Roselle Park News

Schools

2nd BOE Budget Presentation Has $133 Tax Increase For Schools

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Published: March 28, 2017 @ 7:00 AM EDT
2nd BOE Budget Presentation Has $133 Tax Increase For Schools thumbnail

On March 16th, the Board Of Education (BOE) held their second budget presentation for the 2017-18 school year and voted to approve the tentative budget. Agenda item 16 was approved at the end of the meeting by a 5-1 vote. BOE member Sundjata Sekou was the only ‘no’ vote and members Kevin Cancino, Troy Gerten, and Loren Harms were not present.

This meeting covered the expenditures for next year. The $35 million total is a $1,300,000 increase – almost 4% – from last year’s budget.

As with most organizations, salaries and benefits for personnel take up the majority of expenses. The 2017-18 school year has employee compensation (salary, insurance, mandated contributions) account for 77.3% of costs – a 1.6% reduction from the 2016-17 school budget. The remaining 21.8% – a little over $8 million – goes to 22 line items that include out-of-district tuition, utilities, costs unrelated to salaries that are associated with special services, lease purchases, transportation, rent, grants, debt payments, lawsuit settlement payments, and a roof replacement project.

The cost for out-of-town tuition was separated into two (2) line items for special education and for mainstream students – those who go to the Union County Magnet School District. Additionally, lease purchases were separated into four (4) line items. These purchases were for the 1-to-1initiative – to have each student from kindergarten to their senior year in high school have a laptop – as well as purchase for new textbooks, buses, equipment, and other large purchases.

A new line item was created to document the school district’s annual payments to settlement litigation brought against it by 430 Westfield Ave, LLC for the next four years (link). Another addition is the one-time expense for the roof replacement at the Roselle Park Middle School. Bids are currently out and it is expected that the project will be completed by the time the 2017-18 school years starts.

Lease Purchase 4, which will cost $400,000 over four years, will be used to continue increasing technology through the purchase of iPads, textbooks, furniture, and other equipment. This coming school year’s cost will be $100,000.

State aid remained constant from last year at $10,554,830.

Description
2017-18 Budget
(%)
Salaries
$20,742,320
58.9%
Health & Dental Insurance
$5,696,360
16.2%
FICA, Med, PERS, Unemployment
$790,000
2.2%
Out-Of-District Tuition (Regular Ed)
$647,273
1.8%
Out-Of-District Tuition (Special Ed)
$1,253,000
3.6%
Utilities (Water, Electric, Gas)
$658,100
1.9%
Phone
$96,700
0.3%
Special Education (Non-salary)
$125,000
0.4%
Related Special Services (OT/PT)
$116,451
0.3%
Transportation
$464,400
1.3%
Contracted Maintenance Services
$653,500
1.9%
Insurance (Liability, Auto, etc.)
$459,500
1.3%
IDEA/NCLB Grants
$752,082
2.1%
Debt Services (Referendum)
$703,100
2.0%
Lease Purchase 1
$156,106
0.4%
Lease Purchase 2
$105,000
0.3%
Lease Purchase 3
$130,000
0.4%
Lease Purchase 4
$100,000
0.3%
Legal Costs
$150,000
0.4%
Rent ECC
$144,000
0.4%
430 Westfield Ave Legal Settlement
$200,000
0.6%
Tuition Reimbursement
$91,800
0.3%
Sick Day Payout Retirees
$34,263
0.1%
RPMS Roof Replacement
$600,000
1.7%
All Other Expenditures
$366,765
1.0%
(Supplies, Staff Development, Replacement Texts, Dues, Mileage, etc.)
Total
$35,235,720
3.9%

A comparison to the school district’s previous budget shows that the largest increase, percentage-wise, was for legal cost – a 50% increase. Mrs. Guercio – without giving any details – stated, “Legal costs, unfortunately, have increased for a variety of reasons.”

The district appoints its legal representation through a no-bid contract and has appointed the same firm for years. Nothing in New Jersey law requires the awarding of such service professionals to go through a bidding process but nothing prohibits such a practice either.

The largest dollar increase was for salaries at $541,729 but this amount was a 2.7% increase from last year.

Nine (9) line items saw a reduction in cost from last year. They included health & dental insurance, utilities, grants, and other expenditures.

