The Mendham Township School District is proposing a $20.9 million operating budget for the 2022-2023 school year. The budget continues the district’s fiscal responsibility and commitment to high-quality education for Every Student, Every Day.
Our residents know firsthand from managing their own families’ budgets that costs are rising. MTSD’s administration and Board of Education are addressing rising expenses by finding creative ways to generate sustainable revenue and share services. The resulting budget expands educational offerings, especially in STEM disciplines, and hires additional staff to meet student needs – with a tax increase that is much smaller than previous years.
We invite the public to learn about the proposed budget and to ask questions at a virtual forum, Board of Education meetings, and through other channels leading up to the board's vote on May 3.
How much is the proposed budget?
The proposed total operating budget for the 2022-2023 school year is $20.9 million. This funding for everyday expenses is separate from the bond funding for long-term improvements, which was approved by voters in January and will result in a tax decrease.
How will my taxes be impacted?
The proposed school budget increases the local tax levy by 1.45% for residents in Mendham Township. This is under the 2% budget cap allowed by the state and is possible because of the district’s proactive efforts to generate revenue and share services.
A home assessed at Mendham Township’s average ($874,151) can expect a $202.50 increase spread over a year. Another way to think about the tax impact is that for every $100,000 of assessed home value (different, and usually much less, than market value), you can expect to pay an additional $23.17. Check the assessed value of your home here.
How much state aid will the district receive?
State aid will cover approximately $1 million of the school’s expenses in the 2022-2023 school year. This represents a 23.66% increase, or approximately $200,000, over last year’s budget.
If state aid increased, why aren’t taxes decreasing?
Township residents know how rising prices and inflation are impacting their own household budgets. MTSD is no different; costs – from healthcare benefits to school supplies – continue to rise at a rate that exceeds this year’s influx of state aid.
The district’s main cost driver, or about half of the budget, is contract-based salaries for teachers and other staff. The proposed budget factors in a 3% increase for salaries and a 4% increase for the district’s costs for employee health benefits. In total, those increases represent an additional $500,000 over last year's budget. This is money well spent to attract and retain high-quality teachers/staff to educate our township’s children, particularly in a very competitive labor market.
In addition, special education costs continue to rise. The proposed budget includes $3.7 million for special education, which is approximately $150,000 more than last year's budget. Special education costs represent about 18% of the budget and serve 12% of our student population. Again, we know this is money well spent to educate ALL children in the township, and we minimize costs by offering these services within our district when possible.
What strategies is the district using to contain costs?
Some rising costs are non-discretionary, meaning they are required by law. The administration and Board of Education proactively control costs and generate revenue in other areas to reduce the tax impact. District strategies for containing costs include:
· Over a dozen shared service agreements that reduce administrative costs, including pooled insurance, recycling/waste management, transportation, energy services, and more
· Tuition and transportation revenue
· In-district substitute teacher program
· Solar energy projects: The district is participating in the state’s Energy Savings Improvement Program (ESIP). This allows us to install solar panels, as well as new HVAC control systems to regulate temperature and energy-efficient exterior lighting. The program allows the district to pay for the improvements over time using the energy savings that are realized.)
How does the budget prioritize academic success and curriculum expansion?
MTSD offers high-quality, top-ranked education to township children. This year’s school budget continues that tradition of success by expanding our educational offerings, especially in the areas of STEM, Social Emotional Learning, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. We are funding a curriculum that builds the 21st-century skills students need to thrive in high school and beyond.
The 2022-2023 budget prioritizes:
· Continued focus on literacy
· Technology infusion across the curriculum
· New enrichment programs and intervention/Smart Time programs
· New initiatives and training for Social Emotional Learning and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) aligned with the District Strategic Plan and 2021-22 goals
· Professional development for staff in the areas of reading strategies/instruction, special education, Applied Behavior Analysis, complex math problem solving, New Jersey Learning Standards, and DEI
Will additional staff be hired?
Yes, the proposed budget funds both the hiring of new staff and increased time for existing staff. Many of these positions will meet needs created by growing enrollment, and will support expanded programming/services in the district.
· Time increased for office staff: Additional time for our office staff at MTES will allow the district to help families register and prepare for the upcoming school year during the summer months.
· Full-time MTES physical education teacher: By making the MTES physical education teacher a full-time position, the district will continue providing high-quality physical education as enrollment numbers increase in the lower grades.
