Superintendent Discusses School Budget Philosophy

Millburn School Superintendent, James Crisfield Credits: David Lackey

March 20, 2013

During the course of the deliberations concerning the Millburn Schools’ 2013-14 budget, some questions have come up regarding the budgeting philosophy we deploy when constructing the annual school budget.

What we attempt to do in the budget is predict how much money we’ll need in each of the 900+ budget accounts so that our schools continue to operate at peak performance.  I feel it is important to come right out and say this:  We do not set out to cut as many things or as much money as possible.  We do look to save money and capture efficiencies wherever possible, but the overriding priority is to ensure excellence from one year to the next.

Sign Up for E-News

We include contingencies in many of the budget accounts, hoping we won’t need to spend them but making them available just in case.  Not every account needs contingency allowances, but prudent budget management would suggest that a budget’s big areas anyway (in our case, such lines as out-of-district tuition, health benefits, salaries and utilities) have some allowance for the unknown.  We are, after all, putting together a budget that doesn’t start for almost a year after the initial budget requests are submitted.

There is much talk about how much money is unspent at the end of every year.  The fact that there is money unspent at the end of a year is a good thing—the possible costly developments that were driving the need for contingency funds didn’t materialize!  Also, it is an indication that our budget managers do not spend money just because it is there.  Rather, they responsibly look at their needs and draw from their accounts accordingly.

It is our hope that the perfect storm of contingency needs doesn’t hit in any given year, so that we have about $2M of unspent funds from the 900+ accounts at the end of the budget year.  That is not an unreasonable amount, given the budget is in excess of $85M.  It’s like having $20 leftover from a home improvement project estimated to cost $850.

The unspent $2M is used (per state law) as a revenue in the next year’s budget.  One popular misconception is that it accumulates and is hidden away in some top-secret surplus account somewhere.  That is just not true.  If in a given year we have more than $2M unspent (which, again, it is important to remember is a good outcome in that more of the contingencies that might have cost the district money did not materialize), the goal is to earmark the amount over $2M for future capital projects.  This is a key point of our budgeting philosophy.  It enables the district to replenish the Capital Reserve Account, which is now more critical than ever given that all but $132K of capital projects have been cut out of the budget this year.  The good news is we are able to get much-needed capital projects done, preserving the community’s investment in its school buildings, by funding them with Capital Reserve monies (i.e., not with annual budget monies).

Why did we cut out almost all of the capital projects from the annual budget?  We did so in order to enable us to hire 11 new staff members, including five teachers and three aides.  Those 11 new employees are costing (salary only) roughly $550,000.  Combine that figure with the $990,000 required to pay existing employees their negotiated 2% raise and the grand total of new funds needed for personnel in 2013-4 is $1,540,000.  The proposed tax increase of 2% generates approximately $1,440,000 of new revenue, so costs for new and existing personnel are consuming all of the additional tax revenue plus an additional $100,000.  I hope this puts to rest the misconception out there that this budget emphasizes physical capital over human capital.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Total amount budgeted for salaries in 2013-14 is $51,066,000.  Total amount budgeted for capital projects is $132,000.

All of us who live in New Jersey know it is not easy to pay the annual property tax bill.  This state has chosen to fund its public schools primarily through the local property tax, and that is a burden on residents, especially in communities such as ours where the state aid amounts are such a small portion of the overall revenue pie.  But it is also not easy budgeting in an environment where cost pressures are everywhere while at the same time restrictive revenue caps are in place.  The proposed tax increase of 2.00% enables the schools to keep pace with annual inflationary pressures (1.50% in the economy in general, and 2.00% locally with negotiated salary increases) and annual enrollment growth (roughly 1.00% on average of late).  In other words, it enables the district to keep operating at the high level it does now without losing ground to cost increases.  Millburn’s schools are important to the residents here, indeed a source of pride, and this budget is the road map for continuing the commitment to excellence that the community expects of its schools.

From: James A. Crisfield, Ed.D.

Superintendent, Millburn Township Public Schools

twitter:  @millburncsa

 The Guest Column is our readers' opportunity to write about a given issue or topic in an in-depth and educational manner.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Berkeley Heights

Logic and Sensible Spending Take Priority

May 24, 2018

Logic.  It's what people use when endeavoring to complete things in the most sensible order.  Everyone knows that "logic" means sequencing events in a formulaic, predictable manner.  We learned this at a young age, as we observed Star Trek on TV and came to understand why Captain James T. Kirk relied on Spock as his first officer because his strategic plans were ...

I will draw on my experience to deliver a great future for Berkeley Heights

I am impressed with the day-to-day leadership of our Mayor and Town Council and I hope to help them continue to do great work. As I have been doing my research since deciding to run for a seat on our Town Council, I have learned a few things about all the work that has been happening in recent years.  For example, while plans for the Stratton House development were recently announced, our ...

Christopher Rinaldi for Town Council - Leadership, Judgement, Experience

My name is Christopher Rinaldi.  As a long-time member of the Republican Party, I am running in the Republican Primary on June 5th for Township Council and Republican Municipal Committee of Berkeley Heights.

