First BOE Presentation Asks For Input But Offers No Detail On Tax Impact

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Published: March 14, 2016 @ 8:30 AM EDT

The first of two budget presentations for the 2016-2017 school year was held on Tuesday night, March 8th. Rodric Bowman, this year’s chair of the Roselle Park Board Of Education (BOE) Finance Committee, opened the presentation after that evening’s regularly scheduled BOE meeting at the Sherman School gymnasium.

The presentation was turned over to Sue Guercio, the school district’s Business Administrator, who gave a PowerPoint presentation. She started by thanking Mr. Bowman along with the two other finance committee members Tory Gerten and Loren Harms. She stated that the actual budget process started in December when she began working with all the school/building administrators to gather the coming school year’s requests and needs.

Mrs. Guercio also said that this first meeting was to allow for input from the community even though there was not much detail provided by the Roselle Park School District (RPSD); that information would be given at the second presentation meeting on Monday, March 14th. A timeline, which is listed below, laid out important dates for the budget process:

Date
Day
Event
February 11, 2016
Thursday
First Finance Committee Meeting
February 16, 2016
Tuesday
NJ Governor Chris Christie's Budget Address
February 18, 2016
Thursday
School State Aid Figures Released
February 25, 2016
Thursday
Second Finance Committee Meeting
March 8, 2016
Tuesday
Third Finance Committee Meeting
March 8, 2016
Tuesday
First Public Budget Presentation
March 14, 2016
Monday
Second Public Budget Presentation
March 22, 2016
Tuesday
RP BOE Meeting To Adopt Tentative Budget
March 23, 2016
Wednesday
Budget Due To County Superintendent For Review
April 25, 2016
Monday
Last Day To Receive County Approval
April 25, 2016
Monday
Earliest Date For Public Hearing
April 26, 2016
Tuesday
BOE Public Hearing On Budget
May 9, 2016
Monday
Last Date For Public Hearing
May 10, 2016
Tuesday
Budget Vote At BOE Meeting
May 14, 2016
Saturday
Last Date To Adopt Budget

The Business Administrator reviewed the major changes in expenses including the 2.4% salary increase for the first of a three-year contract which was agreed to earlier this school year for teachers, custodian, paraprofessionals, and other support staff. This – along with estimated increases in insurance rates of  5% – accounted for 83% of the increases in expenditures for the 2016-17 school year.

The next phase of the school district’s 1:1 initiative for laptops – which cost $400,000 to establish and deliver laptops to every student at the Roselle Park Middle School for its initial implementation last year – along with other purchases such as textbooks was budgeted for $125,000. The initiative’s objective is to equip every RPSD student with a laptop with this year expanding it to the high school. These lease purchases are the equivalent of rent-to-buy over a four-year span. According to Mrs. Guercio, the $125,000 is the payment for one year which means that the entire expense will be budgeted at $500,000.

A new position of a computer technician is being added to the district to handle the 1,100 new laptops and associated issues. With close to 2,000 in the district, there will still be an anticipated purchase of more laptops to complete the implementation with the district then applying a passing-down protocol where laptops that are replaced are given to students in lower grades who are not expected to use them to their fullest capacity.

Description
Amount
Total
$911,633
Increase in salaries due to collective bargaining agreement (2.4%)
$490,111
Health insurance increases (estimated at 5%)
$266,522
New lease purchases to expand laptop 1:1 initiative to Roselle Park High School as well as textbooks, science equipment, and furniture.
$125,000
Additional computer technician to support the 1:1 initiative
$30,000

Mrs. Guercio reviewed the changes on the revenue side. Regarding school state aid that is provided every year to all school district, Mrs. Guercio commented, “Even with that increase, and the minor increases the last couple of years, we are still not receiving as much state aid as we received back in 2009 before Governor Christie came into office and cut state aid throughout the state. We’re still not back to that level so although salaries go up, expenditures go up, unfortunately state aid is not going up anywhere at the same rate.”

The Business Administrator repeatedly makes mention of the 2009-10 figure of $10,671,165.00 and the combined 25% increase in state aid during former Governor Jon Corzine’s last year in office. In 2007, Governor Corzine proposed a state aid plan to address criticism that certain school districts’ state aid increases were being neglected while poor performing schools were receiving the majority of aid. In 2008, Roselle Park received $1,714,037 (20%) in state aid followed by another $508,151 (5%) in 2009, the year that then-Governor Corzine was running for re-election against current Governor Chris Christie.

A full review of state aid for RPSD since 1997 shows that the 2008-09 state aid was an outlier – more than any other year previous or since then. Further review shows that in the seven years previous to 2008, state aid had $0 increase for three of those years, as compared to only twice from 2010 till now. A comparative analysis also shows that the accumulated increase from 2003 to 2007 was $846,317 as compared to the total aid increase of $1,291,017 for the subsequent seven years from 2010. The 2003-2007 amount adjusted for inflation was $931,273.78 which is still almost $360,000 less than increased from 2010 till this upcoming school year.

