Elizabeth BOE passes $495 million budget

Elizabeth High School, Upper Academy
Elizabeth High School, Upper Academy

ELIZABETH – Elizabeth taxpayers will not see an increase in the school portion of their tax bill for 2014 because the school board was able to slash $5 million from the budget.

The 2014-2015 $495.4 million Elizabeth School District spending plan is $5.3 million less than last year when the budget came in at $500.8 million. In part, this reduction came from a decrease in employee salaries by $3.5 million.

The lack of a tax increase to local property owners places the school district amount to be raised by taxes at $52.3 million. The rest of the budget is covered by $417.4 million in state aid, and another $16.6 million in federal aid.

The tax levy will represent approximately 24 percent of the distribution of total tax dollars from city residents. The school district also noted that they have no debt service.

School Board President Tony Monteiro praised the leadership of the school district for presenting a budget that “offers excellent educational programs while not placing an increased burden on the city’s tax base.”

“I’m proud our district’s leadership was able to present the board with a budget that will continue to provide our students with great inspirational programs and even expand and create new educational initiatives without asking our already tax beleaguered community for additional funding,” said the school board president. “Accounting for less than one quarter of the distribution of Elizabeth taxpayers’ tax dollars is a great indicator that the funding provided for education is being used both efficiently and effectively.”

Monteiro also pointed out that over a 17-year period the school district only had a 27 percent increase in the tax levy, while the city tax levy increased by 218 percent. He said annualized over a 17-year period, the effective rate for the city comes to 14.5 percent increase each year, while the school district increase was 1.8 percent.

For the 2014-2015 school year, the district will be spending $1,312 per pupil on administrative salaries and benefits, a decrease of $158 per pupil over last year and $582 less per pupil than the state regional cost per pupil.

Among the instructional program highlights for the 2014-2015 spending plan were expanding the one-to-one learning program to all students in grades three through twelve and participating in the EdConnect New Jersey Instructional Improvement System pilot program touted by the New Jersey Department of Education.

The one-to-one learning program, also known as “anywhere, anytime” or “laptops for students” programs, provides students with laptops or tablets with wireless network access to use as a learning tool during classroom instruction throughout the school day.
This, said Monteiro, creates an opportunity for students to be connected to their lessons and assignments 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Monteiro said the city school district is committed to the successful one-to-one computer program already begun in the iPrep Academy and several other schools.

Superintendent of Schools Olga Hugelmeyer, he added, is eager to bring this innovative program to the rest of the district’s schools starting September 2014.

“We are excited about the expansion of the one-to-one computer initiative that will provide every student in grades 3 through 12 with important 21st century technological skills to compete in the global marketplace
after they have graduated from the Elizabeth school district,” said Hugelmeyer.

EdConnect New Jersey, the school superintendent explained, is the state’s Instructional Improvement System, or IIS, an online platform developed by the NJDOE, in partnership with Pearson Schoolnet, which will provide educators with a network of tools designed to improve their instructional practices and boost student achievement.

“As a district that believes all students can learn and achieve at high levels and all teachers make a positive impact difference in student achievement, we are pleased to have been selected by the NJDOE to pilot a program geared towards improving both instructional practice and student performance,” said Hugelmeyer.

Board of Education member and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Perreira was pleased with the outcome because of the many hours put into developing and preparing the district’s budget.

“The district’s budget team has worked diligently to identify effective ways to reduce the burden on Elizabeth taxpayers,” said Perreira, adding “our school district proposed a budget that undoubtedly provides for a thorough and efficient education.”

According to Elizabeth School District Spokesperson and Board Secretary Don Goncalves, there is no greater evidence of students being provided with a thorough and efficient education than the recent rankings released by U.S. News and World Report of America’s Most Challenging High Schools, in which two high schools in the Elizabeth School District were ranked on the state and national level.

Elizabeth High School was ranked No. 11 in New Jersey and No. 221 in the United States while Alexander Hamilton Preparatory Academy was ranked No. 30 in New Jersey and No. 836 in the United States.