NEWARK, NJ — Schools in New Jersey are in a world of pain as they contend with precarious reopening measures, increased expenditures and major cuts in state aid as a result of the coronavirus, and Newark is no exception.
With more than $36 million in expected aid slashed from Newark Public Schools’ budget, the largest dollar reduction of any district in the state, the Newark Board of Education voted to make cuts to the initial budget appropriations made in March and to apply unassigned general fund surplus, according to Business Administrator Valerie Wilson.
The move avoids furloughs or layoffs of the teaching staff. Prior to the pandemic and its subsequent funding consequences for the state, Newark was slated to receive $865.7 million, a $53 million boost from the previous school year. With only $829 million now expected from the state, the district will gain just $16 million over the previous year.
WIlson said at last Thursday’s special Board of Education meeting that the district will use about $24 million from its excess fund balance, adding that when the budget was created for the fiscal year 2021, the district used about $21 million in fund balance.
“Now, we’re taking an addition $24 million in fund balance, so our fund balance amount that is being used to balance the fiscal year 2021 budget is actually $45.3 million,” she said.
Appropriation reductions will amount to about $12.2 million, and the district will also continue hiring teaching staff as needed, Wilson said.
“We’re not going to do a hiring freeze now, I think that is an extremely drastic action to take at this point in time. I believe that based on breakage within the vacancy account, within filling positions after people retire, sometimes there are just positions we don’t fill, we’re not doing a hiring freeze,” Wilson said. “A hiring freeze also is going to adversely impact Central Office that is already struggling with reductions we’ve made.”
The biggest reductions will be seen in substitutes and per diems ($1 million), vacancies ($2 million), charter school payments ($2.8 million), purchased services ($1 million), health benefits ($1.5 million) and Central Office supplies ($1 million). Travel is also expected to save about $728,900 since staff will not travel during conferences and professional development the pandemic.
The cuts will be implemented starting in January 2021. Superintendent Roger Leon said everything is on the table going forward to increase and diversify the district’s revenue streams in the absence of state aid.
“Whether its hiring other people, freezing spending, things of that nature, we have a good sense of what those things are from a historical standpoint. But they do change, so the problem is we need time to be making other decisions,” Leon said.