By ERIN ROLL
Montclair has adopted its $136,339,182 school budget for the 2020-2021 school year, in a budget season that was complicated by the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Board of School Estimate (BoSE) has approved the budget as presented by the Board of Education, but recommended that the district allocate $200,000 in additional funding for the restorative justice program.
The tax levy remains the same as originally presented: $120,625,307.
The average household assessed at $626,906 will see their school tax bill go up by $178 to $10,696, up from $10,518 in 2019. Last year, taxpayers saw a 2 percent increase.
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In February, the district said that it may look at eliminating several staff positions, but did not indicate at the time exactly how many positions, which specific posts, and from which schools. Those staff cuts are still included in the budget, Business Administrator Emidio D’Andrea said.
The BOE officially adopted the budget on March 16, following a review by the executive county superintendent, and handed it over to the Board of School Estimate for a series of reviews and hearings in March and April.
The budget season was complicated by the COVID-19 outbreak, which required all BoSE hearings to be conducted virtually.
“This is a difficult season for doing the budget, not just because of what’s going on in the world but because of the economic status of the district, really,” Interim Superintendent Nathan Parker said at the start of the first BoSE hearing on March 23.
It also remains to be seen what will happen with Montclair’s state aid allocation. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, New Jersey has pushed the end of its fiscal year back from June 30 to Sept. 30. As of Tuesday, D’Andrea said the schools had not yet gotten any notification or instruction from the state on how the district’s state aid allotment would be affected.
The district is expected to receive $7,894,013, up 3.79 percent from $7,605,632 for 2019-2020: an additional $288,381. However, it is below the amount that Montclair is supposed to receive under the state’s funding formula for school districts: $9,038,249.
At the recommendation of Mayor Robert Jackson and BoSE members, the budget re-allocated $200,000 for the restorative justice program in the schools.
“The district allocated $200,000 to the program by reducing teacher salaries. The replacement cost for filling the transferred positions will come from any breakage in salaries after the budget was approved. There was no change to the final budget amount approved,” D’Andrea said.
“We transferred $200,000 from teacher salaries to the Restorative Justice salaries. The cost of the replacement teachers, for the teachers transferred to the Restorative Justice, will come from breakage in salaries,” D’Andrea said.
At the start of the budget cycle, the district was facing a $7.5 million shortfall, more than triple the amount that last year’s $2.2 million shortfall had been. The district attributed much of the increase in expenses to contractually obligated pay increases for staff and administrators, as well as an increase in health and benefits costs.