MANCHESTER – The Manchester Board of Education adopted the district’s $57.1 million budget, a 1.78 percent increase over the previous year’s budget.
By way of comparison, the 2016-17 budget came in at $55.7.
The average homeowner, whose house is assessed at $158,500 this year, will see an increase of $59 in this year’s school tax bill.
The tax levy – what Manchester taxpayers pay toward the total school budget – will be $43,977,813, an increase of $1,205,447 over the previous budget cycle’s $42,772,366 tax levy. The district did stay under cap by $355,406. New Jersey requires schools and municipalities’ increases to stay within a 2 percent cap for most spending.
“In Manchester, taxpayers fund about 82 percent of this budget,” business administrator Craig Lorentzen said. The reason is the state funding formula, which only sees Manchester getting about 10 percent state aid. That aid was slashed across the state in 2009. Manchester is still more than $1 million short of where it was back then, from $6.6 million to $5.6 million, where it has stayed for two years. “I don’t anticipate this changing much, unfortunately.”
“If state aid is not increasing, and we’re at cap with our tax levy, everything on the expense side is increasing. Salaries are increasing. Health benefits are increasing. Liability insurance is increasing. Tuitions are increasing. So it makes it a challenge to get a budget to cap when state aid, which is our second biggest source of income, is flat,” Lorentzen said.
This budget maintains all programs and staff, and will see the addition of new high school courses and an elementary school guidance counselor. Some buses are coming to the end of their time on the road, so the district has budgeted for new buses.
Even with that shortfall, Manchester spends $46 less per pupil than the state average, $15,529 to $15,575, all while ranking well in teacher to student ratios when compared with similar school districts.
Seventy-eight percent of the district’s budget goes toward salaries and “benefits/FICA/tuition/state mandated pension,” totaling $44.5 million. In total, $52.9 million of the budget is allocated to fixed or state mandated costs. That leaves the district a little more than $4 million for discretionary costs: maintenance and staff development.
As they have for years, the administration looks for money-saving opportunities, Lorentzen said. The district shares facility use, paving, safety, recycling, and a school resource officer with Manchester Township, which keeps tax dollars in town. The district also has transportation jointures with Lakehurst, Jackson, Toms River, Central Regional, Waretown, Lacey, Barnegat and the Monmouth Ocean Educational Services Commission. The district also does as much maintenance as possible in-house.
The district saves money on health insurance by going through the NJ School Boards Association Insurance Group. A cooperative with Stafford Township saves the district $300,000 in unleaded and diesel costs.
Through an energy program, over the course of 6-1/2 years, the district will save $3.5 million.
And Lorentzen pointed out that the district is grateful for donations received from the Educational Foundation, PTA, Donors Choose and school fundraisers.