Education

District Discussing Potential Budget Reductions, Resident Encourages Using Banked Cap Money

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BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Discussions are continuing for the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District’s 2018-2019 budget, and up for consideration are cuts to address the budget shortfall.

A full presentation is expected at the Feb. 27 meeting.

According to board of education member, and finance committee chairman, Barry Walker, the district presented a list of items that are being considered for reduction to fix the budget shortfall, including a number of staff positions, late buses and more.

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In addition, Walker said, they are looking into the potential for a fee increase for sports and clubs.

At this time, Walker said, neither the committee nor the board of education is endorsing any reductions, but is just in discussions over some of the options being presented by the administration.

“We discussed the full list, but we didn’t endorse the full list,” Walker said of the committee’s discussions with the administration.

Resident Steven Singer said he would like to encourage the board to go to the 2 percent cap limit with taxes, and to use all of the banked cap from the past three years to help with the budget shortfall.

“In 2016, the board was presented with the opportunity to add $2.1 million to the budget by adding banked cap, but they only used one-third of it,” he said. “The district is largely constrained by the 2 percent cap, and I hope the district does not make the mistake again of not using the banked cap.”

Every year, the district approves a banked cap which, by state law, allows a district that has not exceeded the tax levy cap of 2 percent to bank the unused tax levy for use in any of the next three succeeding budget years.

If a district does not go to 2 percent in a given year, the money that would have been used to go to that cap is saved for a three-year period.

The 2017-2018 budget included the $562,087 banked from the 2014-2015 budget and $262,728 from the 2015-2016 budget, for a total of $824,615 extra dollars in this year’s budget.

With that, the district saw a 3.54 percent increase in the tax levy over the 2016-2017 budget.

At this point for the 2018-2019 budget, 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.

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.

Finally, with regard to facilities, that is the area that has been most depleted. Last year, it was funded at about 14 percent.

Singer said he appreciates the more than $5 million in savings given to taxpayers by not raising taxes in the past, but he also recognizes the problems those actions have caused the district as a whole.

“We are talking about a shortfall in excess of $2.2 million,” he said. “We talk about how budget shortfalls compound, it could go up to $3 million.”

“Had we gone to full bank cap last year, we might not be in that position,” he added. “I understand it is politically unpopular that the tax levy went up 3.5 percent last year, and it might go up 4 percent this year.”

But, Singer added, staff reductions, activity fees and more will also not be popular decisions.

“I think you need to make the necessary but unpopular decision, and go to full bank cap,” he said.

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