BRIDGEWATER, NJ - With the realization that the district is looking at a $2.2 million deficit between revenue and expenditures for the 2018-2019 budget, the administration is looking for ways of expanding revenue without increasing taxes more than the allowed 2 percent.
At this point, the finance committee has been presented with a spreadsheet showing an anticipated revenue of $153.5 million, which assumes a 2 percent tax increase, flat aid and no use of the banked cap. But the budget expenditures as planned are set at $155.7 million.
"What is more challenging is that if we do not take steps to restructure our expenditures now, the deficit only compounds through the coming years and we will have fewer options to increase revenue and fund the areas of our budget that are in need," board of education member, and chair of the finance committee, Barry Walker said in a statement at the Jan. 23 meeting.
Walker said the district continues to face challenges of balancing a comprehensive budget under the constraints of the 2 percent cap.
"While we are able to go beyond that cap by seeking public approval, the board is keenly aware of the reality of taxes on the residents of Bridgewater and Raritan, and therefore, we have always sought to maintain reasonable growth that allows for increases to our staff and the resources that are needed to operate the district," he said.
Over the past two years, the district has been focused on long-term sustainability, and created three permanent allocations to support critical areas of operation that have been underfunded, namely technology, curriculum and facilities.
In the 2017-2018 budget, the district fully funded technology, although it only allows for a 2:1 student to device ratio, and that permanent allocation will have to increase further in order to increase the ratio.
For curriculum, the allocation is currently only funded at about 60 percent.
"That means we will not have the resources, year-to-year, that we need to keep our programs current," Walker said.
Finally, with regard to facilities, that is the area that has been most depleted. Last year, it was funded at about 14 percent.
"In order to sustain our long range facilities plan and ensure that our buildings are safe, comfortable and welcoming, we need to rebuild this area of our budget," Walker said.
Walker said in the statement that the current reality has evolved over time.
"Certain areas of our budget have grown well beyond our 2 percent ability to increase revenue and we have moved resources from one area of the budget to others to solve immediate problems," he said. "Our 'one-year-at-a-time' view has brought us to our current reality and now, through the lens of long-term sustainability, our situation is more difficult."
In terms of possible moves to increase revenue, the finance committee has been discussing methods of revenue expansion that will prevent the taxpayers from having to pay more.
The first option is increasing student activity fees, which will allow the district to maintain the wide variety of activities. Another option is the development of a district-run before and after care program at Hillside Intermediate School.
The organization that currently runs the Hillside program will be closing, and the finance committee is recommending to the board that they approve the takeover of that school's program by the district for the 2018-2019 school year.
"This will allow us to build a program slowly, focusing on one building," Walker said in the statement. "However, we are doing this with the mindset that the program we build will be scalable and the district will, over the coming years, assume the management of these programs across each of our buildings."
The administration is exploring other options for enhancing revenue, which will be shared with the board in the future.
In addition, the district is looking at how best to restructure expenditures to make the budget more sustainable. Those areas being explored include redesigning the daily substitute workday at the high school; outsourcing long-term substitutes; eliminating late buses; eliminating middle school travel teams; moving certain positions to part time to provide a reduction in health benefit costs; and restructuring staffing models.
No decisions have been made at this time and discussions are ongoing.
"These conversations are not unique to B-R, but our specific reality among school districts in the 2 percent world is," Walker said in the statement. "We have to address our needs comprehensively to ensure that we support our staff and provide the facilities and resources that they, our students, and the residents of Bridgewater and Raritan need and deserve from their school district."