NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ - A school budget that would increase expenses by .88% or $280,000 during the 2011-2012 school year was presented to the New Providence Board of Education on Thursday by board Finance Chairman John Wolak.

The projected effect will be about a $169 increase next year on the average New Providence home, assessed in 2010 at $285,000, he added.

Emphasizing that the school body probably will not know until March what, if any, state aid the borough district will receive, Wolak noted the borough still has not yet presented the board with figures on the value of ratables in New Providence for this year.

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Last year, the state completely eliminated general aid, amounting to $1.5 million, for New Providence schools. According to Wolak, if that is increased at all this year it will be by a very small amount and the board has been planning its expenditures with the assumption the aid will not be restored.

Borough ratables have remained flat or decreased, he noted. However, the opening of additional businesses such as the new A&P Supermarket and Smashburger in the central business district could brighten the picture somewhat.

The new state cap on tax increases limits local governments and school districts to 2% in additional tax levies, which could allow an increase for the New Providence board of about $600,000, Wolak said, but the proposed budget contains a tax levy increase of less than 1%.

Although the spending plan calls for replacement of teaching staff by attrition rather than layoffs and the district will not replace retiring staff, it means for the second year in a row there will be no budget for replacement of technology items like computers.

The average life of a computer usually is five years and the district does have computers reaching that milestone, Wolak said, but the staff is working on alternatives to replacement to deal with the situation.

The fact that staff does review needs for “technology refreshment” every two or three years is a good sign, according to board member, David Hasenkopf, who works for Microsoft.

He also praised the Finance Committee for putting more emphasis on the revenue side of the budget for 2011-2012.

Staff health insurance costs are estimated to increase by 12% under the proposed spending plan, Wolak noted. However, the office of the assistant superintendent of schools will go from a fulltime to a four-fifths operation and the treasurer of school monies position will be eliminated with the functions of that office being assumed by the office of School Business Administrator James Testa.

Reductions in athletics, curriculum and co-curricular area also are not anticipated in the proposed 2011-2012 spending plan.

“We are happy to propose a budget that changes little in the district,” Wolak said.

He added the spending proposal still takes a conservative approach to use of surplus, with $100,000 to be taken in 2011-2012, bringing remaining surplus to approximately $590,000.

Board members Adam Smith and Susan Vogel still cautioned, however, the budget is extremely tight.

Smith, a member of the Finance Committee, was concerned about the future effects of not replacing technological equipment and some school supplies.

Although the New Jersey Supreme Court is expected to rule in March on the constitutionality of school funding reductions made last year by Governor Chris Christie, Smith added, the ruling is expected to deal chiefly with the so-called “Abbott” districts in urban areas and suburban schools don’t know what effect it will have on them.

With the tightness of the New Providence budget, however, Wolak cautioned, a defeat of the spending plan by borough voters will result in cuts in curriculum or staff.

In a matter related to the budget, Miceli announced he will join members of the Finance Committee at informal community forums on the proposed budget at 7pm on February 9 and March 9 in the Media Center at New Providence High School.

The board is scheduled to approve submission of its 2011-2012 budget at a meeting on Monday, February 28, and the public hearing and adoption is slated for Thursday, March 24.

The only member of the public to speak on the budget Thursday was Ron Carson of Evergreen Avenue.

Carson, an administrator in an urban school district, praised the borough school board for its handling of the budget.

He did, however, ask what measures the school body was taking to keep special education students from New Providence in borough schools.

Miceli replied lack of classroom space and having enough students to justify separate classes are always a challenge.

He added, however, the district did return a program for autistic children to the Allen W. Roberts School and two programs for children with learning disabilities recently were started in the borough.

Also, the superintendent said, the district has discussed sharing special education instruction with neighboring school districts such as the Chathams, Summit and Berkeley Heights.