School Year
State Aid
Increase/Decrease
% Change
1997-1998
$5,143,045.00
1998-1999
$5,940,278.00
$797,233.00
13.4%
1999-2000
$6,407,442.00
$467,164.00
7.3%
2000-2001
$7,048,186.00
$640,744.00
10.0%
2001-2002
$7,602,660.00
$554,474.00
7.9%
2002-2003
$7,602,660.00
$0.00
0.0%
2003-2004
$7,718,660.00
$116,000.00
1.5%
2004-2005
$7,950,220.00
$231,560.00
3.0%
2005-2006
$7,950,220.00
$0.00
0.0%
2006-2007
$7,950,220.00
$0.00
0.0%
2007-2008
$8,448,977.00
$498,757.00
6.3%
2008-2009
$10,163,014.00
$1,714,037.00
20.3%
2009-2010
$10,671,165.00
$508,151.00
5.0%
2010-2011
$9,263,813.00
-$1,407,352.00
-13.2%
2011-2012
$9,827,430.00
$563,617.00
6.1%
2012-2013
$10,423,024
$595,594.00
6.1%
2013-2014
$10,423,024.00
$0.00
0.0%
2014-2015
$10,460,264.00
$37,240.00
0.4%
2015-2016
$10,460,264.00
$0.00
0.0%
2016-2017
$10,554,830.00
$94,566
0.9%

Mrs. Guercio went on to describe how previously the district would receive tuition payments from other schools districts – known as a Local Education Agency (LEA) – to Roselle Park in order to send those students to RPSD for programs such as self-contained, special education, and the Academy. Those districts are now implementing those programs themselves since there is a cost-savings to providing those services in-district. Although no figure was given for the decrease, for the 2015-16 school year the LEA tuition was anticipated at $205,727 – almost $100,000 than the previous year. Debt service payments also increased slightly but no amount was provided at the presentation.

Description
Amount
Increase in state aid
$94,566
Decrease in excess surplus
(-$137,008)
Decrease in tuition from other LEA's
Figure not provided
Increase in payment principle for debt services
Figure not provided

The tax levy was touched upon although, again, no estimated figure was presented. There is a tax levy cap of 2% that can be raised by property taxes from year to year. There are certain exemptions that can be paid by property taxes that are not calculated into the 2%. Last year, the three exemptions (enrollment adjustment, health benefits, and banked cap) totaled $878,010. This 6.6% increase resulted in close to $1.3 million to be collected from Roselle Park taxpayers last year.

School Year
Amount To Be Raised By Taxes
Increase (%)
Increase ($)
2014-15
$19,183,851
2015-16
$20,454,668
6.6%
$1,270,817
2016-17
Not provided

With those exemptions removed, the amount to be raised in 2015 was $392,807 or a little over 2%. Using the same basic calculation, the increase in the tax levy – not taking into account any exemptions – will be $409,093.36. There are adjustments to this and other school district budget figures because the school year does not coincide with the calendar year on which property taxes are collected. In other words, the amount to be actually collected for school taxes takes into account the second half of the last school year (2015-16) and the first half of the upcoming school year (2016-17). These amounts are combined to give an accurate tax levy.

Mrs. Guercio further explained that unlike in 2015, RPSD received only one (1) exemption adjustment this year for enrollment in the amount of $188,385. By comparison, $456,511 was given to the district but this was due to the start of full-day kindergarten which caused a spike in enrollment. This year’s amount was almost 60% less.

Both those figures give a projected amount to be raised by taxes of almost $600,000 or 3% – less than half of what was allowed last year.

Year
Amount
of
Exemptions
2%
Increase
Amount
Total
Combined
Increase
Amount To Be Raised By Taxes
Increase (%)
2013-14
$17,855,273
2014-15
$970,556
$358,022
$1,328,578
$19,183,851
7.4%
2015-16
$878,010
$392,807
$1,270,817
$20,454,668
6.6%
2016-17
(Projected)
$188,385
$409,094
$597,479
$21,052,147
2.9%

This final projected amount to be raised was reached using the minimal information provided during the first budget presentation. Adding the $94,566 in increased state aid brings revenues to $692,045, leaving $219,588 that needs to either be raised through revenue or decreased in expenditures. There was mention of federal grants – NCLB (No Child Left Behind), Title I, Title II-A, Title III, and IDEA (special education needs) – which Mrs. Guercio stated that the district to anticipate 85% of what was awarded previously. If such is the case, the anticipated funds from federal grants will be in the $672,300 range since 2015-16’s awarded amount was $790,945. If federal grants are included in revenue, that would raise that figure to $1,482,990.

Hopefully, the next meeting will provide more information on whether that figure or any additional revenue or funds will prevent the budget from being placed on the November ballot for a vote. Even that occurs, which was not likely according to the finance committee chair and board administrator, only any amount over 2% could be voted on, not the entire budget.

Before going to the public comment portion, Mrs. Guercio reiterated that more detail will be given at the next meeting and that the first meeting was looking to get input from the community and accepting any suggestions that the community might have.

Among residents who spoke after the presentation were Jacob Magiera who asked about federal money and excess surplus money.

Jeanine Goodis asked about how laptops and iPad tablets would be distributed to the younger grades. She was told by School Superintendent Pedro Garrido that used laptops and tablet would be moved to the lower grades.

Eugene Meola, who is the First Ward Councilman but spoke as a resident, criticized the BOE and the school portion of property taxes (link to related article).

The next budget presentation is scheduled for tonight, March 14th, at 7p.m. in the Roselle Park Middle School auditorium.