· Full-time technology support: The district’s need for technology support has grown throughout the pandemic; students are plugged into several devices in the classroom and at home, and we need support to manage the backend systems that connect and protect this technology.
· New MTES World Language instructor: The Department of Education requires world language in schools. A new instructor at MTES would help the district meet this obligation as enrollment grows and enhance our programming to ensure students are well-versed in world cultures and languages.
· New MTES part-time guidance counselor: The pandemic resulted in a sharp increase in the number of students who need emotional support to relieve stress and anxiety and improve their focus on learning. This trend is occurring in schools across the country. A new part-time guidance counselor at MTES would address this need and provide Social Emotional Learning programming that aligns with the Department of Education’s standards.
· New MTES assistant principal: As student enrollment increases, an assistant principal at the elementary level will provide support in the areas of staff evaluation, building operations and management, student discipline, schoolwide goals/initiatives, and more. This position would also free up the principal to expand her focus on curriculum development, educational grant opportunities, data-driven decision making, schoolwide Social Emotional Learning coordination, and more.
· New MTMS assistant principal: At the middle school, an assistant principal would allow the principal to focus more on developing and monitoring high-quality academic curriculum and interventions, especially for struggling students; provide more meaningful observation of teachers to aid in their career growth, and seek public and private grants. The school counselor, who currently assists with assistant principal tasks, would focus directly on student guidance and expanded guidance programming.
· New MTES inclusion teachers at two grade levels: Many special education students can remain in the classroom with support from a new inclusion teacher. This new position would support both increased enrollment and our goal of keeping these students in the district – and in our classrooms.
· New Grade 3 elementary teacher: Currently, enrollment in grades K-2 is growing more quickly than in the higher grades. The district needs to hire an elementary school teacher to add another class section at this level.
How is enrollment growth impacting the budget?
The student population at MTSD has grown steadily by about 3% year over year since 2019. Currently, grades K-2 have more students than the higher grades. This trend resulted in a plan to hire an additional elementary school teacher to address increased enrollment in the lower grades.
How will my taxes be impacted by the bond referendum?
This year, the district will finish paying off debt from a previous bond referendum and will simultaneously take on new debt that was approved by voters on Jan. 25, 2022. The recently approved bond funding allows the district to borrow money for specific projects with state aid covering a portion of the costs. Residents can, therefore, expect to see a $97 per year school debt tax decrease for a home assessed at Mendham Township’s average. This will appear on property tax bills starting in 2023.
The tax levy for the annual operating budget for the 2022-2023 school year generates funding separately from the debt service for bond projects. Bond funding cannot be used for annual operating expenses.
How have the district and board historically tried to keep school taxes low?
MTSD’s administration and Board of Education work together each year to adopt a school budget that meets the needs of students in the most fiscally responsible manner. They Board only pursues funding the district needs – not more, not less. Over the last decade, the district has on average seen the general fund budget increase by 2.19% -- meaning that some years the budget stayed flat or decreased and other years the budget increased.
Over the last two school years, the district raised taxes to cover rising employee healthcare expenses and understood the financial burden this placed on township residents. Taxes rose 4.99% in 2019-2020 and 7.31% in 2020-2021. Hearing the community’s concerns, the administration and board strategized how to generate sustainable revenue and reduce costs through shared service agreements.
One key source of revenue for the district is busing; the district is mandated to provide transportation for its students and can either do that by outsourcing to a bus company or providing the service within the district. The district turned this need into an opportunity by purchasing buses and providing transportation services to other school districts, which provides additional, sustainable revenue. The district uses the significant surplus from this arrangement to fund educational priorities in our schools.
The result of this proactive approach is two straight years of budgets that are increasing, but at a much lower rate. Taxes rose 2% in 2021-2022 and under the proposed budget would rise 1.45% in 2022-2023.
What happens next in the budget process?
The budget process occurs over several months and lays the foundation for the following school year’s success. The Board of Education tentatively approved the 2022-2023 budget at its March 22 meeting, and the budget was sent to the New Jersey Department of Education for review.
The district invites the public to learn about the budget at a virtual budget forum on April 21 at 12 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and at its April 19 and 26 board meetings. The budget will also be presented at a Township Committee meeting.
7:30 p.m. Session: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84773195564?pwd=Sld2UVNyaUs5V1hvdVhyclNld2hJQT09
During that time, the district will monitor conditions that could prompt changes and will hear the public’s opinion before the board formally considers the budget on May 3.
We want to thank everyone, especially the Operations and Finance Committee, for their dedication and commitment to this process.