By ERIN ROLL
Montclair school officials are anticipating tax levy increases in their current draft of a 2021-22 school year budget — even with Gov. Phil Murphy planning on sending the district more state aid.
The Department of Education on Thursday released preliminary aid numbers for all public schools and districts, based on Murphy’s proposed budget — which still must go to the Legislature for review. Districts overall are slated to see about $578 million more than in the current school year, where state funding levels were held flat from the year before. But not all individual districts will see increases.
Montclair is set to get about $8 million, up 4.37% from the current school year. But that still falls below the roughly $9 million district officials were estimating for state aid in a budget presentation earlier this month — a placeholder figure based on New Jersey’s funding formula, which actual state budgets fall short of actually providing (though New Jersey is working toward a multi-year plan to reach full formula funding).
Figures as of a district budget presentation Feb. 17 still showed a $6 million deficit as the school system prepares its 2021-22 spending plan. The deficit is lower than the $7.5 million deficit that the district began last year’s budget process for 2020-2021 with.
Business Administrator Emidio D’Andrea didn’t say what cuts the district might consider when presenting the preliminary numbers. D’Andrea also didn’t present an estimate of a tax rate or average tax burden for households. Messages to schools Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Ponds and D’Andrea seeking more information this week haven’t yet been returned.
But D’Andrea’s presentation did estimate a tax levy of more than $123 million, up about $2.4 million, the maximum increase that would be allowed under a state cap on year-to-year tax levy growth.
The district’s preliminary budget has to be adopted and sent to the Essex County Superintendent of Schools by March 4. The school board expects to adopt a version March 15 to hand off to Montclair’s Board of School Estimates, which sets the tax rate. The Board of School Estimates would hold meetings between March 22 and April 7, before sending a final version to the county superintendent on April 8.
D’Andrea said the schools have not been seeing some kinds of revenue, such as fees from renting out facilities, due to the pandemic. But he said the district is optimistic things will change with the next school year.
The largest expense in the current version of the 2021-22 budget is for salaries, accounting for 63% of the budget, at $88.9 million..
The second-largest expense is for employee benefits, accounting for 17% of the budget at $24.4 million.
The salary and benefit increases together amount to more than $6 million, with another $3 million in other increases — for a budget that’s about $9.1 million over the 2020-2021 plan.
The 2021-2022 budget as presented would also have the district using $2.5 million of its fund balance — when the current year’s budget used $2 million.