Millburn School Board Presented with $1.2 Million in Possible Budget Cuts

Millburn school business administrator Steven DiGeronimo and board of education members review preliminary 2015-2016 budget figures. Credits: Bob Faszczewski
Looking over budget proposals are assistant superintendent of schools Christine Burton, superintendent of schools James Crisfield and board of education president John Westfall-Kwong. Credits: Bob Faszczewski

MILLBURN, NJ - In order to make up for a potential $2,019,432 shortfall in revenue versus expenses in its proposed 2015-2016 school budget, the Millburn Board of Education was presented Monday night with a list of six items that would remove $1,204,972 from the proposed spending plan.

According to the proposal, presented by Superintendent of Schools James Crisfield on Monday, the district would:

  • Not hire an additional teaching team at the middle school, retaining the current 11 teams, and saving $480,000;
  • Convert $55,000 originally allocated for Chromebooks to professional development accounts, saving $55,000;
  • Cut $45,900, the entire proposed budget item for purchase of new peripherals such as smart boards and iPads;
  • Postpone the replacement of technology edge switches at the high school to save $174,072;
  • Make more aggressive assumptions on health benefits, such as assuming more employees would decline coverage or employees would pay contributions at greater levels than currently projected, saving $50,000; and 
  • Cut out $400,000 in the highest priority capital projects in the district, such as replacement of the roof on the Education Center.

Crisfield, noting that the board Finance Committee still had not announced revenue-enhancement measures, said the capital outlay proposal probably was not realistic at this point.

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The board also has not yet received projected state aid figures, currently projected as “flat,” which probably will be released by the end of this month, and it must submit budget figures to the Essex County executive superintendent of schools by March 9, according to the state school board election calendar.

Board Finance Chairwoman Emily Jaffe said the school body anticipates it will introduce its preliminary budget in mid-March.

The total draft budget for 2015-2016, as of now, includes expenditures of $83,896,093. That total does not include the proposed cuts listed above. Even with those cuts, Jaffe noted, the proposed spending plan still would fall short by more than $800,000.

She said the administration had told the committee that any further cuts beyond the figures proposed above probably would result in personnel reductions and impinge on the district’s programs.

However, Jaffe said the district, under the state cap law, could ask for a waiver for any health care costs which exceed a 2 percent increase, and this waiver could bring in an additional $250,000, while use of $1 million in tax revenue from its unused levy balance also could help close the gap. This $1 million will lapse if it is not used in this budget cycle, she said.

According to the first draft of the district’s consolidated report on the budget, the draft would result in a $177 increase in property taxes on a home assessed at $1,000,000.

The proposed elimination of one proposed teaching team in the middle school met with resistance from parents in the audience.

Melissa Cifu said she had heard rumors that, if the middle school teaching teams are not increased to 12, four teams would serve students in the sixth and eighth grades and the seventh grade would be served by only three teams. Currently, there are four teaching teams in the sixth and seventh grades and three teams in the eighth grade.

Cifu said this would mean that current sixth graders, who would be moving into the seventh grade next year, may not get the instructional help they would need in a crucial time in their education where they needed more personal support. She said eighth graders, who were preparing for high school, probably could handle the greater independence by having one less teaching team.

Crisfield indicated the projected enrollment is 395 students in the incoming sixth grade, 355 in the incoming seventh grade and 398 in the eighth grade.

Cifu said that, when the district took away the additional team in the eighth grade, parents accepted that the move was valid at that grade level and wanted to know if school officials felt that argument was no longer valid.

The superintendent replied that the concept was that the fourth team would follow the relatively large class.

Board program chairwoman Regina Truitt said there were educational reasons for maintaining class size guidelines and the number of teaching teams possibly would differ from year to year.

She said unless someone could come up with an extra $500,000 each year it would be difficult to maintain 12 teams each year.

Board member Eric Siegel replied, however, that the district should study the entire team teaching concept more closely and perhaps “rethink the entire team teaching concept.”

He added that the district should be educating children at the level at which they expected to be educated and, perhaps, in line with that, consider a return to multi-age classes.

Truitt, however, said she had read a number of studies which showed the overwhelmingly positive benefits of team teaching.

Board president John Westfall-Kwong indicated that the program committee would again review the data and the numbers and publish a more definitive answer to the questions raised “in writing”—probably referring to its publication on the district’s website.

On another budgetary matter, district technology director Rob Winston presented his proposed budget, which amounts to a $312,321 or a 17.1 percent increase over the current year’s plan.

His requests include $70,000 for the first payment in the fourth year of a leasing program with Apple and $110,000 for the Chromebooks middle school 1:1 program mentioned above.

On the edge switch replacement program, he noted that it was thought the switches would last five years, but environmental conditions, such as heat in the closets in which they were kept reaching 90 rather than 70 degrees had shortened their expected lifespans. He said the district was converting more of its equipment to wireless, thus cutting down the number of wires used by equipment and thus the amount of heat generated. 

Winston added, however, even with this and even if the district were to rely more heavily on the cloud, there still would be a continued need for the switches.

Subcategories of the budget include $465,555 for infrastructure, including network services, data center equipment (servers) and telephone systems; $204,000 for internet services and WAN connections in all buildings; $327,365 for operational services such as data center operations, staff development and training and summer staffing; administrative support; $772,972 for instructional technology and $355,635 for instructional systems support.

In other action at Monday’s meeting, the board approved a contract for $8,900, plus advertising and printing services, with the search firm of R-Pat Solutions to find a replacement for Crisfield, who will be leaving the district on March 1.

Board members also approved an initial contract for Kyriake Emmanouilidis as curriculum and instruction coordinator for $76,550 from February 2 to June 30 of this year.









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