School Tax Increases Seen for 2018

Residents may have to dig a little bit deeper into their pockets to support quality education in township schools. The Board of Education unanimously passed a budget of $42,317,179 for the 2018-19 school year during its monthly meeting in May.

The budget approved last spring for the current school year totaled $41,487,430. The new budget represents a 2 percent increase, which amounts to an annual increase per household of $126 in school taxes.

Research by The Jefferson Chronicle finds the percentage increase nearly matches the 2.1 percent current rate of inflation, according to the U.S Department of Labor Statistics.

When added to an estimated $35 annual increase per household, according to the 2018 municipal budget, the total tax burden on residents would be approximately $161 per household. The municipal increase is 1.8 percent more than the year prior.

Tax Dollars = Positive Education Impact

To demonstrate tax dollar impact on school curricula and performance, the board discussed some of this year’s achievements.

English Language Arts (ELA)

The board was pleased with the significant growth shown in the district’s reading levels, even though the first grade class did not fare as well as the other grades. There was no immediate reason provided for the decrease, but Jennifer Wouk, supervisor of ELA, will be at next month’s board meeting to explain the results further.

Overall, the growth was not anticipated due to recalibration of the levels this year.

Graphic: Jefferson Township Public Schools

Math

Although not as impressive as the ELA results, math assessments improved significantly as well. Students took a benchmark in the beginning of the school year and repeated the same benchmark in January. Board member Amy Gould questioned the low percentage of fourth grade increase scores, for which again there was no current explanation. Because of the high starting percentage of growth in fourth grade reading levels, there was perhaps less room for growth in this area.

Graphic: Jefferson Township Public Schools

The Public

Of the 12 residents present, Robert Vander Ploeg, Jr. was the only one to speak about the budget. Vander Ploeg, who is running for a municipal council seat in the upcoming primary election, questioned the card swipe system that was installed five years ago. He asked if it is still actively used. Board business administrator Dora Zeno confirmed that the swipe system is still in use and that there are currently no yearly maintenance fees. The new system will directly link to payroll, which is not possible with the current system.

Vander Ploeg attempted to ask several more questions. However, the board’s attorney reiterated the rule that the public portion of the meeting is for comments only. He stated that questions should be directed to the acting superintendent, Jean Howe, via email, telephone, or letter.

Because the school budget is at the 2 percent tax levy cap, it may not be up for a vote by township residents in November. State legislation passed in 2012 allows municipalities to opt out of traditional April school board elections and budget referendums to save the cost of an additional annual election process. The 2012 law permits a switch to the November general election, provided a school budget stays within the 2 percent cap. In that case, school districts are not compelled to put their budgets before voters for approval. A call to municipal offices by The Chronicle confirmed that anyone running for an open seat on the Board of Education will be on the general election ballot.

To view a user-friendly version of the 2018-19 budget, visit https://www.jefftwp.org/Page/1506. The complete budget is on file and open to examination at the central office in the Drummond building (31 State Highway 181, Lake Hopatcong) between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, excluding holidays.

Additional Business

During the board meeting, student Brittany Boetticher presented her Girl Scout Gold Award project to the board. Her goal is to bring attention to suicide and its prevention. She stated that because there is little discussion regarding suicide, she wants to help start the conversation and make students aware that help is available for those contemplating suicide. Howe offered to meet with Boetticher to discuss her ideas and possible implementation.

Brittany Boetticher presents Gold Award concept. (Photo: April Leaver)

Although not as universally known as the Eagle Scout Award – the highest award for Boy Scouts – the Gold Award is the highest award for Girl Scouts, recognizing those who make a difference in their communities. According to Girl Scouts USA, girls who earn the Gold Award also reap benefits, including college scholarships and the chance to skip a rank in the military.

Senior Cut Day Gets Cut

Senior cut day, a tradition in some schools, is when many senior students skip classes the Monday after the prom. Board member Melissa Senatore announced that the Education Committee was advised that any student attending the prom must be present in school the following Monday. Students absent without a doctor’s note will be subject to disciplinary action.

Counselors Ramp It Up

Margaret Widgren, director of student personnel services, announced that five out of six Jefferson schools have been awarded RAMP certification. The American School Counselor Association created the Recognized ASCA Model Program (RAMP) to establish a set of standards for counselors.

Margaret Wigren discusses RAMP. (Photo: April Leaver)

RAMP is a recognition program for individual schools, not districts or specific school counselors. It is a data-driven project to evaluate and improve a school’s counseling program, and assists in targeting students for services as well as evaluating a counselor’s use of time. The application is quite laborious, and counselors were recognized for their efforts.

As part of the application, each school creates a goal. The high school focused on getting students to apply for scholarships. The application process was revamped, and a significant growth in student applications was noted. The four elementary schools focused on decreased unexcused absences, and each saw reductions: Briggs 55 percent, Cozy Lake 30 percent, Stanlick 25 percent, and White Rock 25 percent.

Widgren stated that there is only one other school in New Jersey with this designation (Lakeland Regional High School in Wanaque). The middle school is expected to achieve certification next year, which would make Jefferson Township the only district in the state to have all its schools RAMP certified.


2018-19 Budget Highlights: Spending the Money

Staff Additions

  • Middle school gifted and talented teacher – one of the teachers will move to the high school for the Environmental Science Academy
  • Engineering teacher for the high school
  • Extra-duty-pay chemical hygiene officer to track, store, and dispose of hazardous chemicals appropriately as required by the New Jersey Worker and Community Right to Know Act

Course Additions and Changes

  • Robotics – middle school
  • Computer science discoveries – middle school
  • Revamp high school digital media course, currently titled high school digital photography; expand to include animations, Adobe Photoshop, and Google Tilt Brush

Other Initiatives

  • Expand 1-to-1 initiative for laptops to fifth grade, and possibly to fourth grade; laptops will likely not be 1-to-1, but will be shared and remain in classrooms
  • Purchase IMACS for digital media and music technology classes
  • Purchase additional 3-D printers and Maker Box for robotics and engineering classes
  • Purchase new music equipment and introduction to ukuleles
  • Review accounting, payroll, and human resources software

Facilities

  • Stanlick – roof section repairs
  • Briggs – fire alarm replacement, interior doors rekeyed
  • Middle school – PA system, clocks, bells
  • White Rock – PA system, clocks, bells, HVAC units
  • High school – install additional fire pull systems
  • District – lawn mower, auto scrubber, maintenance vehicles

Security

  • Additional cameras at the elementary buildings
  • Silent panic alarms in all schools
  • Upgrade of bus video system
  • Installation of visitor management system so that any visitor to a building must present an ID for scanning and screening by detection software

Transportation

  • New buses and smaller van for inter-school transport

Athletics

  • Replace soccer goals
  • Replace some weight room equipment
  • Replace baseball/softball batting cage net
  • Replace pole vault pit and high jump mats
  • Replace football field scoreboard (the board hopes to raise money to offset cost)

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