School board takes second vote on budget proposal

Reaffirmation vote passes 8-1 at March 24 meeting

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Per Pupil Cost Comparisons - Sussex County
Total Pupil Per Pupil
High Point Regional HS $22,470 $19,212
Vernon $20,357 $16,532
Wallkill Valley Regional HS $22,120 $15,788
Lenape $18,295 $15,645
Hopatcong $19,525 $15,284
Kittatinny $19,224 $15,207
Newton $17,802 $14,701
State (K-12) $18,047 $14,519
Sparta $19,733 $13,707
Per Pupil Cost Comparisons
K-12 Morris & Sussex County
Total Pupil Per Pupil
State Average $18,047 $14,519
Kinnelon Boro $17,641 $14,424
Montville Twp $16,825 $14,269
Boonton Twp $16,708 $13,817
Randolph Twp $17,326 $13,802
Madison Boro $16,777 $13,731
Sparta Twp $19,733 $13,707

By Fran Hardy
— The Board of Education took a second vote to approve the preliminary 2014-2015 school district budget at their work session this week. Called a “reaffirmation vote” by Business Administrator Linda Alvarez, the vote was requested by the County Superintendent because the original resolution lacked necessary specifics in the language.

The original resolution that appeared on the March 13 Special Meeting agenda did not contain language about the inclusion of $700,000 of banked cap funds the board voted to include in the budget or specifics about the capital projects for which these funds were intended.

In their original vote, the board approved the preliminary budget 7-2, with Brenda Beebe and Kim Yeomans voting no, saying they did not feel they had enough information to approve it. In the reaffirmation vote this week, the preliminary budget was approved 8-1, with Yeomans changing her vote.

According to state law, the board must introduce and approve a tentative budget each year, which is then sent to the County Superintendent for approval in advance of the official public hearing on the budget, slated for April 28.

By including the $700,000 of banked cap funds, the total budget exceeds the two percent tax levy cap at 3.38 percent. But the board plans to use money from the Fund 30 account, remaining from the high school renovation project, to offset the increase. The actual tax levy increase is 1.60 percent, according to the budget.

But all of this could change next week if the board goes through with a re-vote on the full day kindergarten issue. If the board approves use of the full $1,033,000 of banked cap funds for the full-day program, budget numbers will change.

In general terms, a two percent tax levy increase equates to an additional $251.03 yearly per average Sparta home assessed at $295,900. If the full $1,033,000 banked cap is included in the budget, this would add another $60 increase to the average home.

Per pupil costs confusion
Alvarez presented addition information at the March 24 meeting to explain the per pupil costs comparisons in her budget presentation.

For those accustomed to previous reporting and information from the school district over the last decade that consistently shows Sparta at the bottom of per pupil spending in Sussex County, at the bottom of spending in comparison with similar “I” districts, and well below the state average, the number of $19,733 spent per pupil in Sparta, as shown in Alvarez’s recent budget presentation, will likely be a surprise. Did Sparta suddenly receive additional state aid to boost available funds per student?

No, but since 2011 the state began using total spending in addition to per pupil spending numbers for comparison. According to the New Jersey Department of Education’s website, ‘Total Spending Per Pupil’ was developed to provide a more inclusive representation of district expenditures including state expenditures on behalf of the districts.

The total spending number includes state contribution towards retirement benefits, which includes social security and pensions, tuition for out of district placements and charter schools, transportation, residential and tuition costs, equipment and construction, and interest on leased buildings. (See Boxes for comparisons)

The difference of more than $6,000 between Sparta’s total spending and per pupil spending, which is bigger than any school used for comparison except for Wallkill Valley, is due to Sparta’s above average teacher salaries and high special education costs and out-of-district placements. Sparta’s special education costs total 5.5 per cent of the total budget, as compared with 1.9 per cent spent on regular education.

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