Wednesday, March 8, 2017


The Board of Education on Tuesday moved toward closing the $2.3 million budget gap with a combination of spending cuts that will hit areas ranging from teachers to textbooks, and a tax increase of 3.28%, more than the state tax hike limit.

During the first budget workshop on Tuesday night, Business Administrator Paul Roth and Superintendent John Ramos presented the latest proposal that would rely on a larger tax increase than last year, not funding some requested new teaching positions and cutting others.

You recall, last week, Roth presented the estimated budget figures for the 2017-2018 district budget, with $128.1 million in revenue and $130.4 million in expenditures. That indicated a $2.3 million deficit if the district had stuck with the state-limited 2% tax increase.

But utilizing a higher tax increase, up to 3.28%, reduces the deficit to $833,000. That tax increase is allowed under state law when the district uses what is known as "banked cap."

John Ramos
That "banked cap" is an additional increase allowed when the district does not raise taxes by 2% in a prior year. Since the board did not use all of its tax increases in some prior years, it could add an additional $1.4 million in spending and boost the tax increase. $970,000 of that must be used this year or it will expire.

Roth said Tuesday that the district would seek to use that banked cap to help fill the deficit, along with other spending cuts and changes.

The proposed budget includes the addition of 11 employees, including six middle school teachers (three at each middle school), one elementary school teacher, one special services teacher, one high school assistant principal, one custodial supervisor, one part-time nurse and a part-time safety and security director.

But another $1.7 million will be saved through cutbacks in other staff, as well as books, sabbaticals and health care spending, according to Ramos. 

That includes cutting between eight and 14 employees, with up to seven teachers - three world languages (affecting fourth and fifth graders and Latin classes at CHS), two physical education, and one each in math and science.

Ramos said that the district is also denying requests to add a language arts teacher, social studies teacher and part-time ESL instructor to Columbia High School. This follows the decision last year to cut 15 employees, 11 of them teachers - nine at CHS.

Specifically, the proposal would also cut $300,000 in employee health benefit waivers, $93,000 in supplies, $100,000 in textbooks, $65,000 in sabbaticals, and $79,000 in student activities and athletics. The district would also begin charging for summer school to eliminate $75,000 in costs for those programs. 

"None of these decisions are easy," Ramos said. "We hope people will understand this has been a very thorough process."

Board President Elizabeth Baker described the cuts as "horrible choices" that needed to be made. Board Member Madhu Pai added, "This is a very tough fiscal year for us."  

Ramos and Baker stressed that this is not the final budget plan and nothing has been formally adopted.

The next budget meetings are set for 7 p.m. on Monday, March 13, at Montrose School in South Orange, with another there on Saturday, March 18 at 9:30 a.m. The budget must be approved by March 20.

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