Saturday, April 13, 2024

Blairstown School Board Considers Ethics, a Young Hero and a Strapped Budget Causing the Tax Levy to Go Up 3.9%

The Blairstown Elementary board of education met on Thursday, March 21. Photo by C. O’Chang, 03/2024 

The board will hold a public hearing on the proposed 2024 – 2025 budget on Thursday, April 25 at 7 p.m.

It’s budget proposal season for New Jersey schools. At its March 21 meeting, Blairstown Elementary’s board of education considered its own proposed budget for the 2024 – 2025 school year.

But first, celebrations were in order. Quinn Sobczak, a sixth grader at Blairstown, is a recipient of Warren County’s Unsung Hero Award for 2024. She is one of 21 recipients from across the county. 

According to the New Jersey School Board Association website, “Unsung Heroes make outstanding contributions to their schools and communities, even though they are often overlooked under traditional student recognition guidelines. Unsung Heroes can be students who make their school a better place because of their warm personality, their empathy and concern for others.” 

Judging by remarks from Principal Colleen Silvestri, Sobczak more than embodies those characteristics. 

After the award presentation came a very different presentation.

Kathleen Helewa of Kathleen Helewa Educational Consultants instructed the board members on the ethical aspects of serving on a school board. In this age of social media, Helewa indicated, board members are wise to take special care in how and when they share their personal opinions on school-related matters. The presentation was a mandatory professional development retraining that all school boards undergo annually.

The board also considered the proposed budget for the 2024 – 2025 school year. If the proposed budget is approved, the total preliminary budget would actually be smaller next year by about $85,000.

However, the General Fund tax levy will increase to $8,064,798 from last year’s tax levy of $7,759,915, an increase of about 3.9%.

In general, school districts are given free rein to increase taxes by up to 2%, with certain adjustments granted for emergencies, health benefits and other specific circumstances. If a school does not choose to raise taxes beyond that 2% limit, it can reserve the right to do so in a future budget up to three years later. This saved taxing authority is called banked cap.

Blairstown’s 2024 – 2025 proposed budget includes two tax levy adjustments that use banked cap from previous school years. The vast majority comes from a tax levy adjustment of $105,685 from the 2023 – 2024 school year.

In this line item, the agenda notes: “the district has fully exhausted all eligible statutory spending authority. The adjustment will be used to support instructional costs for the 2024 – 2025 school year.”

Important upcoming date: School resource officer Ty Coronato wanted to let parents and community members know that on April 4 and 5, Blairstown and Hope police will be conducting safety walkthroughs at Blairstown Elementary. This will take place during spring break. Though there will be several police vehicles present, Coronato urged community members not to be alarmed– it’s an exercise in preparedness. 

Chip O'Chang
Chip O'Chang, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

Chip O'Chang is an educator, fiction writer, and lifelong resident of New Jersey. He has also written for My Life Publications and NJ Indy. He lives in the NJ Skylands with his partner, two cats, and and a bearded dragon.