After several marathon public meetings over the past three weeks, the Bloomfield Board of Education presented another revised version of the 2013-14 school budget at a special meeting on Tuesday evening.
In order to save teachers’ positions, the administration is considering outsourcing child study teams, custodial staff and school nurses, affecting a total of 52 employees. In addition, expenditures related to Bloomfield school athletics could be reduced for the 2014 school season, pending approval of a possible public question on the November election ballot.
The deadline to approve the budget, which is subject to a state-mandated cap of 2%, is March 27, with a final public hearing set for March 26, 2013.
Although still a work in progress, the budget, when proposed earlier this month, was just short of $96 million, resulting in a tax levy of $66.5 million, according to Bloomfield Life.
The budget had been hotly debated since late February when the public became aware there was a significant shortfall in the school budget. The budget proposed at the February 26 meeting would have cut over 100 teachers as well as some members of the administrative and secretarial staffs.
That budget was voted down by the Board of Education after members of the public, teachers and other school staff members spoke at length about the detrimental effects the cutbacks would cause, including larger class sizes in already-overcrowded schools.
During subsequent meetings on March 5, March 12 and March 17, the BOE continued to wrestle with the details of the budget, and heard more impassioned pleas by the public and the teachers to save the teachers’ jobs. Some suggested that athletics or technology be sacrificed in order to ensure class sizes stay small and that children’s education is not compromised.
Over the course of those meetings, the number of layoffs was whittled down to 98 (86 teachers), and after the March 17 meeting, down to 54.
The fact that the school budget had not budgeted to the full cap in almost ten years in order to keep taxes down. In fact, three budgets ago, the school district actually had a zero percent increase in school taxes. This led to the school district having no substantial savings.
For various reasons, town ratables have decreased $125 million over the past two years, thereby lowering the amount of taxes collected to benefit the schools.
The State of New Jersey has underfunded the Bloomfield School District over the past decade and imposed the 2% cap, while requiring other mandates that create unfunded expenditures for the school system.
Special Education costs have increased significantly due to an increase in new Special Education students.
During a presentation to the public at the March 12th meeting, Bing also revealed that after the district hired a new accounting firm, an audit found that the district had overpaid $883,000 in excess of health benefit claims, an expense the district was not able to recoup. In addition, the auditors found there were 17 other areas in need of remediation.
Bing also said that rumors that the district had been underfunding their health insurance were correct, and that the administration had recently come to an agreement with Cigna to pay $2.1 million by July 1st.
The public will have one more opportunity to comment on the budget at the public hearing scheduled for Tuesday, March 26, 2013, at the Bloomfield High School Auditorium.