FLEMINGTON, NJ - The Flemington-Raritan Regional Board of Education unanimously adopted its $67,275,701 final budget for school year 2020-2021, with a 2.07 percent tax levy hike.

While this final budget remains the same as the tentative budget approved by the board at the end of March, administration announced during a detailed hour-long presentation that balancing the budget did require a reduction of seven positions.

The district cut five positions from J.P. Case Middle School – one position each from its science, math, language arts, social studies and Spanish departments, according to Superintendent Dr. Kari McGann. Reading-Fleming Intermediate School also lost two positions.  

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“Our seven positions that we had to reduce resulted in zero layoffs,” McGann said. “Some of these seven retired, but a few of them didn’t. We were able to find them another position with another retirement, so that saved us.”

Business administrator Stephanie Voorhees noted seven positions, with an average salary of about $65,000 or $70,000, is shaving roughly $500,000 from its payroll for school year 2020-2021.

Asked about any extracurricular programs or special classes being cut, or increases in class size as a result of these positions being eliminated, McGann said neither of these will occur.

In addition to reducing personnel, the district raised its tax levy above the 2 percent tax levy cap, or the highest tax levy increase allowed by state law, to balance its $60.6 million operating budget, known as the general fund. The district was able to exceed the cap because of an enrollment adjustment.

As previously reported, a Raritan Township resident with a property valued at $100,000 will pay $33 more in school taxes, for a total of $1,235. In Flemington Borough, a resident with a property valued at $100,000 will pay $25.40 more in school taxes, for a total of $1,304.10.

The local tax levy comprises 89 percent of the district’s revenue for its general fund, which is the largest fund of the final budget, covering the day-to-day operating expenditures. Of these day-to-day expenditures, 78.4 percent make up personnel salaries and benefits, according to Voorhees.

State aid landed at $5,560,650 for school year 2020-2021, and will comprise 9 percent of the district’s revenue for its general fund. This is a $261,037 decrease from school year 2019-2020.

“This year, the state told us to expect a little under a $200,000 loss (because of Senate Bill 2), and instead, we lost $261,037,” Voorhees said. “Moving forward into the next year, the state expects us to lose $278,000. I would suspect it will probably be closer to $300,000 or more that the district will lose from state aid. This process for losing state aid has been rolled out to continue for seven cumulative years. Over the seven years, they predict that we’ll lose almost $2 million in state aid.”

A total of $563,299 of fund balance, a decrease of $609,559, will support 1 percent of the general fund.

“The leftover money above the 2 percent surplus that we’re allowed to have from school year 2018-2019 audit dropped significantly, and that was in part mostly because of budgets becoming tighter, so there is less money left over, and also because of our mold remediation,” said Voorhees about the fund balance. “We had to use any excess to cover those costs.”

Besides the general fund, the final budget includes the special revenue fund at $826,970, which are initiatives funded entirely by federal government. The budget also includes the debt service fund at $5,782,490, which includes “significant” payments for its $42 million referendum projects – approved by voters in 2019 – consisting of air conditioning and humidity control measures, as well as safety, security and other structural upgrades.

The local tax levy contributes $4,895,030 toward its debt service fund for this year, but the district is also receiving $872,374 in debt service aid from the state. A total of $15,086 from its fund balance will help to cover its debt service fund.

The entire final budget of $67,275,701 for school year 2020-2021 is slightly higher than the 2019-2020 school year final budget of $64,418,660 approved last May.

Board member Chris Walker, prior to voting, asked if the district is moving any funds into its capital reserve for this 2020-2021 budget. He advocated for the district “building up” its capital reserve, so that it is capable of providing for facility improvements such as sidewalks, curbs, or a section of the roof, as examples, so “we don’t have to go asking our citizens for another referendum for a long, long time.”

A balance of $260,088 sits in the capital reserve. Voorhees said the district is expecting a $500,000 refund from its insurance company for a mold remediation a couple years ago, with some, if not all, of this refund being funneled into its capital reserve. Otherwise, the district did not budget any additional funds to be added into the account.

“One of the hardest things we had to do, that we haven’t had to do in a long time, was reduce staff,” Voorhees said. “If we were to budget any more funding for capital reserve, that would mean we would have to reduce more positions.”
The budget also includes a 10.23 percent increase ($1.84 million to $2.03 million) for support of student physical, mental and emotional health.
Effective School Solutions (ESS), providing in-house mental health programming, will be expanded into Reading-Fleming Intermediate School to “promote emotional health, not only for kids, but also for families,” like it does presently at Robert Hunter, according to McGann.

During the conclusion of the presentation, McGann also noted that the district is preparing for a bleak future when it comes to what to expect as far as state aid.

“Looking ahead, our budget is going to be challenge,” McGann said. “Last year, we were able to work with the board, and save money, so I didn’t have to lay off more staff members. This year, we reduced seven positions, fortunately, through some collaborative thinking and some decision making and checking certifications that teachers had, we were able to save people’s jobs. Next year, with the state that we’re in with this pandemic, and the governor, he is asking for more aid from the federal government. We’ve already heard other states surrounding us anticipating 20 percent less state aid than they were already anticipating.”

To view the full budget presentation, or the user-friendly budget, visit https://www.frsd.k12.nj.us/Page/66.