CREST HAVEN - A smaller Cape May County population translated into lower budgets to operate the county's Special Services and Technical School districts.
Dr. Nancy Hudanich, superintendent of the combined districts, told the Board of County Commissioners March 23, at the Board of School Estimate’s annual session, that the Technical District's $15.39-million budget was down 2.8%, and Special Services' District's $12.93-million budget was down 1.2%. Both budgets were approved.
County taxes to support the Technical School District will be $8.22 million, while Special Services District will require $4.14 million.
Those declines were "...a reflection on our population," said Hudanich.
Hudanich said there were 438 projected full-time regular students enrolled in the Technical School District, a decrease of 12.
That is because sending districts were "...just trying to maintain the students" by keeping them in-district, as opposed to sending them to the Technical School to save tuition of $9,430 per pupil.
When districts send students to the Technical School, they must pay tuition, which otherwise would remain in the local district.
There were 94 full-time special education students at the Technical School, a decrease of nine.
For shared-time regular students, there were projected 18, five fewer, and 25 shared time special education students, a decline of 11.
The district projected $5.13 million in tuition for the 2021-2022 school year, a decrease of $217,908.
The district has held the line on tuition, Hudanich said.
State aid of about $1.4 million has not increased, a point that drew a remark from Commissioner Director Gerald Thornton.
"This 9% state aid is terrible. I don't know how much it decreased over the years, but I remember that it was probably three or four times higher than that,” he said. “They keep reducing that state aid and continually putting it down on the property taxpayers. I can't believe that continues to come down."
"That's really the crux of the dilemma for our county schools," replied Hudanich.
She cited the early requirement to have a budget approved, while district business administrators project pupil numbers that may not materialize.
Special Services District, with a "tiered support system" that includes therapy and nursing, cannot project numbers of pupils. Some students may require one-on-one aides or individualized instruction.
It is also possible that a family might relocate into the county after the budget is set, with several children in need of care at the Special Services District.
Hudanich added that the two county schools have been open for in-person learning "of some sort" since September.
"We all know the social, emotional impact on students and teachers the pandemic has had. They need face-to-face (instructional time)," Hudanich said.
While Covid remote funding aid was available to the district through Dec. 31, 2020, "Our tax credit stopped in January, so we could not continue doing it (remote learning). You have to do your (teaching) job in-person," she continued.
District students' schedules have been divided into cohorts, with some learning three full days one week, two full days the next week, Hudanich said.
"I am not, at this time, considering either district to go full time, five days for everybody. I don't want to disrupt what was working, especially when you look at the (Covid) positivity rate for New Jersey is back to orange," Hudanich said.