MONTCLAIR, NJ - The district’s preliminary budget for the 2021-22 school year sets aside $1.7 million for total required maintenance of school facilities, which includes mid-term range changes to facilities. 

“Due to the pandemic, we have increased some of our money to plant operation and maintenance,” said Board of Education (BOE) Secretary Emidio D’Andrea.

However, long-term fixes such as installing mechanical ventilation in school buildings will be commissioned to EI Associates and figured into the next budget, according to D’Andrea. Once they receive approval from the state, the Board will determine how to fund the project over a five-year period, and systemically implement the plan by working on buildings based on priority. Short-term changes, such as adding air purifiers and social distancing measures, have already been implemented. 

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Superintendent Jonathan Ponds also noted that some money coming in from the federal government, such as from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, will fall into facility repairs. 

“It has unfortunately been an area that hasn’t been paid attention to, longer than any of us have been on board [...] particularly with HVAC,” said William Hurlock, Deputy Mayor and member of the Board of School Estimate (BoSE). “We’re playing catch-up now.”

The district’s overall preliminary budget for 2021-22 school year hovers just over $135 million, as stated in the Board of School Estimate (BOSE) meeting Thursday night. This is approximately $2 million more than the 2020-21 budget. 

Staff salaries and benefits will receive about 80% of the budget appropriations, and transportation at 5%. 

The majority of the district’s revenue will be from taxes, at almost 91%, followed by state aid at 6%.

Special education instruction is to receive a little more than $11 million, a 5.6% increase from the 2020-21 year. 

The BoSE approves the district’s capital spending projects and operating budgets. Topics discussed over the course of the meeting between members of the BOE and the BoSE went as follows. 

 

Health Benefits

As fewer insurance companies work with municipalities and school districts, competition between them decreases and prices remain high. This poses a problem for school boards when the level of health benefits for staff must remain constant, said Hurlock.

Educators used to pay a portion of their own health premiums as was required under a law known as Chapter 78. This was eliminated in 2020 in favor of new legislation that provides educators the option to select new health care plans with lowered costs. 

However, health insurance premiums continue to rise on an annual basis, which adds pressure on school boards to craft a budget that balances quality care with affordability. 

“Every year it goes up and it becomes unsustainable for everyone. I’m hoping we take a really hard look with our consultants, because the increases that these health care providers are asking for every year … it’s absurd,” said Hurlock.

 

Reductions

As of March 3 there is no deficit for the preliminary 2021-22 budget, due to $3.7 million in staffing reductions, and $1.3 million in reductions for overtime and non-salary accounts, such as long-term substitute teachers and technology-related positions. 

 

Grants

The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER, Grant provides funds to address lost educational performance due to Covid. According to Supervisor of Accounting of Montclair schools Melissa Beattie, the district needs to see if it meets the requirements in order to receive funds from this grant, which is part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. 

A second source of funds might also come from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. However, there has been no indication that it will be used as an offset for the operating budget, or a special revenue fund for a specific project, said D’Andrea. 

 

Food Service

For the first time in many years, cafeterias have been seeing a profit due to the pandemic, though Pomptonian Food Services have continued to provide meals for students every day of the week. D’Andrea also mentioned that serving meals will be adjusted to fit the new hybrid learning schedule.

 

Transportation

D’Andrea mentioned increased bussing, particularly to the North and South ends of Montclair. Transportation is to be awarded 5% of the budget. 

The 2021-22 budget is scheduled to be adopted on April 5. 

 

The next public Board of School Estimate meeting will be held on Monday at 7:30. The link to attend can be found here