Millstone school budget would pay UFRSD bill

BY JANE MEGGITT Correspondent

MILLSTONE — The tuition bill must be paid, and the proposed school budget includes the money to foot that bill.

When voters go to the polls on April 20 for the school budget, they will decide the fate of the $31.9 million budget, which is $32,095 less than last year. The budget reflects a $1.6 million (29.5 percent) loss in the state aid received last year, and the elimination of 16 staff positions, including teachers.

The board has proposed a $26.3 million tax levy to support the budget, which amounts to $1.48 per $100 of assessed value. Debt service increases the rate to $1.69, which means the average Millstone homeowner’s taxes would rise $369 this year.T

he budget includes $350,157 to pay off tuition debt owed to the Upper Freehold Regional School District (UFRSD). Millstone does not have a high school and has a send/receive student relationship with UFRSD.

Millstone Board of Education President Tom Foley reviewed how tuition costs are calculated. He presented a hypothetical situation to explain the process, using a “projected” high school budget of $15,278,525.

In the hypothetical situation, Millstone budgets to send 670 students to UFRSD, and the UFRSD budgets to send 505 students to Millstone in the next school year. The budgeting process in both districts accounts for a total of 1,175 students at a cost of $13,003 per student.

When the school year is complete, the actual number of students sent and received and the actual tuition costs are calculated. While the actual costs could be exactly those that were projected, in the hypothetical situation they are not. The number of students sent from Millstone totals 665 and the number from UFRSD totals 450. The average cost per student increases to $13,702 because there are 1,115 students, not the projected 1,175 students, sent and received.

“The delta between planned and actual is $13,702 minus $13,003 equals $699,” Foley said. “The adjustment payment is calculated as $699 times 665 equals $464,835 minus the five tuitions we already paid for. The projected 670 students minus 665 times $13,003 equals $65,015. True adjustment equals $464,835 minus $65,105 equals $399,820.”

Last year, Millstone’s adjusted tuition payment totaled $425,000 and this year it totaled $309,000, according to Foley.

Foley said the tuition adjustment payments are not the result of the Millstone Board of Education doing something wrong.

“In fact, I, as Millstone’s representative to the UFRSD board, have publicly challenged the methodology they use to project student enrollment,” Foley said. “It should be stated that this is all calculated based on state-mandated formula when in a send/receive relationship.”

The Millstone Board of Education has also been working with Sen. Jennifer Beck and Assembly members Declan O’Scanlon and Caroline Casagrande to change the tuition formula.

Citing a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that a send/receive agreement is a services contract, Foley said, “It’s our position that a fee for that service should be assessed, period. No adjustments after the fact.”

Foley said Upper Freehold and Allentown partner to provide services under the terms of a services contract, not calculating adjustments at the end of the year to see if one town owes the other anything.

“Let’s all play under the same rules,” he said, adding that the Millstone Board of Education has also met with the Department of Education’s new commissioner, Bret Schundler, on this topic.

“The send/receive challenges have gone unresolved for far too long,” Foley said. “I’m hopeful, based on current dialogue, we will have a win/win resolution

by the end of 2010. The residents of Millstone can be assured their Board of Education is working on this issue.”

Foley said that boards of education should have the same ability as Gov. Chris Christie to declare an economic state of emergency.

Referring to the governor’s recent plea for teachers to reopen their contracts for renegotiation to save school districts money in the budgeting process, Foley said, “The fact is … Trenton woke up this year. Millstone acted last year. We took a very hard line in negotiations to the point of not budgeting any increases for the teaching staff.”

Foley said the New Jersey Education Association validated the new contract during an audit in the arbitration phase of the process.

Noting that nearly 10 percent of the population is unemployed, Foley said, “We should all be lucky to have a job.”

He said that while the employed strive for more pay and may deserve it, they only get a raise if their employers can afford to pay the bill. Foley pointed out that the school district has to charge for facility use and has to charge students 100 percent of the cost to participate in extracurricular activities.

“I hope we don’t get to the point of doing what UFRSD is doing and charging subscription busing for those that live within two miles of the school,” Foley said.T

he Millstone School District spends less per student than 95 percent of the other 615 school districts in New Jersey, according to Foley. He said Millstone and UFRSD could further reduce costs by sharing a central administrative office. Millstone Superintendent of Schools Mary Anne Donahue will retire this year.