RANDOLPH, NJ - In preparation for the upcoming referendum vote, the Randolph Board of Education received the final word on which project costs will be eligible for the 40 percent in state facilities aid. $16,135,000 of the projects costs were eligible, totaling $6,454,000 in funds: this number was exactly what the board planned on receiving, except for one of the security updates on one campus.
While the state claims security improvements to schools will be eligible, the improvement suggested would have increased the footprint of the school slightly which disqualified it for funding.
Despite the surprise lack of funding on one project, board member Sheldon Epstein assured the public this will not increase taxes overall: “We have some debt rolling off, this replaces that,” and they will be able to manage the approximately $144,000 not received in state aid.
“This will require small adjustment either in the overall project spend in the referendum total, or just balancing that small reduction off of the other projects and everything right now is an estimate anyway, since we haven’t gone out to bid,” he detailed in the meeting.
The referendum vote will be held on October 2, from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. approving bonds to be issues to the school district for $24,495,000.
The board also did not receive state funding for the repair and construction of the new field house, but the committee anticipated that result and built it into the budget.
During the summer, the referendum team will continue to pull together architect drawings and educational materials for the start of the school year. Some students return in August for sports and music training, and the board will be able to provide more details about the projects at that time, Epstein explained.
“It’s a good thing for our community,” he said. “If you look at the makeup of the projects under the referendum you’ll see things for security, you’ll see things for education, you’ll see things for arts, you’ll see things for athletics, physical education.”
He detailed the usual spend on capital improvements during the year as $3 million, and “this is six to eight years worth of the normal capital plan.”
By spending this $24 million (with approximately $6 million now covered by state aid), “It allows us to address security concerns immediately in all buildings, without having to pit security against education against art against athletics, and quite honestly against teacher and staff raises, as well,” he said.
In another state aid discussion, Epstein reported the state required Randolph to return over $500,000 when the district only received $300,000 and built that number into their budget.
“We did have some state budget discussions around the potential $300,000-400,000 reduction based on the rumblings out of Trenton, and that turned into a little over $500,000 when the news came out,” he said. Governor Murphy announced an increase in state aid at the beginning of the year, “that increase was taken away in our case and on top of that an additional amount. We didn’t just lose what we were given here, we lost about a $170,000 on top of what we were given.”
Through some rearranging of the budget, the committee addressed the reduction in funds. Two middle school staff members had already retired, and the administration chose not to rehire for those roles. The board also found a discount on health care costs to cover the cut in funding.
Epstein added the timing on this announcement was not surprising. When the state announced an increase in funding at the beginning of the year, they chose to release the information on a Monday to get a full news cycle.
“This [cut] was released Friday afternoon, which is when you release news that you don’t want to talk about,” he said. “From a Board of Ed perspective, I have no appreciation of being treated in this manner. I think the state government in general owes this board, and any other that was cut, an apology.”