Description
2017-18
Budget
2016-17
Budget
Difference
($)
Difference
(%)
Salaries
$20,742,320
$20,200,591
$541,729
2.7%
Health & Dental Insurance
$5,696,360
$5,771,360
-$75,000
-1.3%
FICA, Med, PERS, Unemployment
$790,000
$782,352
$7,648
1.0%
Out-Of-District Tuition (Regular Ed)
$647,273
$560,500
$86,773
15.5%
Out-Of-District Tuition (Special Ed)
$1,253,000
$1,197,556
$55,444
4.6%
Utilities (Water, Electric, Gas)
$658,100
$676,216
-$18,116
-2.7%
Phone
$96,700
$98,700
-$2,000
-2.0%
Special Education (Non-salary)
$125,000
$141,561
-$16,561
-11.7%
Related Special Services (OT/PT)
$116,451
$82,050
$34,401
41.9%
Transportation
$464,400
$465,500
-$1,100
-0.2%
Contracted Maintenance Services
$653,500
$637,848
$15,652
2.5%
Insurance (Liability, Auto, etc.)
$459,500
$420,232
$39,268
9.3%
IDEA/NCLB Grants
$752,082
$790,948
-$38,866
-4.9%
Debt Services (Referendum)
$703,100
$703,550
-$450
-0.1%
Lease Purchase 1
$156,106
$156,106
$0
0.0%
Lease Purchase 2
$105,000
$104,946
$54
0.1%
Lease Purchase 3
$130,000
$125,000
$5,000
4.0%
Lease Purchase 4
$100,000
$0
$100,000
-
Legal Costs
$150,000
$100,000
$50,000
50.0%
Rent ECC
$144,000
$138,684
$5,316
3.8%
430 Westfield Ave Legal Settlement
$200,000
N/A
$200,000
-
Tuition Reimbursement
$91,800
$91,800
$0
0.0%
Sick Day Payout Retirees
$34,263
$36,900
-$2,637
-7.1%
RPMS Roof Replacement
$600,000
N/A
$600,000
-
All Other Expenditures
$366,765
$622,005
-$255,240
-41.0%
(Supplies, Staff Development, Replacement Texts, Dues, Mileage, etc.)
Total
$35,235,720
$33,904,405
$1,331,315
3.9%

School Superintendent Pedro Garrido gave a summary of the direction the district is focusing on for the future and the reason for the expenditures. The three major areas were technology, curriculum, and the physical infrastructure. The increased use of technology would be through purchases related to laptops, iPads, and Science-Technology-Engineering-Arts-Mathematics (STEAM) labs. The curriculum would be updated to include internet-based instruction in place of textbooks, a new math curriculum for the elementary schools, and staff development along with literacy and science resources. Improvements, repairs, and renovations to the physical infrastructure will include refurbishing the high school library, a new generator, the roof replacement at the middle school, new classroom furniture, and the refurbishing of lockers and the middle school and high school.

The estimated school tax increase for a house assessed at $253,000 is $132.69 which is only $11.25 over the increase estimated by the municipality…”

Jacob Magiera, one of the three residents in attendance for the budget presentaiton, asked about the line item dedicated to the settlement and the size of the print copy of the PowerPoint presentation provided to residents. He was told that he would receive a large print copy, the version that board members received, at subsequent meetings.

Matthew Leingang, a former BOE candidate, inquired about how the district’s budget compared to other similar districts or even previous years’ budgets within the district. He asked the basic question, “How do we know that is is a good job and that we can’t do a better job?”

After 10 seconds of silence from the board, President Miller asked Mrs. Guercio to address the question. She responded, “It’s a very tough question to answer. Mr. Miller, do you have any ideas?”

Mr. Garrido addressed Mr. Leingang’s question and talked about the annual school district report card as a reference released by the state that gauges Roselle Park schools with other – somewhat – comparable districts.

Resident and former BOE candidate Jeff Regan then asked for clarification on the roof replacement and why it was considered ‘partial’. Mrs. Guercio responded that the middle school was an expansion of the borough’s original high school and it is that original section that needs to be replaced.

After the public comment portion, board members themselves publicly asked questions. Kimberly Powers, who voted to approve a resolution on the middle school roof replacement project last month, asked if the project goes out to bid. She was notified that they had already gone out for bid and they will be opened on March 31st.

Ms. Powers then asked about the $96,000 line item for phone and internet services. Mrs. Guercio responded that the cost covers the entire district – all eight (8) buildings – for the school year. Additionally, the school district is part of a cooperative called Area Cooperative Educational Services (ACES) that provides a better price than if it went out for individual bid.

Asking about special education students who are sent out-of-district, Ms. Powers asked what schools they attend. Mrs. Guercio replied that they attend various schools and that the district not only pays for the tuition but transportation to those institutions. Mrs. Powers asked why and was notified that it is required by law.

Ms. Powers asked for clarification regarding ‘extraordinary aid’. The business administrator explained that the term is used when services or personnel are provided to only one or two students. Mrs, Guercio gave the example of providing services to a deaf student. Services – such as speech services – which are provided to a number of students, fall under ‘related-services’.

BOE member Sekou commended the district for setting up two autistic classes in-district and stated he would like to see less money leave the district and to provide more special services in-district.

