programs.
 If approved by voters April 18, from 5-9 p.m., the budget will collect $19.4 million from local taxpayers, compared to $17.4 million last year.
That would require a tax increase of 9.7 cents per $100 of assessed value, but with debt service reduction, the actual hike will be eight cents. That amounts to $80 per $100,000 of assessed value.
The projected tax rate will be $1.71 per $100 of assessed value, or $1,710 for every $100,000 of assessed value.
Armed with a PowerPoint presentation that details four years of flat state funding, district efficiencies that result in cost per pupil of $9,757, lowest of peer districts in Ocean City, Wildwood, and Lower Cape May Regional, and programs that could be cut, Kopakowski still has a tough sell.
 Teachers, represented by Middle Township Education Association, back the budget, Charlotte Saddler, president, told the board.
 “MTEA supports this budget, but it would be worse if it was not passed. Middle Township has a history of not replacing people cut,” Saddler said.
 MTEA is anxious to “keep as many positions as we can,” she said.
 “I can assure you no attempt was made to look at specific people, teachers or support staff, and target for cuts,” Kopakowski said.
 “Everybody has a different view of what can be cut,” he added.
 Complicating matters, two years ago, the district was labeled a “District in need of Improvement” under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
 Because of test scores that improved, that status was “placed on hold,” said Kopakowski.
 “If we improve test scores, we will be removed from the District in Need of Improvement status,” he said.
 “That’s the unfortunate thing for us, we should he expanding our education, but with the fourth year of level state aid funding (including $7.1 million for core curriculum, $1.3 million in transportation, $2.6 million special education and other categories for a total $12 million), we are not able to do that,” said Kopakowski.
 Out-of-district tuition payments for 120 district students due to special needs jumped $350,000.
 Township ratable growth of $62 million translated into $900,000 of additional revenue without which the district would have had to increase taxes even more, said Vice President Dennis Roberts.
 Kopakowski is prepared to answer other questions, like what happens if the budget is defeated? That is something voters here have not done in several years.
 His stock answer will include: review by township committee with recommendations where to cut, what programs and accounts.
 Items included in the state’s definition of “thorough and efficient” education are safe from the ax.
 Allowed to be cut, if needed, are:
ʉۢ Full day kindergarten, sixth grade camping trip.
ʉۢ Co-curricular programs, department chairpersons.
ʉۢ After school programs, support staff positions.
ʉۢ Athletic programs, guidance counselors.
ʉۢ Elementary music, fine arts and world language programs.
 The budget includes some $365,000 for two major improvements at Elementary No. 1, the oldest of the district’s four schools. The first section there was built in the early 1950s.
 The original foot-square-ceiling tiles will be replaced for $300,000 and a card swipe entry system will be installed for $65,000. That system was deemed needed for security by Kopakowski.
 Newsletters will be sent to all 7,000 district postal patron households with budget data.
 In the meantime, Kopakowski will prepare to meet the voting public at any one-to-one or club.
 Anyone who would like to schedule a presentation should call the administration office at 465-1800.
Contact Campbell at (609) 886-8600 Ext 28 or:

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