By ERIN ROLL
Montclair could be spending an additional $2,762,387 in items related to special education, curriculum, athletics and transportation in the next school year.
The Montclair Board of Education presented a proposed budget for those departments on Feb. 5. The presentation was the third budget presentation since Jan. 22; the district has already presented early numbers for personnel and benefits, and for facilities and maintenance.
The district will have 1,138 staff members in the schools next year, including 538 teachers.
Budgeted personnel expenditures are to be $88,020,098, of which $84,321,678 is contracted salaries. Last year, personnel expenditures were $82,512,616, including $78,886,529 in contracted salaries.
Health benefits will cost $17,688,589, up from $15,866,064 the year before.
The combined personnel and health benefit costs will be $105,708,687, up from $98,378,680.
The district has been presenting budget numbers in phases, with a different presentation at BOE meetings starting in January.
The district expects a tax levy of about $120,625,307, out of a total general budget of $131,150,939. For the 2019-2020 school year, the tax levy was $118,260,105, and the general budget was $128,320,769.
State aid is anticipated to remain flat at $7,605,632, but Business Administrator Emidio D’Andrea emphasized that was a placeholder number until the state aid numbers are released later this winter. The date of the state aid release is unknown at this time, D’Andrea said, but once the numbers are released, he said he would ask the board for a special meeting.
D’Andrea also emphasized that all of the proposed special education and curriculum budget numbers will be subject to review and revision.
The draft budget is expected to be presented in full on Feb. 19, and the district expects to adopt the full budget in March.
The final budget has to be submitted to the executive county superintendent by April 8.
The district is anticipating a 16 percent increase in health insurance premiums, and Interim Superintendent Nathan Parker said that is one of the financial challenges facing the district. The 16 percent increase is based on usage and on projection numbers from the district’s insurance carriers, he said.
The total budget for special education is anticipated to be $8,435,634, up from $8,377,397. The largest portion of that amount is to be for out-of-district placements for students whose needs cannot be met within the district: $6,101,575, down from $6,115,691 in 2019-2020.
After out-of-district tuition, the next largest expense was professional services, such as for consultants and specialists: $1,968,302, down from $1,972,379.
Several parents from the Special Education Parents Advisory Council were present in the audience.
SEPAC, which is a state-mandated advocacy group, provides assistance to parents of special needs children, including helping them to navigate the different processes and regulations around special education in Montclair.
Some of the parents expressed concerns with potential cuts to special education services, specifically paraprofessional cuts, which have been discussed as potential cuts in recent years.
In previous years, paraprofessionals have been recommended for staff reductions during the budget season, only to be hired back when the need was discovered in September. The Board of School Estimate raised concerns about this practice in 2019.
“There are kids with disabilities behind all of those numbers,” said SEPAC chair Kathy Maloy.
“Looking at those numbers, we’ve been the scapegoat,” parent Alma Schneider said. She added, “Special education is on the chopping block every single year.”
Maloy called for the district to conduct a full analysis of its special education programs and services. She added many parents feel “lost” in the system.
Parent Allison Silverstein said a misconception existed that children were sent out of district because their parents wanted them to go to a more prestigious school than the Montclair public schools. In reality, she said, students are sent out of district because Montclair cannot adequately meet those students’ health, safety and educational needs.
“We don’t want our kids sent out of district,” Silverstein said.
The district is expecting costs to go up significantly for certain curriculum expenses: district-wide, curriculum expenses will go up by $649,266.
On the district level, professional development costs may go up from $52,961 to $100,000; the magnet program and the Students Accelerated In Learning program are expected to see their budget go from $67,500 to $130,000; textbook expenses are expected to go from $342,106 to $695,000.
The textbook expense increase is due in part to the district adopting new textbooks for use in the schools. That includes the implementation of a new textbook series, which will be in use in the district for the next three years, D’Andrea said.
The proposed budget for Montclair High School’s curriculum-related items is expected to go up 176 percent, from $290,162 in 2019-2020 to $803,159 for 2020-2021.
The biggest increase is for supplies and materials, from $157,052 in 2019-2020 to $502,072. Much of that amount was due to requests from the performing arts programs at the school, D’Andrea said.
Montclair High School’s own school-level budget will have $81,737 budgeted for textbook replacement, up from $37,000. At the high school, the textbook amount was largely for replacing lost, stolen or out-of-date books, rather than purchasing new textbook series, D’Andrea said.
For the athletics program, D’Andrea said that Athletic Director Patrick Scarpello seeks a uniform replacement program, so that uniforms for both male and female sports can be replaced on an annual basis. The athletics program’s supplies and materials budget is expected to go from $180,900 to $193,420.
Montclair will set aside $1,000,000 in expectation of legal judgments against the district, up from $700,000 for 2019-2020.
Montclair’s transportation budget is expected to go from $6,351,135 to $7,179,282.
The largest expense is for special education transportation, which is expected to go from $3,678,000 to $3,728,210. The next largest expense, transportation for general education students, will go from $1,911,000 to $2,653,572.
D’Andrea said the district is reviewing its bus routes, and the number of students riding those routes, in an effort to try to bring some of the expenses down.