RANDOLPH, NJ– The Randolph Board of Education held an FFT Committee meeting on March 9, during which time the 2021-2022 School District Budget was discussed and plans for the following school year were outlined. To commence the meeting, Board members along with Superintendent Jennifer Fano expressed hopes that in the coming weeks and month of the school year, more students would choose to attend in-person classes.
Business Administrator Gerald Eckert and Assistant Business Administrator Stephen Eckert of the Randolph Business Office presented on the highlights of the tentative budget for the 2021-2022 school year. Board member Jeanne Stifelman introduced the budget presentation with a brief synopsis of the previous year’s financial challenges and district hardships. “This past year was unprecedented,” said Stifelman. “However, due to the strong and smart long-term planning of the Randolph Business Office, the Randolph School District was able to manage all of this uncertainty while continuing to deliver quality yet unique education in these unprecedented times. You will see tonight that the Randolph Business Office continues to plan for years ahead. The planning for this year’s budget began several years ago. This budget includes several highlights, including significant investments in technology that allows us to maintain our facilities.”
Eckert addressed the board, describing the process of discussing and determining the components of the budget. “As we’re developing the 2021-2022 budget, we’re focusing on assessing the revenue assumptions, monitoring long-term expenditures and reviewing potential capital projects,” said Eckert. “Two of the main challenges we face are the loss of state aid and the negative impact of the new law passed by the state of New Jersey called Chapter 44 which requires changes to our health benefit offerings.” The vote to approve the tentative budget will take place next week on March 16th at the regular Board of Education meeting. After the board approves the tentative budget, it will be submitted to the Executive County Superintendent and the Executive County Business Administrator for their review and approval. Once the tentative budget it approved by the County Office, it is advertised for a public hearing which will take place at the Board’s April 27 meeting. It is at this meeting that the Board will approve and adopt the 2021-2022 Final Budget.
The expenditure portion of the budget is driven largely by salaries and benefits of employees which generally stand at a set amount after union bargaining. “Balancing our 2021-2022 budget was particularly challenging this year with our largest state aid cut to date and the fact that the contract with our largest bargaining union the REA expires in June of this year,” said Eckert. Eckert went on to explain how S2 has resulted in a significant decrease in state aid for the Randolph School District. Total state aid in 2017-2018 before S2 was enacted was $12,819,909. Since the 2018-2019 school year after S2 was enacted, Randolph has experienced a cumulative loss of $2,252,529. The Operating Budget for the 2021-2022 school year is $95.3 million which is an increase of $2.9 million from last school year’s budget. Eckert went on to explain some ways in which the 2021-2022 budget will be different from that of 2020-2021. “During this current school year, the district received a number of grants that helped offset expenses including SR1 or the CARES Act was used to purchases PPE and the Coronavirus Relief Fund which was used to purchase staff laptops while the Digital Divide Grant was used to purchase student devices,” said Eckert. “These are non-recurring grants and are not part of the 2021-2022 budget.”
Frost also announced that the district plans on purchasing and issuing laptop/ tablet devices to its students and staff in the 2021-2022 school year. For this reason, the portion of the budget allotted to technological purchases has increased. Randolph Schools released a public statement regarding this project and an explanation of its funding. “The purchase of additional devices for students and staff is being funded through an increase to the technology budget line. The line was increased by $191,236, or 8.92%,” as said in the press release. “Each year, the district utilizes lease purchase agreements to maximize funding and will purchase devices through this type of arrangement. Previously, devices were purchased through individual buildings and departments. Those funds have been reallocated in the 2021-2022 budget to account for the technology increase.”
Director of Technology at Randolph Schools, Peter Emmel spoke to the reason behind this mass purchasing and issuance of devices to students within the Randolph school system. “We are purchasing devices for all of our students and all of our staff to ensure consistency across the platform,” said Emmel. “Consistency gives us the opportunity to take the conversation of the tool out. Our students and staff members need to be focused on the curriculum and instructional side of education. Consistency of that tool leads to security and safety from outside threats on the internet. Finally, the right tool leads to equity; it ensures that every student in Randolph, regardless of location or socioeconomic status, gets the same level of education that instructors are providing. Again, the tool is no longer a part of the conversation.” Online websites not sanctioned by the district will be restricted on student devices to ensure a high degree of digital safety.
Co-Vice President Allison Manfred addressed the board. “We’re at the one-year mark of COVID-19 changing all of our lives.” Said Manfred. “I remember seeing the papers that came home with my fourth-grade son, including the folder of worksheets that said “Week Three, Just in Case”. I honestly did not think we would even need to open that folder. I thought students would be back at school at the end of the two-week closure. An entire year has gone by and our students still are not in full-day school. This has been a trying and difficult time for us. I see the effects this time has had on my kids– they want to see their friends live, in-person, not just on a computer screen. They want to have lunch, recess, after school practices and interactive specials and electives. I understand the frustrations of the parents in the district because I feel those same frustrations. I hope the schools can open in a larger capacity, so our children can experience regular school life, but safety protocols are in place to keep our students and teachers safe. On that note, I would like to thank the teachers who continue to educate our children. I look forward to the day we can all go back to normal.”