April 2017: 2017-2018 Budget Reflections

Dear Members of the Robbinsville Community,

As you may know Robbinsville stands out among its peers as a community deeply involved in education and one that is steadfastly committed to academic excellence.  Despite being ranked as the lowest per pupil spending district in Mercer County at $11,142 and the third lowest spending of the 69 similarly sized New Jersey K-12 districts, Robbinsville Schools consistently competes with the very best districts in the state.  This is clearly evidenced by our postgraduate students’ acceptance to and success in top tier colleges and universities as well as those thriving within a global workforce.

Avg. Home ValueWe continually strive to offer our students a wide variety of rigorous and diverse learning experiences, both in-class and extra-curricular, to convey the essential skills and knowledge necessary for a productive and creative approach to life in the real world. In planning for the 2017-2018 school year, we face yet another challenging budget cycle.

As we continue to do more with less, the district is confronted with increased enrollment, continued flat state aid and no new viable sources of revenue. The result of this “perfect storm” requires us to propose an increase of 3.84% in the tax levy.  This includes a 2% tax increase on the general fund totaling $702,881. Additionally, state law allows for limited adjustments based upon increased enrollment and increased health care premiums. In our case, these adjustments equal $395,338 for enrollment and $243,460 for health care or an added 1.84% over and above the 2% cap.

Understandably, community members may question the need to increase taxes in the upcoming school year.  There are many critical factors that contribute to this decision.

The ProblemGrowing Enrollment

Since 2009, Robbinsville Schools has experienced a dramatic 15% increase in its student population. Our current enrollment stands at 3127 students.  This year alone, our student population grew by 3%. We anticipate continued increases with the completion of the Springside, Line Road, and Perrineville Road developments.

Lack of Sufficient State Aid

Robbinsville Schools ranks as the 12th most underfunded district (of 591) in the state. According to funding guidelines established by the School Funding Reform Act of 2008, our cumulative underfunding since 2009 is nearly $60M.

Rising Fixed Costs

Fixed costs such as healthcare, utilities, and salaries force us to continue to look for non-traditional ways to support the General Fund. A hallmark of Robbinsville Schools has been the ability to offset rising expenditures with alternative revenue sources. Some of these include:

  • Facilities Use Rentals in excess of $150,000 per year;  
  • Student Activity Fees to offset the expense of extra-curricular and athletic programs;
  • Robbinsville Extended Day program helps to defray the cost of facility maintenance, IT, payroll personnel, custodial fees, and utilities, and added enhancements like the new playground at Sharon School;  
  • Transportation Jointures;
  • Tuition-based Preschool and Kindergarten Programs;
  • Energy Cost Reduction - ESIP and Demand Response initiatives.

On Wednesday, March 29, 2017, I joined Board President Matt O’Grady and School Business Administrator Beth Brooks in a meeting with Mayor Dave Fried to discuss the impact of our current fiscal situation on our residents.  Our goal was to explore options to partner with the township in ways that will benefit the entire community.  In addition to the current shared services agreements, Mayor Fried and his team have offered to assist us with capital projects necessary to maintain the health and safety of our facilities and which could not be funded in next year’s budget.  In addition, the township’s purchase of Windsor School will allow us to place much needed funds in capital reserve in anticipation of roofing and HVAC units across the district.  We are grateful for their collaborative support and look forward to working hand in hand to enhance our schools.

Even with funds incorporated from alternative revenue and savings from shared services we were $1.5 million away from a balanced budget.  This left us in the untenable position of having to make some tough personnel decisions, reducing two positions, while placing an increased tax burden on community members.  

As we remain deeply committed to both fiscal stewardship and instructional excellence, we continue to actively research sustainable revenue sources for a multi-year approach to the budget.  The Board of Education is exploring options such as a joint solar project with the township, refurbishing a billboard for advertising space at Sharon Elementary School, and the possibility of a constructing a cell tower.  Moreover, we continue to search for ways to reduce rising health care costs and to advocate with legislators for our fair share of state aid.

On behalf of President Matt O’Grady and the administrative team, I invite you to attend our final budget presentation scheduled to take place at 7:00 in the RHS Student Activity Center during the April 25th meeting of the Robbinsville Board of Education. Also, I want to assure you that, in spite of the current budget challenges we face, we will prioritize the nature of our investments in ways that will result in the district’s continued success and competitive edge. We will remain true to the values of our community ensuring a strong financial foundation while driving improved outcomes for all students.

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