By MADDY VITALE
The Ocean City Board of Education introduced its budget for the 2023-24 school year with no surprises and no increase in the tax rate, despite projections of decreasing enrollment and rising employee health care costs.
The bulk of the funding for the spending plan would come from $24.9 million in tax revenue, up from $24.4 million in local tax revenue the year before.
The total budget for the 2023-24 school year is $45.2 million, up from $44.3 million for the 2022-23 school year.
School Business Administrator Tim Kelley noted during a presentation at the Board of Education meeting Thursday night that the increase in the spending plan of roughly $500,000 will not change the amount paid by the taxpayers.
“The overall tax rate is unchanged,” he said.
Using the model of an Ocean City house assessed at $500,000, homeowners would pay the same as they do now for their annual school tax bill of $995, Kelley said.
The school board approved the budget as it was introduced. It now goes before the county for review. Then, on April 27, during the regularly scheduled school board meeting, residents will have the opportunity to speak on the budget and board members can also recommend changes before final approval, Kelley said.
Kelley spoke about a slight decline in enrollment from the sending districts, which include Upper Township, Sea Isle City, Longport and Corbin City.
“Ocean City is a little unique because it has tuition revenue, but when it goes down, it can impact the budget,” Kelley said. “We are looking at the potential for declining tuition revenue.”
Board member Robin Shaffer asked, “What is the projected enrollment for 2023-24 for the budget. Do you have that number?”
Kelley responded, “We are currently about 2,000. K-8, we are anticipating a slight decrease and the high school is slightly higher. It is a small change, nothing material.”
Board member Cecilia Gallelli-Keyes asked about the tuition rates.
“To be quite frank, we have fewer students, so we are coming up with a higher tuition cost,” Kelley explained.
According to the budget, out-of-district tuition revenue will total $555,571 in 2023-24, compared to $613,580 in 2022-23.
Kelley noted that the city’s ratables help minimize impacts to the tax rate.
“Fortunately, because of the community we live in with increasing ratables, the change doesn’t cause a higher tax rate,” Kelley noted of potential deficits due to variables such as declining enrollment, among other things.
Video courtesy of Martin Fiedler, Just Right TV Productions
The district has also had to tackle higher health care costs. However, Kelley said that the district participates in a different health benefits plan than some other communities.
Kelley said that while Ocean City has seen an increase of about 6 percent for the upcoming budget, other school districts are anticipating seeing much higher increases in health care costs.
“I’ll call it a win because the district exited the state health care program,” Kelley said.
“I also wanted to thank you for staying at 6 percent, which is admirable,” Shaffer told Kelley.
In addition to ratables in the community that help offset shortfalls in the school budget, a few weeks back, the district learned that it would be receiving state aid.
Ocean City is receiving an increase of $198,146 in state aid. In total, Ocean City will receive $4,529,295 in state aid, a 4.6 percent increase over last year.
The majority of the increase in state aid for Ocean City is attributable to School Choice aid, Kelley said.
Kelley noted that state aid for the School Choice program increased by $175,764 over the prior year. The remainder of the state aid increase was attributable to special education aid of just over $22,000, he said.
In total, state aid for the School Choice program is anticipated to be $2,938,906, and general state aid for Ocean City is anticipated to be $1,590,489, he said.
“Ocean City, compared to most districts in the county, fared very well,” he said of the recently released state aid figures.
In other matters, high school principal Dr. Wendy O’Neal, intermediate school principal Michael Mattina and primary school principal Dr. Cathy Smith announced their selections for students of the month. The students were highlighted for being standouts among their peers for the month. This month’s characteristic for students in the intermediate school was “cooperation.”
After each set of students got up to be honored, while their principals read descriptions of what they each did to earn their winning selection, they posed for photos with school faculty, school board members and Schools Superintendent Dr. Matthew Friedman.
For more information about Ocean City schools visit www.oceancityschools.org.