School district officials and administrators of the Montclair Board of Education have been working to close a $2.2 million shortfall in projected spending and revenue for the upcoming school year. A discussion was held at a special budget meeting presentation on Monday, Feb. 25. On the table lies 10 teaching positions and 10 part-time paraprofessionals designated for cuts in order to bridge the gap.
District Superintendent Kendra Johnson presented the administration’s response to the preliminary budget to what she referred to as the “2019-2020 budget dilemma.”
“It’s really simplistic math,” she told board members. “We need more money than we currently have in the budget to run our program holistically next year.”
Johnson showed one slide depicting the gap of total revenues at $127,771,663 with total expenditures at $129,999,204 and the amount over budget at $2,227,541.
She added that feedback was currently being received from the Montclair Principals Association and the Montclair Education Association in dealing with the shortfall. The main culprit attributed was the anticipation of flat state aid coming in at $7,928,526 comprising only 6.2 percent of the budget. She also added that the current state formula is not fully funded and that the amount for the coming school year has not been determined as of yet.
“We do not receive all of the funds that we are slated to receive per the state formula,” Johnson emphasized. “It’s not unique to Montclair but since we’re in Montclair, we’ll focus on Montclair.”
She then reverted back to the 2017/2018 school year where she said the district had to use local funds and do some reductions.
The proposed budget, which includes the 2 percent increase cap for the 2019-2020 school year stands at $127.7 million. The tax levy, which is the portion of the budget supported through local taxes, totals $118.2 million, compared to last year’s tax levy of $114.9 million. This year’s amount comprises over 92 percent of the budget. The tax increase to the average homeowner will be dependent on the finalized state aid numbers which are due in March. Last year, the average home assessed at $510,588 saw an increase of $294 from the prior year’s school tax portion.
Johnson then spoke of the district’s striving to continue to run a healthy program in alignment with the district’s goals. These goals included maintaining a world class instructional program for students, while using “fiscal resources” in the most effective way, and leveraging holistic resources to frame the discussion. She assured no cuts would happen in content areas, particularly with special education services as she addressed concerns over cuts to paraprofessionals by many in attendance.
Other budget highlights include salaries projected to be $83.3 million as well as employee benefits standing at $21.1 million. Professional development costs are projected at $195,000 and $75,000 for curriculum writing staff. Also in the works is $40,000 for an attendance officer. A sum of $825,000 comprises classroom supplies and books. Revenues are up by $445,000 according to Emidio D’Andrea, business administrator, who added that there may not be any wiggle room for health benefit waivers. The district is also looking into obtaining a new school bus through a $25,000 a year lease-purchase plan over a 5-year period.
Jessica de Konick, board member, said the district was passed the point where it can keep doing what it’s been doing and adding new things. She added that careful scheduling and assignment of staff needs to be considered to possibly add programs in the future.
“We need to be thoughtful and we can’t keep positions for the sake of keeping positions if that means we can’t do differently or charging the taxpayers something that they don’t need to pay for,” she stressed, “We have to progress.
She added that she was concerned about facilities’ needs with so many of the older school buildings and warned that the district has spent every surplus available.
Another topic of discussion entailed the high cost of living in the Township that has driven out many due to the fact that they couldn’t afford to stay, and the effect of the high cost of property taxes. One local resident, who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, implored the board to find ways that would not increase the budget each year by even the 2 percent state cap.
Priscillia Church, board member, relayed her disappointment that there wasn’t a little bit more money for principals to fund different instructional areas to support teachers.
“If we were able to tighten things up we could give certain supply lines for any academic area to get plenty of money,” she noted “Where could we even save $75,000 and spread that money? To have money in line items to see student achievement and motivation?”
Laura Hertzog, board president, pleaded with those in attendance and those watching the meeting from home to contact their elected officials, especially Governor Phil Murphy, who she said campaigned on public education.
“The state determines how much money you need and they do a formula. If we were fully funded, we wouldn’t have to make any of the cuts,” Hertzog explained. “Don’t talk to us, talk to the governor. Use that advocacy for your elected officials and call or write every week and say ‘Fully fund the state funding formula for the public schools.’ We are owed a lot of money by the state and I want it.”
The next meeting for the Montclair Board of Education meeting will be held on March 6. The board has a March 12 deadline to submit the budget to the state.