As a follow-up to my Candidate Statements from the last two weeks, I would like to share with you a few areas of direct work experience garnered over the past 25 years that I believe ...

How the Holi Color Festival Came to Summit; Event Planner Shares Her Story

May 21, 2018

Back in India, Holi was a holiday observed by almost all states. The holiday would be declared at all educational institutes and offices. It's a two day spring festival also known as the festival of colors. The festival signifies the victory of good over bad, the arrival of spring with the fragrance of flowers in the air and aura of warmth and happiness.

Holi festival is the time ...

Rain Didn't Dampen Our Vision for Art in the Park

The rain did not dampen our vision for Art in the Park!! Columbia Middle School was transformed into an art paradise, filled with an array of artists whose talents are nothing short of magical! The Peppertown Park Art in the Park Committee would like to thank all of the artists who came to our very first Art in the Park event. We are in awe of your creativity and immeasurable talents! You all ...

Red Cross Shares 20 Ways to be Safe This Summer

May 24, 2018

Download free Red Cross Apps to have safety information at your fingertips

The upcoming Memorial Day holiday weekend is the unofficial start of summer when many people will begin traveling, firing up the grill, and enjoying swimming and other water-related activities. The American Red Cross wants everyone to have fun and offers 20 things people can do to be safe all summer ...

Union County Offers Free Traffic Safety Education Programs throughout the Summer

The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders invites parents and caregivers to attend any of the upcoming Union County Police Department Traffic Safety Education programs to learn about car and bike safety equipment for children.

“As children start to spend more time outside and the summer travel season approaches, now is the time for parents and caregivers to ensure they are wearing ...

Gov. Livingston Hilltop Players Host Annual Relay Cabaret, May 31

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The Governor Livingston Hilltop Players will be hosting their annual Relay Cabaret at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 31 in the GL cafeteria. It is a night of songs, scenes, monologues, and dances from famous plays and musicals. We ask for donations at the door, and all funds raised will go to Relay for Life in the memory of our beloved technical director, Kenneth ...

Mindfulness Meditation Session Begins Program on Nutrition at New Providence Library

Dr. Kavita Kewalramani, a board certified Internist at K Primary Care and Medical Nutrition Center in New Providence, will start with a short mindfulness meditation session, followed by the latest research on how mindful nutrition helps to improve your health and weight. Dr. K will also share a recipe for healthy protein bites which will be sampled by the audience, and discuss her weight loss ...

Fallout Continues from Lawsuit Against Mountainside; Police Chief on Administrative Leave

May 19, 2018

MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ – Police Chief Allan Attanasio is the latest member of the police department to suffer repercussions from a complaint filed against the borough on May 11.  Attanasio, who is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, was “placed on administrative leave,” on Thursday by Borough Administrator and former Police Chief James Debbie, said  Lt. Joseph ...

Video Shows School Board Member In Altercation With Police at Traffic Stop in South Orange

May 16, 2018

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - South Orange Maplewood School Board Member Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad got into an altercation with a South Orange police officer who stopped her for speeding last month, in which she used profanity, complained when she was issued a ticket and called South Orange Police Chief Kyle Kroll “a skinhead cop.”

Lawson-Muhammad also appeared to suggest that she would ...

Upcoming Events

Thu, May 24, 9:30 AM

Junior League of Summit Thrift Shop, Summit

Here Comes Summer! Junior League of Summit Thrift ...

Giving Back Green

Fri, May 25, 9:30 AM

Junior League of Summit Thrift Shop, Summit

Here Comes Summer! Junior League of Summit Thrift ...

Giving Back Green

Sat, May 26, 9:00 AM

Miller-Cory House Museum, Westfield

Aunt Carrie's Attic Sale

Giving Back Other

Sat, May 26, 11:00 AM

Home For Good Dog Recue, Berkeley Heights,

Dog Adoption


Sat, May 26, 2:00 PM

New Providence

Memoir Writing Workshops @ NPML

Arts & Entertainment

Thu, May 31, 11:30 AM

Canoe Brook Country Club, Summit

Fortnightly Club Scholarship Luncheon

Food & Drink Giving Back

The Evaluation of the College Search

It’s is a bizarre time of year as a college counselor as I find myself at both the beginning and end of this process.  Sophomores and juniors are excitedly and idealistically starting to consider what will be important to them in a school.  At the same time, while only separated by a year or two, my seniors have all committed within the past month to a school and have spent the ...

How to Design Your Ideal Retirement

Would you like to design your ideal retirement? Where do you begin? First of all, what does retirement mean to you? If you’re in a relationship, does retirement mean the same to you as it does to your partner? Do you know if your “ideal retirement” is affordable or just a pipe dream?

In past generations, retirement planning didn’t involve very much. You stopped work ...

Don’t Make These Three Mistakes About Social Security

Social Security has been around for decades and it’s not about to disappear. Why? Social Security is not an entitlement ("gift") that can be taken away - it’s a forced savings scheme that Americans pay into in their working years in order to secure a pension for life. Ideally, Social Security should not be your sole source of income in retirement but even comfortable ...