budget shortfall
Montclair Board of Education Sign.
PHOTO BY ERIN ROLL

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

The Montclair school district is going into the 2019-2020 budget season with a $2.2 million shortfall ahead of them.

The district presented some of the preliminary numbers of the $127,771,663 budget during the Tuesday, Feb. 19 board of education meeting.

Superintendent Kendra Johnson would not comment to Montclair Local on where the $2,227,541. shortfall was coming from.

“Obviously Dr. [Superintendent Kendra]Johnson and I have a tall task; $2.2 million is not easy to work with,” Business Administrator Emidio D’Andrea said.

Additionally, he said, Montclair is not expecting a significant increase in state aid for the coming school year. “I’m going to tell you now, I think flat funding is what we’re going to see,” D’Andrea said, The state is looking at the funding formula and trying to address it, he said.

A more comprehensive budget meeting is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 25, when more details pertaining to the shortfall will be discussed, Johnson said.

The proposed budget at this time includes a $3.4 million tax levy increase of $118,260,105. Last year, the tax levy was $114,889,279. The tax levy this year accounts for 92.55 percent of the anticipated revenues.

The increase to homeowners’ tax bills is dependent on Montclair’s state aid numbers, which are expected to be finalized in March.

In 2018, the average household owning a home assessed at $510,588 paid $10,330 in school taxes, roughly an increase of $294 over the 2016-17 tax bill.

For expenditures, salaries are expected to be $83,349,324, accounting for 64.12 percent of expenses. Employee benefits are expected to be $21,072,656, which is 16.21 percent of expenditures.

For expenditures by department, regular education, is the term often used to describe the educational experience of typically developing children, is expected to account for 32.18 percent at $41,839,134.

“The pie charts seem to tell the story. The unfortunate part is that with the current legislation, taxes can only go up two percent on a yearly basis,” D’Andrea said.

Salaries, benefits, transportation and out-of-district tuition, by themselves, make up 93 percent of the expenditures, D’Andrea said. The revenues are up by $445,000, he said.

D’Andrea said he doesn’t anticipate that the district will have any room in the budget for health benefit waivers, but the district will continue looking into that.

Other items in the budget include $40,000 for an attendance officer, $75,000 for curriculum writing staff, $825,000 for new textbooks, classroom supplies and other consumable items and $195,000 for professional development.

The district hopes to buy a new school bus on a lease-purchase plan at $25,000 a year, or $110,000 over five years.

March 12 is the deadline to get the budget to the state. “So our timelines are tight, based on that,” D’Andrea said.

The budget data presented Tuesday night does not include federal  sources such as Individuals with Disabilities Education Act funding. That funding is always added in after the district calculates its operating budget, Johnson said.

D’Andrea said the district took a different approach to preparing the budget this year, by assembling it online, which enabled principals and administrators to send in spreadsheets.

The board commented on how regular education accounts for roughly a third of department-level expenditures across the district. “I think we are a school district and the majority of our dollars should be focused on how we are going to enhance programming,” Johnson said. “I believe, philosophically, that this needs to be our constant work, and not just during budget season.”

The meeting, that could include where money should be cut or re-allocated, will be held at 6:30 p.m., Feb. 25.

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