Education

First Draft of Millburn School District Budget Shows $81.9 Million in Expenditures

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Superintendent of Schools James Crisfield reviews the first draft of the budget. Credits: Bob Faszczewski
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Millburn High School student Josh Chodor talks about MHS Studio462 at Monday's board of education meeting. Credits: Bob Faszczewski
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MILLBURN, NJ - Superintendent of Schools James Crisfield on Monday presented to the Board of Education an initial draft of the proposed 2014-2015 school budget totaling $81,913,978 in expenditures, or a 4.21 percent increase over 2013-2014 budgeted expenditures.

Revenues in the draft budget show an increase of 1.75 percent for a total of $79,981,589.

Among the chief assumptions in the spending plan, according to Crisfield, are a 2 percent increase in local taxes in support of the budget and state aid remaining “flat.”

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The superintendent noted that the gap between revenues and expenditures currently stands at $1,932,389 with the 2 percent tax “placeholder.”

Among “sources of retained funds” the spending plan, current to June 30, 2013, includes $1,433,194 for the state-allowed surplus (or “rainy day fund), down from $1,524,744 in June 30, 2012; $1,842,000 in excess surplus (contingencies unspent and unexpected revenues), down from $1,932,567; the emergency reserve fund remaining at $700,000, and the capital reserve fund, at $1,674,801, down from $4,603,063, after expenditures on a number of major capital projects.

Areas of largest projected expenditure increases include curriculum and instruction, up 21.95 percent; capital projects, up 144.87 percent; and technology, up 29.14 percent.

Monday's presentation for the first time included actual expenditures from the 2012-2013 budget.

Crisfield noted “actuals” for the 2013-2014 budget would not be available until costs of winter expenditures and overtime costs for this winter are figured in.

The superintendent also presented enrollment figures, based on the school demographer's projections and official figures submitted to the state in October, which showed a .59 percent decrease, from 4,937 to 4,908 students from 2013-2014 to 3014-2015.

Despite the enrollment drop, the projected budget calls for a net staffing impact of 4.69 fulltime equivalent positions.

Board member Raymond Wong questioned both the increase in staffing in light of the decrease in enrollment and what he called a “major” increase in technology staffing.

Crisfield replied that the three fulltime equivalent fulltime positions districtwide were due to the fact that PAARC testing will be conducted in at least five district schools during the next school year and personnel are needed to supervise the technology involved in the online testing.

He did say, however, that it is possible the PAARC positions can be filled by contracting for those services and promised to have more information on that available for future budget sessions.

The staffing increase also was questioned by former board member Josh Scharf, who, using enrollment figures presented last fall, estimated a drop in the number of students from 5,045 to 4,925, or 120 students.

The superintendent noted that, while the elementary schools would see the elimination of two sections of kindergarten, for a decrease of two fulltime equivalent teaching positions, special education and basic skills areas still would need increases in staffing, with a half-time special education teacher, at the kindergarten-to-fifth-grade level; a 0.4 fulltime equivalent basic skills teacher at the sixth-to-eighth-grade level and an additional special education psychologist at the sixth-to-12th-grade level.

Scharf continued to press his demand for more aggressive handling of non-resident student enrollment, saying that modern technology made it much easier to trace non-resident students than the “clock-and-dagger methods” he said were portrayed by a former board member and school officials at recent school body meetings.

He said a software system called “Verified Residence.com” could be used to obtain “any information about anybody,” and also decried a Millburn policy that allows students found to be non-residents at the beginning of their senior year to finish the year in Millburn High School without paying tuition.

Ridgewood, according to Scharf, requires payment of tuition from the junior year from any student found not to be a resident. He also said that Ridgewood has district-wide electronic registration.

According to the former Millburn board member, by tracking down and disenrolling 100 non-resident students the township district could make up this year's budgetary gap between revenues and expenditures. He also said non-resident students in Millburn High School who are admitted to the top colleges obtain those admissions by using resources, such as advanced placement courses, that should be used by resident township students.

Responding to former board member Abby Kalen, the superintendent said that district expenditures for legal expenses to settle suits by special education parents were included under the support services portion of the budget. A request by Kalen that these expenditures be broken out into more detail would be complied with at future budget meetings, Crisfield said.

On another budgetary topic raised by Wong, the superintendent said the local share of projects funded under state RODs grants would be included under the capital reserve category. However, expenditures for improvements at Glenwood School ruled ineligible for RODs grants would be listed under capital projects.

Questions about budgetary expenditures next will be addressed at the board's open discussion forum on Sunday, Jan. 26, at 2 p.m. at the Millburn Public Library, Crisfield noted.

He added further budget discussions are scheduled for the education body's Jan. 27, Feb. 10 and Feb. 24 and March 10 meetings, with the annual public budget hearing set for March 24.

In a presentation preceding that on the budget, high school students Josh Chodor and Max Retik on MHS Studio 462, the high school's new television station.

Founded about a year ago, through funding from the Millburn Education Foundation, the station's mission is to “bring the community closer together” by making events at the high school more accessible to the general public.

Studio 462—the numeral is the address of the school—is student-run with participants from all grade levels and with content ranging from a weekly Tuesday morning news broadcast into classrooms, live streaming of some sports events, assemblies and other school functions and student-produced commercials and promotional videos.

The station founders said they would like to see live streaming of football games, broadcast of station content on local access cable television and broadcasting of the content on speakers throughout the high school.

They are seeking wider recognition of student volunteers who run the station because they feel their work on the station will give them a leg up for college admissions and later careers in broadcasting or the arts.

The pair credited their participation in the school's digital video production curriculum led by teacher Gabe Rhodes as providing the background and inspiration to bring the station to fruition.

 

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