Bernards School Board Faces $5 Million Budget Shortfall

The Bernards School Board recently convened to address a projected $5 million budget shortfall, sparking discussions on potential tax increases, the use of banked cap, and careful scrutiny of district expenditures. The budgetary constraints were a primary focus, with transportation and out-of-district tuition costs contributing to the financial challenges. The board considered the implications of administrative and instructional staff cuts or reassignments and the impact on instructional time and tax rates.

One of the topics of discussion was the increasing expenses, with transportation and out-of-district tuition experiencing sharp rises of over 27% and 33%, respectively. The financial strain has prompted the board to explore all avenues to mitigate the disparity between revenue and expenses. In light of the shortfall, the necessity and efficacy of the Educational Support Services (ESS) program were debated, with opinions divided on its value and the district’s responsibility to provide such services.

Amidst budgetary concerns, the board also discussed potential changes to school start times and their impact on student activities, especially the Ridge High School swim team. The alteration in school start times could disrupt practice schedules, student well-being, and athletic performance. Public comments highlighted the community’s apprehension, with speakers urging the board to consider the broader implications of such changes.

The meeting addressed support and interventions for students experiencing academic, social, and emotional challenges. The district emphasized the importance of transition support between school levels and the need to address disparities in special education placement and discipline. The use of Title One and CIS grant money was highlighted as funding sources for programs aiding struggling learners. The district is implementing after-school intervention programs and piloting an online tutoring service to further support these students.

The board also tackled the issue of disproportionality in special education, particularly concerning the classification rate for students with disabilities. Comparing the district’s 14.52% classification rate with other areas, the board underscored the importance of providing adequate interventions prior to special education evaluation. In addition, the special services department presented an overview of their programs, emphasizing the success and challenges, especially in relation to budget projections and the growing number of students classified with autism and other health impairments.

The Bernards Township CPAC presented its role in offering district input on concerns about students with IEPs or 504 plans. The organization’s collaboration with the Department of Special Services and its efforts to gather parent and guardian feedback were noted.

The Policy Committee’s report shed light on lightning safety and school threat assessment policies. Questions arose regarding parent involvement and prevention measures. The Facilities Committee updated on infrastructure projects, including solar panel installations and HVAC upgrades. The board also reminded the community about a municipal government essay scholarship opportunity.

The discussion on the budget included updates on state aid figures, with the board awaiting the governor’s address to confirm the state aid amount. The potential utilization of banked cap to increase the tax levy beyond the 2% cap was mentioned as a possible strategy to address the financial deficit. The board stressed the need to balance cost management with preserving the quality of instructional time and student services.

Note: This meeting summary was generated by AI, which can occasionally misspell names, misattribute actions, and state inaccuracies. This summary is intended to be a starting point and you should review the meeting record linked above before acting on anything you read. If we got something wrong, let us know. We’re working every day to improve our process in pursuit of universal local government transparency.
Nick Markarian
School Board Officials:
Nimish Amin, Janice Corrado, Csilla Csipak, Kirsten Light, Robin McKeon, Keith Molinari, Timothy Salmon, David Shaw, Jennifer White

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