Shared Special Services Addressed

Little Egg Harbor School Budget Raises Taxes 2 Percent

Mar 20, 2019
Photo by: Pat Johnson The Little Egg Harbor school board views a slide on how the number of students under the proposed shared-services director of special education compares with other districts.

The Little Egg Harbor Board of Education introduced a budget for 2018-19 that includes a 2 percent tax increase. Business Administrator Nicholas Brown said for a median-sized home worth $200,000, the increase would be $18 a year, or a tax bill of approximately $1,188. The public can comment on the budget during a public hearing on April 29 at 6 p.m. in the Frog Pond School auditorium.

Over half of the budget depends on state aid, with the local tax levy at 46 percent of the budget. Special education costs are 15 percent of the budget, said Brown.

“The School Funding Reform Act instituted by Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration does not address special education funding and shifts the burden of such funding to local school districts,” said Brown. The projected aid cut for the 2019-20 school year is $143,520; for the 2021-22 school year, $374,288; $463,629 cut in 2022-23; $269,982 and $85,258 for the next two years, for a total of $1,770,859 cut in state aid for special education over the six years.

These figures were the reason why Superintendent Melissa McCooley has gone to shared service in the special education department between Little Egg Harbor and Pinelands Regional school districts.

During her address to the public, McCooley used slides to make her point.

“Superintendent responsibilities are: continually assesses business management practices to achieve efficiency, ensures funds are spent prudently, fulfills all statutory obligations and implements the education laws of the state of New Jersey and the administrative code of the New Jersey Department of Education.”

Between the Little Egg Harbor School District with 1,650 students and the Pinelands district, which has 1,530 students the new director of special education, Erin Lichtenwalner, will oversee a population of 3,180 students.

McCooley had prepared a slide that showed other districts with similar numbers with only one director.

Another slide suggested that the daily impact on the students with IEPs would not change and that programs would be expanded.

“The child study teams remain the same; relationships established with students and parents remain the same; your child’s teachers/programs remain the same. Continuity: There will be consistency in IEPs and programs and a common philosophy between districts. Savings goes into programs and professional services, and all practices are aligned with federal laws.

“There will still be two study teams in Little Egg Harbor and two in Pinelands, for a total of four child study teams that still have the same case load, and your children will still have the same teachers,” she said.

Another slide, of Erin Lichtenwalner’s accomplishments and credentials, showed she has two children of her own with IEPs. She was a special education teacher, an autism specialist, and a school psychologist in the Egg Harbor School District. Lichtenwalner joined the Little Egg Harbor district three years ago. Anyone with questions for the new director may call her at 609-296-1719, extension 1029, or email her at Lichtenwalner@lehsd.edu

During the public portion of the meeting, township resident Thomas Christopher said he has two children with IEPs, one in the elementary system and one in Pinelands. He expressed anger that the district had not discussed the action with the parents. “It’s a significant change for our children, and this is the first time you have discussed it publicly. You said Pinelands had commissioned an audit, but we have not been able to see that audit. I’m protesting the secret and dishonest way it was foisted upon us ... it was done without transparency.” He asked the board to reject the proposal to consolidate both districts under one director.

Resident Christine Snyder asked how the change would be cost beneficial to Little Egg Harbor; Brown said the elementary district would pay Lichtenwalner’s salary and charge Pinelands for half.

During the agenda meeting, the board voted to enter into a shared-services position between Little Egg and Pinelands for the director of special services pending approval by Pinelands.

On another matter on the agenda, the board proposed to hire a full-time math tutor. McCooley said they have yet to advertise for the position, and salary would be commensurate with the person’s experience, though she suggested it would be a step1 position that starts around $58,000.

The board voted to pay Frog Pond Principal Troy Henderson a quarterly stipend of an additional $6,000. The stipend is because he does not have an assistant principal, said McCooley.

On a positive note, the George J. Mitchell School raised an amazing $27,100 during its Jump Rope for Heart event. Principal Deniese Guinan said 294 families participated in the event and made it a success.

The board also conferred the title of volunteer of the month on Michael Cofer for giving his services as a DJ during the Jump Rope for Heart challenge. Donna Doherty was named the Frog Pond volunteer of the month for her steadfast dedication to the mentoring program.

— Pat Johnson

patjohnson@thesandpaper.net

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