Englewood reconfiguring grades to meet charter school funding demands

Englewood kids to be transferred so district can fund charter schools

A look at issues facing the City of Englewood. Michael W. Curley, Jr./NorthJersey.com

(Photo: Chris Pedota/northjersey.com file photo)

ENGLEWOOD — The expansion of the Englewood on the Palisades Charter School is forcing the city school district next year to move third-graders to the Leroy McCloud Elementary School and sixth-graders to the Janis E. Dismus Middle School.

The Board of Education finalized the grade changes on Tuesday night in order to fund an $800,000 increase in the 2018-19 budget for the charter school, which is expanding to include the eighth grade.

“We have to look to save money by reconfiguring schools,” Superintendent Robert Kravitz said. “It has to do with the budget and trying to become more efficient.”

The district is required to transfer $3.4 million to the charter school next year, according to the district’s $75 million preliminary budget. Enrollment there is expected to increase from 196 students to 229 students next year, said Anthony Barckett, the school’s director.

Cheryl Balletto, the district’s business administrator, said she had budgeted an increase of $200,000 for the additional students, but when the state released its charter school figures earlier this month, it increased the number of at-risk students at the school and the extra funding needed for them by nearly 30 percent.

The at-risk funding increase effectively puts Englewood on the hook for the equivalent of 81 additional enrollments.

“That’s what the killer was,” Balletto said.

Other uncontrollable expenses, including a $1.2 million increase in employee health benefit costs and a $1.5 million increase in out-of-district tuition for special education students, put the district in a difficult position, Kravitz said.

Reconfiguration gives the district an opportunity to move grades that undergo the same state testing into one building, reduce busing costs by $50,000, open up classrooms and possibly bring some special education students back into the district, he said.

The district’s central office will be moved from Dwight Morrow High School to Dr. John Grieco Elementary School in the restructuring, freeing up a hallway of classrooms for students, Kravitz said.

The middle school, which can hold 700 students, is operating under capacity with just 320 students, he said. The addition of the sixth grade will increase enrollment there by 185 students.

“We’re trying to look at academics and trying to refocus the district,” Kravitz said. “How do you become more efficient with what you’re doing and save money?”

The impact of the reconfiguration on teachers and staff has not been determined, he said.

Parents and students strongly opposed the changes on Tuesday, objecting to the timing of the announcement and voicing concerns about the fate of McCloud’s Ivy class program for honors students and a Dual Language English and Spanish program.

Kravitz said he expects to continue the dual language program for sixth-graders moving from McCloud into the middle school, while the Ivy program will likely cut off at the fifth grade next year. Sixth-graders with high test scores will be placed in an honors class, he said.

Only 59 percent of fifth-grade Ivy students passed the math portion of the state’s Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test, Kravitz said.

“That’s not necessarily a good number,” he said.

The timing of the reconfiguration announcement was tied to the state’s March 15 release of school funding numbers, Kravitz said. The district then had a two-week window to craft its 2018-19 budget.

The preliminary budget calls for a 3.9 percent tax levy increase, raising taxes on a home assessed at the city average of $580,000 by $168 for a total school tax bill of $5,775.

The district will hold a public hearing on the budget once the county signs off on the spending plan.

Email: shkolnikova@northjersey.com

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