BOE Budget Meetings End With $0 Tax Increase

The Roselle Park Board Of Education (RP BOE) announced at their March 3rd Budget presentation meeting that there would be a $0 increase in the tax levy for the 2011-2012 school year.

After seven (7) meetings, the BOE showed a total increase in their budget of almost $500,000, which is under the 2% cap set in place by Governor Chris Christie’s administration. The increase in expenditures were off-set by the same increase in anticipated revenue – a majority of which came from state aid.

The presentation meetings held throughout the borough’s schools allowed residents to review the budget process as well as ask questions and give suggestions. Three (3) screens with slide presentations were set up with one scrolling through suggestions that had previously been submitted while the center screen was a projected image of handouts available for the public. The last screen was available to enter any suggestions residents came up with during each meeting. The BOE addressed a range of suggestions offered by residents which included sharing services with the municipality, having students pay for participating in extracurricular activities, ask for more concessions from bargaining agreements, and closing one building.

“In the (2011-2012) budget … no building in the district will be shut down,” Board member Loren Harms stated at the February 24th BOE meeting at the Robert Gordon School. In a previous meeting on  February 7th, the BOE superintendent Patrick Spagnoletti stated that the Board had discussed the possibility of shutting the Robert Gordon School down.

One of the suggestions that were considered and put into practice was having middle school and high school students pay a one-time fee activity fee of $25 in order to participate in clubs or after-school activities. Additionally, those students wishing to participate in sports activities will be required to either pay $25 for sports physicals or have the physicals performed by their family physician. Solar panels will be installed on all schools in the district which will help with electric bills. The panels will be installed and maintained free-of-charge by a company which will then receive the energy credits.

BOE Finance Chair Loren Harms was pleased with the process of going to the schools and discussing the budget before it is submitted to the County for their review, “This is the first time it’s ever been done like this; to give the residents the knowledge of how a budget is made and why we can’t give some answers in December when we don’t know the (state aid) figures until February.”

“It’s easy to dismiss the fact and say that the Governor made the problem disappear by giving us $281,000 in additional in state aid but if we hadn’t gotten it down to withint $300,000 we’d still be talking about cuts,” stated School Superintendent Patrick Spagnoletti, “I think the process is very healthy. As educators who prepare the budget we take for granted a lot of the facts and figures that we work with and it becomes a good learning exercise for us to try and put into terms that other people can understand.”

Kathleen Murphy-Butler, a resident and educator who came to every one of the meetings, offered her thoughts after the last meeting, “The entire process is tedious and I do think that they did an excellent job. I’m disappointed that my fellow taxpayers aren’t here to hear it all and now I’m anxious to see how they are so concerned when the vote comes up.”

Mrs. Murphy-Butler was commenting on the fact that a majority of the meetings had less than 10 residents in attendance. She was hopeful that residents take advantage of the new process, “I work in a city where we don’t have control over our (school) budget. I have control [here], in a sense, I can speak my peace. Maybe the ‘Cracker Barrel’ name threw people but I would like to see more people here.”

Following is a list of suggestions offered by residents:

Apply 2010-2011 stimulus funds toward the next school year, if possible.Done!
Eliminate departmental chairs, extraneous supervisors, and evaluators.Done!
Eliminate interim positions.Done!
Share administration between schools; eliminate assistant supervisors and administrators.The district only has three assistant principals. The Board believes they perform vital roles at the high school and middle school.
Seek additional grants and/or corporate funding.We continue to do this on a year-round basis using volunteers (We do not employ any grant seekers/writers).
Offer a retirement incentive to employees aged 60 and over with 30+ years of service.The Department of Education no longer allows retirement incentives (buyouts).
Cluster classes together (e.g.; 4-5, 7-8, etc.)Not sure how this would save money as the same number of teachers would be required for proper supervision.
Offer only 2 sections per elementary grade level.This is being considered by the Board.
Reduce computer teacher at elementary level to one instead of two.Cannot service all elementary students with only one computer teacher. Computer instruction is mandated under NJ Core Curriculum Content Standards.
Reduce sports activities at high school. Students could 'pay to play' different sports if they are interested.Sports and coaching staff may be reduced. Legislation banning 'pay to play' has been introduced in New Jersey.
Have students pay for their sports physicals.This is being considered by the Board.
Get rid of (professional development presenter). Salary could save two teachers.Presenter's fee is paid for by NCLB grant money which mandates that the district spend the funds on professional development, not staff salaries.
No college tuition reimbursement for another year.The Board cannot require this as it is a negotiated item with the RPEA. It must be suggested by them and agreed to by the Board.
(Put a) cap on out of district workshops/presentations.All money for workshops comes from NCLB or IDEA grant money. Many are either free or require a nominal charge ($15). More expensive workshops must have approval of principal, superintendent, and Board.
Copy paper - teachers get set amount. Once they go over the amount they must purchase on his/her own.Principals already set limits on copying in buildings and ensure copyright rules aren't broken. Administration looking to eliminate unnecessary copying (ex. Going 'green' by eliminating paper notices).
No more FOOD at in-services unless it is donated .This is being considered by the Board.
No more teaching EXTRA periods for MS & HS teachers.Paying teachers an extra (contracted rate) of 1/7th a teacher's salary is a cost effective means of adding a class. We can get 7 classes for the price of 5 if a new teacher had to be hired and we don't have to pay benefits!
Charge more for use of buildings.Done!
Reduce heat during the winter.Work in progress given the age of some of our heating systems.
Mandatory lights out when classroom/office is not used. Use natural light as a source rather than classroom lights always on.All principals, staff, and custodians are making a concerted effort to turn lights off when not in use.
No new textbooks, for any subject area, throughout the district.The Board realizes books are expensive but that is one of their primary responsibilities - to make sure students have the materials they need to be successful in school.
Consider advertising dollars from outside corporations.The Board's attorney is looking into this suggestion.
Do away with stipend all counselors and CST members receive.This is a negotiated item with the RPEA and cannot be unilaterally eliminated by the Board.
Sell excess and obsolete assets.We do this! We sell used textbooks and recycle various pieces of equipment for scrap.
Eliminate the envelope pay stubs come in.Even though salary is public information, staff addresses, taxes, and withholdings are not; thus, the need for confidentiality. Good idea, however!
All staff should take a pay freeze.The vast majority of employees are covered by a collective bargaining agreement. Thus, a pay freeze must be negotiated and cannot be unilaterally imposed by the Board. A letter has been sent to the appropriate parties requesting contracts be re-opened.
Shut down one building.The Board has visited and continues to re-visit this option.
Increase student and teacher lunch prices.Every year the administration and food service company review prices and consider whether an increase is warranted. While not all prices increase every year, there have been several increases over the last several years.
Recycle plastics, aluminum, etc. and bring to recycle center for cash.Ray Bangs, HS science teacher, already does this. He uses the proceeds to support our science programs!
Have two paraprofessionals split one job. (work part time).This is being considered by the Board.
Eliminate Giselle Screening.Done!
Put solar panels on our roofs.We are! We received a grant from the Union County Improvement Authority to put solar panels on all school roofs. We should start seeing them this summer.
Have a Monday-Thursday work week to save on expenses and make the school day longer.The Board would need to hear that the majority of the residents support such a move!
Drop double insurance coverage.This is a negotiated item. However, employees may currently elect to drop double coverage and receive a cash payment which saves the district over $5,000 per year per employee who participates.