Margate Board of School Estimate, from left, Interim Superintendent Thomas Baruffi, Commissioner John Amodeo, Mayor Michael Becker, Commissioner Maury Blumberg, school board President Kathy Horn and Vice-president Tracy Santoro.

MARGATE – The Board of School Estimate approved the Margate City school district’s $12,763,571 budget Thursday, March 28, along with city commissioners providing accolades about the quality of education offered to the children of Margate.

Interim Superintendent Thomas Baruffi presented a brief synopsis of the budget, which he said maintains all educational programming despite a reduction in staff.

Along with the budget, Baruffi presented the NJ Department of Education’s Summative Score Calculation, which reflects student growth and proficiency in language arts and mathematics for the middle school. According to comparative results, Margate ranks first among Atlantic County middle schools in both categories.

“When you look at the state assessment, results shows that by the time (the students) leave middle school, they are performing at the highest level in Atlantic County,” he said.

The Eugene A. Tighe Middle School, which garnered Blue Ribbon status two years ago, is the first of just three middle schools in the county to exceed the state’s growth standards in English language arts and the first of three districts to exceed the standards for growth in math. Other districts that performed well in English language arts include Belhaven Middle School in Linwood, where Baruffi previously served as superintendent, and Hammonton Middle School. For math, Alder Avenue Middle School in Egg Harbor Township and Weymouth Township Elementary School exceeded the standards in math.

The school tax levy is down $13,000. Total cost per pupil dropped $756 to $30,327 for this year.

“The budget reflects a reduction in our expenses and also addresses the impact of our declining enrollment,” Baruffi said. “Basically, we are presenting a budget that we feel is educationally sound and will allow us to continue to present the programs that get those kinds of results and is fiscally responsible.”

Margate has 354 students this year, down from 367 in 2017, but one more than last year.

Personnel cuts include eliminating three full time positions and reducing three full-time positions to part-time, he said.

“You have no idea how proud I am of our children’s performance,” Mayor Michael Becker said, noting that the annual reduction in student enrollment has leveled off at about 12 students a year.

Baruffi said that trend is likely to continue for the next five years.

“We know we have to address the declining enrollment,” Baruffi said.

He said the district combined schedules and looked at other areas for cuts that would not negatively impact educational programs.

“The programs will be just as strong next year, but we did feel like we had to make some cuts,” Baruffi said.

Commissioner John Amodeo said the district should start taking a hard look at school consolidation next year.

“The conversation is out there, and the public recognizes that we are starting to slow down a little bit, but there still could be a decline. Young families are not moving in here because of the cost of real estate,” he said.

Baruffi said the board has been discussing school consolidation and has met with an architect about conducting a long-range facilities plan.

“We have to be prepared to make changes when the time comes,” Baruffi said. “We are also looking at personnel changes next year that will help us transition…”

Consolidation plans would have to be approved by the NJDOE, he said.

“We are getting a lot for our money with the product that’s put out in the school district,” Amodeo said. “This is a great budget. I will be proud to vote for it.”

“This time around was more painful,” Commissioner Maury Blumberg said about having to formulate a budget around fewer students.

“If 300 is the magic number for consolidation, I think we are a long way off,” he said suggesting the district consider accepting tuition students. “I think we should strongly consider if we are teaching eight kids in a class, we can easily teach 15. We could do that across every grade…and eliminate a lot of this pain.”

The added revenue from tuition would allow the district to improve programming and do more for the students, Blumberg said, emphasizing that it would have to be accomplished through attrition.

“There’s no better way to do it than through attrition,” Baruffi agreed.

Public hearing on the budget included comments from residents John Sewell and Art Cotilli, who are both proponents of school consolidation.

The board, which includes the commissioners, along with school board President Kathy Horn and Vice-president Tracy Santoro, voted unanimously to approve the budget.

The tax levy is $10,498,077. The tax overall tax rate will go down less than a cent to 61.8 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. A homeowner will pay $324 on $100,000 on assessed valuation, about $1 less than last year.