School Board Hears Budget Plans at Special Meeting
The first of two presentations was held Wednesday evening
Manchester school principals said that their budgets for the 2012-13 school year are not expected to increase.
The principals from each of the township's six schools presented their needs for the next school year to the township's board of education during the first of two special budget meetings Wednesday night. For the most part, they said that they can continue to educate students with what they have, though some special requests were made. Ridgeway and Whiting elementary schools could use new intercoms, said their principals Diane Pedroza and Fran Scudese, respectively, though the current systems do get the job done.
"It's not a safety concern, but it is a consideration. It's an older system," Pedroza said. "Communication has never been an issue."
Superintendent David Trethaway said that the intercoms become an issue if school staff are unable to communicate with the main office. Board member Steve Pacido said that intercoms are especially important if an emergency situation arises in which the school requires a lockdown.
"I want that tool to be there," he said. A new intercom would cost the district about $17-20,000, according to business administrator Craig Lorentzen.
At this point in the budgeting process, Lorentzen said, it is difficult to determine what cuts, if any, administrators will have to make.
"It really all depends on that state aid number," he said. Administrators thus far have heard varying stories of how much money in aid they will receive — some less, some more than last year. "We've heard it all," he said.
Administrators will find out that amount of aid from Gov. Chris Christie on Feb. 21. On March 1, the tentative budget will be adopted during a special board meeting. The board will then submit that budget to the county and will hold a public budget hearing on March 28.
Last month, board members voted to eliminate a public vote on the school budget.
"What that also means is that we have to live within a 2 percent hard cap," Lorentzen said. The board will not be able to to use waivers for things like special education, tuition and rising pension costs should the budget rise above that 2 percent mark. In addition, the district may lose over $200,000 in federal funding. "Getting to this cap is going to be extremely difficult to do. But that's the goal of the board."
Already, over $400,000 has been cut from next year's spending plan.
"It hasnt affected staff and programs at this point," Lorentzen said.
Ratables in Manchester are down $115 million after five senior communities won tax appeals. Trethaway said that this may have an impact on the tax rate, but the board will take that into consideration as the budget is created.
"We have to be cognizant of what impact that has on the taxpayers as well," he said.
The amount of students requiring special services can also impact the budget, said Oliver Lokerson, director of Student and Administrative Services.
"You know, it's just unpredictable," Lokerson said. "We could have a family of four move in tomorrow and that could cost us $200,000."
"We've got a fixed budget and if kids come in, we've got to look for money elsewhere," said board president Donald Webster.
Lokerson said that there are 36 students placed out of the district and he is working to bring back two of those back, which would save the district money. Developing special education programs is a consideration, but only if done properly, Trethaway said.
"The only way we bring people back is if there's a substantial program," he said. "It's not about the money."
Other school principals reported that their plans for next year. High school principal Alexander George spoke about expanding course offerings. More advanced placement courses will be available to students next year, and the board asked if others classes, such as AP physics and expanded business class offerings, are under consideration.
"We're certainly open to that conversation as need arises," George said.
At Manchester Township Middle School, board member Jackie Bermudez asked if an assistant wrestling coach was needed given the about 40 students participate.
"At any time, get in touch with us and we would get there to assist him," said principal Nancy Driber.
Trethaway added that budget cuts led to the elimination of assistant coaches, but that there is a process to accept parent volunteers should they be interested.
Bermudez also asked if staff considerations were preventing some students from being placed in honors classes. Driber said that was not the case.
"If we have students who all met the criteria, we would accommodate them and open another program," she said.
Department heads will present their budgets for next school year at 6 p.m. Thursday in the media center at Ridgeway Elementary School.