Monday, March 4, 2024

NWR Administration Explain Major Budget Cuts

North Warren Regional High School (NWR) Superintendent Jeanene Dutt and Business Administrator Jennifer Kerr met with the Blairstown Township Committee at a meeting last Wednesday, April 19th, to discuss the school’s budget and answer the question: “Why is North Warren losing so much money?”

In 2023, the school will lose $571,051 in state aid, a more than 30 percent decrease since last year. This issue, however, is not unique to NWR. Schools across the state are dealing with budget slashes and taking a red pen to their financial forecast.

According to Dutt the changes are due to a new interpretation of the state aid formula known as S2. School enrollment is a big part of the equation. When this legislation was first implemented, NWR had 900 students, now it only has 605.

“So, when you looked at the way the formula is applied, they [NJ] said you don’t need as much money as you used to. They also look at your tax levy… they say your community can pay their fair share; you need less money from the state of New Jersey to adequately educate your children.”

The state adjusts aid for certain demographics of students. Referred to in the formula as “multipliers”, students in special education, English language learners, free and reduced lunch recipients can influence how much support a school is granted.

“We have very low numbers of those types of families and students in our community,” added Dutt.

Since the funding formula’s implementation, NWR has lost nearly 4.4 million dollars and will have to cut $900,000 from this year’s budget. This means many capital projects must be put on hold.

According to Kerr the school’s boilers need to be replaced— something that will cost around $800,000, and don’t forget to add in the rising costs of fuel oil.

Last year the roof was rebuilt for the high school, but now the middle school roof needs renovations as well.

“There are a lot of these issues in the building and if we don’t fix them, we can’t run school,” stated Kerr.

Due to inflation and a bus driver shortage, next year NWR must budget $700,000 for transportation. On top of that, substitute teachers must be paid a competitive salary, and health insurance premiums are at an all-time high.

To offset some of these costs, Kerr is budgeting exactly what classroom supplies teachers require rather than handing out a lump sum. And only the necessities can be afforded.

“I told the teachers if you don’t get it for this year, if you didn’t buy it yet, you probably don’t need it and you can’t buy it,” stated Kerr.

Perhaps the hardest aspect to deal with, however, is the lack of staff members. Since 2017 more than 40 employees have left. Some were laid off, some retired and we never replaced, and in some cases, replacements were hired at a lower salary.

“Now we’re operating because of the cuts on what I consider to be a bare bones staff,” explained Dutt.

If any more teachers were to leave the school, it would mean cutting student programs. Cooking and home economics have been removed from curriculum and business, agriculture and woodshop courses have all been reduced.

“We’re still offering sports, we’re still offering all of our student activities, but we’re very low on staffing,” Dutt repeated.

Committee member Debra Waldron mentioned some schools are earning back monetary aid. After S2’s strict implementation school began to push back against the budget cuts. Governor Phil Murphy’s administration offered to return 60 percent of a school’s aid for the following school year only.

Schools must submit a written plan to the state education commissioner on how aid will be used and how the school plans to continue funding its program after governmental aid is lost.

“We are going to get $377,000 back,” stated Kerr.

Dutt added that NWR has applied for every possible grant and been successful. At the BTC meeting Dutt explained what the school needs from the community: volunteers.

“If there’s someone you know, that can help either a donation, a donation of time to help us update our facility and to upkeep it— painting, light landscaping, these are all things that we cannot provide in our budget… we will accept anything graciously to rebuild our school.”

To learn more about the school and its accomplishments visit https://www.northwarren.org/

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Alex Tironi, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

A recent graduate of George Mason University in Virginia, Alex pursued a degree in journalism with a double minor in American Sign Language and nonprofit studies. She worked as assistant news editor to the Fourth Estate, the university newspaper where she reported on many things but mostly focused on campus crime and PD activity. While working for a nonprofit called the Borgen Project, she wrote about global health and poverty in third-world nations. Alex recently finished an internship writing and editing for a business consulting company in NY. Growing up in the area, she has always been active in her community and brings the same intention as a contributing writer for the Ridge View Echo.