BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The preliminary school budget presented at last week's Board of Education meeting maintains the existing programs, contains the implementation of the Common Core Standards, includes costs associated with the new PARCC Readiness assessment, continuation of the improvements to the technological infrastructure, supports professional development of the staff and facility improvements, according to Superintendent Judy Rattner. The budget will be voted on at the next Board of Education meeting held on March 13.
"I want to remind everyone that our ultimate priority is our students," Rattner said. "When we are doing our budget, our students are at the center of the decisions we make. We are focused on supporting the goals of our strategic plan that is in place and moving forward. We work off the confines of caps and spending requirements."
The preliminary budget totaling $44.8 milion represents a 0.3 percent increase from last year with $36.9 million of the total being raised from local property taxes. This tax levy represents a 3 percent increase equating to a $231 increase on the average Berkeley Heights assessed home. (The Berkeley Heights Ratable Base decreased which accounts for $35 of the increase and the actual school tax increase is $196.)
The budget process requires the individual school administrators to identify their budget priorities and teachers' needs. "They look at curriculum and future planning to identify a number of areas that we can support," said Rattner.
The original spending increase submitted by the schools totaled $1.3 million, which is a 2.9 percent increase. Rattner stated that she went back to the administration to cut $1.2 million from this number.
The state allows the district to use "Banked Cap" funds to increase the budget beyond the 2 percent tax levy cap. "Banked Cap" funds accumulate when the district does not reach the 2 percent tax levy increase cap. Over the past few years the district has banked funds for future use. The administration is asking the board to approve the use of $400,000 of the "Banked Cap" and $500,000 in Capital Reserve. (The "Banked Cap" can be lost if not used.) The money from the Capital Reserve will be used for ROD Grant opportunities and other capital improvements.
Gov. Christie announced the increase in K-12 State Aid
and Berkeley Heights will receive a net increase of $16,000 for a 2014-15 Total State Aid of $1.169 million.
Three "major increase areas" include employee benefits, $560,000 (8.7 percent increase*); tuition, $61,250 (3.7 percent increase) and salaries, $340,000 (1.6 percent increase).
*Employee benefits increased by 15 percent based on the Affordable Care Act, which has been offset by higher employee contribution.
Upon the Board's approval of the preliminary budget at the March 13 meeting, the budget will be reviewed by the Executive County Superintendent and the Board will adopt the final budget at the April 24 BOE meeting.