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Co-Curricular Programs Remain Intact With Kinnelon School Budget

Four elementary teaching positions eliminated, but pay-to-play fee to stay.

Superintendent Jim Opiekun presented the district's $36,385,476 budget for the 2012-13 school year to the public Thursday before the Kinnelon Board of Education unanimously voted to approve it.

The budget, which is at the 2 percent state-mandated spending cap, will require a tax levy of $31,316,023 plus an additional tax levy of $2,662,364 for debt service, which is allowed outside the cap. On the average assessed home of $390,000, this means a projected $268 tax increase, but Opiekun cautioned that because of decreased valuation in the borough, the increase could be higher.

With this budget, the district is maintaining staff levels and programs in art and music education K-12 and not only continuing athletic programs on the high school level, but restoring athletic programs at the that were eliminated two years ago with budget cuts.

The district is also planning to increase teaching positions from one-and-a-half to two in the Business Department, continue with continue to offer electives through the virtual high school program and will be using a new webmaster that will allow each teacher to have their own website. To go along with the new website, the Kinnelon Board of Education approved a school calendar that will bring teachers to school two days before students at the beginning of the year to learn how to use the new website system.

"It's about getting information out rather than having people search for the information," Director of Curriculum Diane DiGiuseppe said in her presentation Thursday.

The district is particularly pleased to be able to continue the virtual high school program, which allows students to choose from electives that the district would otherwise need teachers for to study on electronic devices and computers.

"Imagine trying to fund one period of one teacher of one kid, Mandarin Chinese," Opiekun said. "That's what we have going on."

Four elementary teaching positions will be cut in the 2012-13 budget due to declined enrollment. This will be done by moving some of the elementary teachers to different grade levels. The number of kindergarten teachers will go from seven to five, first grade will go from eight teachers to seven and fourth and fifth grade teachers will go from eight to seven. But second grade teachers will increase from seven to eight and third grade will remain with seven teachers.

One thing that is not going away, however, is the pay-to-play fee students wishing to participate in athletics or extra-curricular activities, or park on school property, is asked to pay each year. But Opiekun emphasized that the district would not be raising the fee.

"We've been able to expand our athletic and co-curricular offerings without expanding the fee," he said.

The district is continuing negotiations with the Kinnelon Education Association teachers' union, although the board has reached an agreement with the administrators' union. Opiekun said Thursday that the 2012-13 budget does allow for negotiation goals with the teachers' union.

During his presentation, Business Administrator Jim Minkewicz spoke about initiatives that will help the district reduce costs, including a solar panel project at the funded through the Morris County Energy Initiative. Opiekun said the county will install the panels on the Stonybrook roof and collect Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs) and the district will see a reduction in electricity costs that amounts to between $30,000 and $40,000 per year. The district also approved the solar project Thursday night.

The per pupil cost of the 2012-13 budget is $13,309, which Minkewicz said is based on general expenses, minus special education tuition costs and transportation and depending on enrollment. The higher the enrollment, the lower the per pupil cost. The administrative costs per pupil, which not only include administrative salaries but supplies in administrative offices, copying fees and more, are $1,369, which Minkewicz noted are far lower than other local districts, including Butler.

The district does have debt payments on six building referendums, Minkewicz said, each extending 25 to 30 years.

The underlying message of Thursday's presentation was that the administration is proud of the district and the students and is excited to be able to continue the programs that lead to their sucess, both academically and culturally. Opiekun noted achievements of the high school choral department and spoke highly of the students who recently participated in

"Despite the good times and bad, the ups and downs, these programs have always remained intact," Opiekun said.

The district is proving its commitment to co-curricular activities with the budget, as its expenditure will see the highest increase of instructional line items, jumping 20.23 percent from last year's $176,712 spent on the programs. The expenditure for athletic activities will increase 11.79 percent from the $574,705 spent last year.

Opiekun said he hopes the public realizes how important the district is for the community as a whole.

"You look around and you see the commitment to making sure that these school buildings remain the community center for our kids, because that's really what it's all about," he said.

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