BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ -- The finance committee of the Board of Education re-examined the preliminary budget adopted on March 12, and found a way to reduce it by $400,000. The board also agreed to postpone the referendum until sometime in 2021.

Board Member Chris Reilly said, “Given the current environment, the administration, working in collaboration with the finance committee of the board” decided to go back and “review our numbers, with the mind’s eye towards deferring or reducing whatever discretionary spending we could, to minimize the impact on our residents.” The majority of the district’s fixed expenditures (salaries and benefits) account for about 84 percent of the budget, Reilly said. In the end, the proposed preliminary budget was reduced by more than $400,000 which amounts to a 1.2 percent tax increase year over year. Originally the net tax increase was 2.2 percent over the prior year.

Business Administrator Donna Felezzola said she and committee members looked at both revenues and expenditures. The calculations were based on schools staying closed through the end of the current school year Felezzola said.

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On the revenue side, money currently budgeted for this school year was not spent because the schools have been shut down. Those items include Professional Development - $19,500; Utilities - $59,500; Athletics and Co-curricular Transportation - $36,000;, Instruction Supplies & Services - $15,000, and Athletics -- officials and site supervision - $153,500.

There was one area in which $97,500 in revenue was lost -- Full Day Kindergarten (FDK) tuition due to a change in projected enrollments. 

All told, the board was able to find $217,400 in additional revenues for the 2020/2021 budget.

On the expense side of the budget, $30,000 was added to the Child Study Team for additional evaluations & services due to the shut down because schools have been closed.

Savings on the expense side included $50,000 for supplies & salary allocation for FDK, $40,000, an overall 10 percent reduction, for District-wide Supplies. Cuts were also made in the Capital Projects line: $23,400 - basketball nets, winch replacement; $16,000 - a classroom floor replacement; $37,000 - a reduction in scope of Path Repairs, and $50,000 - a reduction in scope of Curbing/Paving.

Expenses were reduced by a total of $186,400.

The original budget had a tax levy of $45,135,002, which is 2.15 percent higher than the previous year’s budget. The revised budget has a tax levy of $44,731,202 -- a difference of $403,800 - 1.23 percent more than the previous year’s budget. 

The owner of the average home would have paid an additional $147 in school taxes with the original budget. That figure was reduced by $40, leaving the owner of the average home with an increase of $107 to the property taxes that support the schools.

There is one caveat to this budget which “includes $1.9 million in state aid and $430,000 in federal aid. These amounts are not guaranteed and may change due to the financial impact of COVID-19,” according to a note on the final slide of the budget presentation.

The board is expected to approve the budget at its next meeting, on May 7. Since schools are definitely closed through May 15, the meeting will be held on Zoom.

Referendum

Board President Doug Reinstein said, “Given the uncertainty of the times we are in and the uncertainty around people’s individual finances and the finances at the state level, I’m going to recommend that we postpone our planned referendum that we had previously scheduled for this September until sometime in 2021, at a date to be determined.” 

He said it didn’t feel right to him to be promoting the referendum during the summer, and “ask people to vote, when people will still be focused on safety and security and many will still be recovering financially.” 

The big impact of delaying the referendum will fall on the FDK. The move to a comprehensive FDK in September 2021 would likely be delayed a year because the district doesn’t have “the funds in our operating budget to make the facility changes that would be required for FDK,” said Reinstein.

He asked board members to give their opinion before moving ahead.

Board Member Angela Penna asked if the universal FDK were delayed a year would the Pilot FDK continue for another year.

Reinstein said that would be something to look at -- “We don’t know the answer right now.”

Board Member Gerard Crisonino said even though he has been a long time proponent of FDK, “I do think, based on this climate, it would be insensitive of us to move ahead with the referendum. Full Day Kindergarten is so tied to that referendum … but I do think we need to be considerate of all those members of the community who might be having some kind of financial challenges and to put an undue burden at this time, especially since we really don’t know where we are going, we are still in this pandemic, I agree with this and think it is a wise and prudent decision.”

Board Member Helen Kirsch agreed with the others, but wondered if it would be possible to keep the full day program at Woodruff, rather than put it in Mary Kay McMillin. 

Reinstein asked Superintendent Melissa Varley to add that question to her list. She said she would.

Board Member Mike D’Aquila said while there were a lot of “educational needs like upgrading the media centers and the STEM labs, and some capital improvements on the building infrastructure that are long overdue,” he agreed postponing the referendum until there was a better financial situation was definitely the right thing to do.

Board Member Bill Cassano said the board is “not backing away from this … A lot of what’s making me think we should postpone is that it increases the likelihood of success of the referendum. In this environment, we would have no idea whether or not we would be successful.”  

Reinstein said he heard broad agreement from the board to postpone the referendum, so they would.

He asked D’Aquila and members of the Facilities Committee to get together next month and “think through what are our alternatives now that we are going to push off September and look at the 2021 options and re-propose a new timeline to the board.”