On Wednesday, April 27, the annual school budget and board election vote will be held. I cannot overemphasize the importance of your vote and your participation in this democratic process. You will determine the direction of our school district by electing members to the school board and by making crucial budget decisions. By voting, your voice will be heard and you will determine the academic programs and services for the public school students of Millstone Township.
When I began here as interim superintendent, I was shocked to learn of the negative impact caused by last year’s budget defeat:
- Closed libraries
- Elimination of the instrumental music program
- Reduction of teachers at the primary, elementary, and middle levels
- Reduction of guidance services that left a ratio of students to counselors of 550:1
- Elimination of remedial instruction
- Reduction of nursing services that seriously impacted the district’s ability to meet the increasing health demands at our primary school
- Reduction in technology services
- Halt to social studies curriculum revision
- Reductions in supplies, texts, and materials at all levels
- Dozens of other reductions almost too numerous to mention individually
Such devastating cuts led to an unprecedented restoration of funds by the acting commissioner of education, who had only recently been appointed by Governor Christie. She determined that such reductions would adversely affect the stability of the district, given the need for long-term planning and budgeting. Based on that review, she determined that $960,683 should be restored.
With these funds, we were able to restore a number of programs and services in order to sustain the progress that the district had worked diligently to achieve. We were able to re-open our libraries; provide remedial instruction; restore our instrumental music program; return nursing and technology service to previous levels; purchase supplies and materials; and continue our progress to meeting New Jersey state, Board of Education, and district educational goals—all while being fiscally responsible by not expending a portion of the funds to ensure sustainability in the future for those positions and programs that were restored.
The good news, however, is the proposed budget for 2011-2012. It is exciting for several reasons. First, it provides for stability in the district and allows for long-term planning and budgeting that was not possible last year. It also meets our current educational needs and increases much needed services - without increasing the tax levy from the current year.
The proposed budget for 2011-2012 does the following:
- Adds one primary school teacher
- Adds one elementary school teacher
- Adds one middle school guidance counselor
- Adds one primary school art teacher
- Creates a director of special services replacing current supervisor
- Provides increased staff development for improved instruction
- Allows more funding for texts, supplies and other curriculum needs
- Retains those services returned to the budget under the commissioner’s mandate
Many of our class sizes are far larger than those found in districts comparable to Millstone Township. We currently have third grade classes that have reached 28 students. With the additional staffing, the district will be able to reduce class sizes to no more than 23-24 at the elementary level, and 21-22 at the primary level. Several studies indicate smaller class sizes result in better student achievement. Additionally, we will be able to reduce our student-to-counselor ratio from 550:1 to 275:1 at the Middle School. By adding a certified art teacher, we will be able to provide students with a dedicated art curriculum. It has been proven that early exposure to visual art, music, or drama promotes activity in the brain and helps children understand other subjects much more clearly—from math and science, to language arts and geography.
We also believe that the reduction of the supervisor of special services position and the addition of a director of special services will assist the district in developing programs and securing grants that will provide increased services at lower costs for our community. Our autism program has been quite successful this year in helping us to provide a quality education to these children while retaining them in district. We believe that a special education director will help avoid costly litigation, provide new programs that may actually create an additional revenue stream to the district, and offer increased interventions that may obviate the need for classification in some instances.
Based on last year’s budget, Millstone is the fourth lowest spending district in Monmouth County. We spend over $1,200 less than the state average for K-8 districts (Millstone $11,591 - K-8 average $12,811 - based on the 2009-2010 budget).
The amazing aspect of this budget is that we can accomplish these much needed improvements, without changing the tax levy! By using the restored funds judiciously, and given some additional state aid and reduced tuition costs for high school students in Upper Freehold Regional, we have been able to keep the tax levy flat!
We know that those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it! It is essential that your voice be heard in Millstone. I urge you to set an example for your children and participate in the next election. Please vote!
John J. Szabo, Ed.D