By Steve Mayer
When I started in Robbinsville nearly five years ago, the district’s spending was just about $3 million below what the state deemed necessary to deliver a thorough education for our students.
Today, as we work to prepare the 2014-15 budget, the gap between the spending the state has determined is necessary and the district’s actual spending has widened to $8.2 million. In other words, during the past five years as state expectations for school spending have increased, we, in Robbinsville, have kept a tight rein on spending.
All the while, we have increased expectations for learning and improved programs for students. This has been accomplished through sound fiscal discipline and creative thinking about how to best prioritize programs for students.
Several years ago, after we cut nearly 27 staff positions to balance the 2010 budget, we adopted a strategy that centered on two things: Effectively planning for the future and maintaining outstanding programs for students. This has resulted in proposing staff and program increases strategically and seeking funding options that are outside of the norm for public school districts. Four years after those major staffing losses, Robbinsville Schools has experienced enrollment growth of approximately 300 students. Yet, because we are committed to minimizing the impact of our budget, we have returned only about 18 positions to our roster of faculty. These additions, however, have been strategically leveraged to have the greatest impact on the educational programs in town.
The litmus test for our success as a school system is anchored in the caliber of college acceptances awarded to our high school seniors. We are pleased that as we have increased standards from Kindergarten through graduation, we have seen the caliber of opportunities awarded to graduates escalate. Each year as the number of acceptances to Ivy League and top tier college increases, our graduates appear to be meeting the challenges of college life with a high degree of success. Given the steady increase in class size and our current ability to offer only half the number of Advanced Placement courses available to students in similar school districts, it is critical that this work continue to evolve. We will continue to take strategic steps to create a school environment that delivers on our community’s expectations for all of our children.
In terms of planning for the future, we are very pleased to be working with a comprehensive facilities plan that accommodates enrollment growth and keeps our school buildings in good shape. In the past three years, we have put roofs on Sharon and Pond Road Schools without increasing property taxes. In addition, we are allocating resources to refresh the dated portions of our oldest buildings, and we have drastically improved lighting and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning. Robbinsville is one of only a few districts to leverage two different energy savings initiatives to help restore and refurbish our facilities. We are very pleased to have a confident and competent facilities plan well into the future.
Because we are all working with scarce resources, the annual budget cycle is never easy. As we prepare for public hearings this spring, please know that the cornerstone to the budget process remains in leveraging fiscal prudence, creativity and multi-year planning in order to position our schools and community in the strongest position for moving forward.
Please plan to attend the preliminary budget hearing scheduled for March 6.
Steve Mayer is superintendent of Robbinsville schools.