Mr. Sekou then read from a prepared statement:

In the last 13 years, the school budget has nearly doubled. That means taxes have nearly doubled. We cannot continue this way. As a few people have said tonight, it is not sustainable. We’re a 1.2 square mile town. We cannot continue to demand that our towns’ hard-working people, families, and seniors pay $104, $132 or $157 every year. Furthermore, while we may have certain individuals in this town who are independently wealthy, the vast majority of people I’ve met in Roselle Park are people who get up every day to work longer and longer hours to be able to pay for things like every-increasing property taxes. It’s unfortunate that we have gotten to this point. We are here in a situation where the average property tax bill is over $9,000. So for all those things that I just mentioned tonight . . . I am going to vote on this budget but at this point, I have to vote no.

Even though he stated he would not support the budget, Mr. Sekou did not provide any cost-saving measures or what he would cut from the budget he was voting on. Additionally, he made no mention of his previous long-standing position that he would vote ‘no’ on the budget until school (and budget) elections were moved back to April to allow residents themselves to vote on the entire budget. No mention was made by Mr. Sekou as to the education of students, which is the main purpose of the school system and related budget.

Below is a table that shows the expenditures from the 2011-12 school year through the proposed costs for the coming school year:

Description
2011-12
2012-13
2013-14
2014-15
2015-16
2016-17
2017-18
Salaries
$17,982,961
$18,372,103
$18,989,137
$19,440,902
$19,710,481
$20,200,591
$20,742,320
Health & Dental Insurance
$5,263,488
$5,230,053
$5,372,737
$5,942,841
$6,059,549
$5,771,360
$5,696,360
FICA,Med,PERS,Unemployment
$998,774
$930,000
$804,966
$787,724
$761,250
$782,352
$790,000
Out-Of-District Tuition (Regular)

$1,154,307

$1,284,865

$1,507,568
$527,000
$554,500
$560,500
$647,273
Out-Of-District Tuition (Special)
$1,090,199
$1,182,498
$1,197,556
$1,253,000
Utilities (Water, Electric, Gas)
$719,500
$711,100
$657,100
$586,100
$647,374
$676,216
$658,100
Phone
$78,800
$83,800
$82,300
$76,300
$87,449
$98,700
$96,700
Special Education (Non-salary)
$113,840
$182,144
$196,550
$90,256
$110,595
$141,561
$125,000
Related Special Services (OT/PT)
$121,800
$188,500
$194,204
$54,929
$82,846
$82,050
$116,451
Transportation
$334,000
$314,000
$348,000
$459,500
$505,837
$465,500
$464,400
Contracted Maintenance Services
$302,000
$417,775
$435,935
$557,220
$632,220
$637,848
$653,500
Insurance (Liability, Auto, etc.)
$347,627
$375,262
$370,000
$370,000
$370,000
$420,232
$459,500
IDEA/NCLB Grants
$818,496
$831,636
$693,552
$781,027
$790,945
$790,948
$752,082
Debt Services (Referendum)
$694,671
$700,636
$685,164
$687,200
$688,100
$703,550
$703,100
Lease Purchase 1



$199,896



$125,000



$103,658
$150,000
$156,106
$156,106
$156,106
Lease Purchase 2
$0
$100,000
$104,946
$105,000
Lease Purchase 3
$0
$0
$125,000
$130,000
Lease Purchase 4
$103,658
$0
$0
$100,000
Legal Costs
$85,000
$85,000
$90,000
$90,000
$100,000
$100,000
$150,000
Rent ECC
$130,680
$130,680
$130,680
$133,296
$135,960
$138,684
$144,000
430 Westfield Ave Legal Settlement
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
$200,000
Tuition Reimbursement
$90,000
$90,000
$90,000
$91,800
$91,800
$91,800
$91,800
Sick Day Payout Retirees
$12,000
$133,000
$67,870
$22,400
$29,720
$36,900
$34,263
RPMS Roof Replacement
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
$600,000
Maintenance Reserve
$0
$60,000
$0
$0
$0
$0
$0
April Election Costs
$13,000
$0
$0
$0
$0
$0
$0
All Other Expenditures
$231,185
$446,455
$460,214
$472,149
$614,616
$622,005
$366,765
(Supplies, Staff Development, Replacement Texts, Dues, Mileage, etc.)
Total
$29,692,025
$30,692,009
$31,279,635
$32,514,501
$33,411,846
$33,904,405
$35,235,720

Based on the tax rate used by Mrs. Guercio, the estimated school tax increase for a house assessed at $253,000 is $132.69 which is only $11.25 over the increase estimated by the municipality at the same $253,0000 assessed value.

The public hearing for the 2017-18 school year budget is scheduled for Tuesday, April 25th, at the Roselle Park High School. The budget is then set to be voted on by the board to be adopted on Tuesday, May 9th at the Roselle Park Middle School.