SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – At a meeting April 29, the South Plainfield Board of Education approved the school district’s $58,236,608 budget for 2015-2016 by a vote of 9-0. A new tax rate of approximately 2.95 percent will result in an increase of $123 for the year (or $10.23 a month) on an average South Plainfield home assessed at $122,000.
According to Alex Ferreira, the district’s business administrator/board secretary, South Plainfield’s 2015-2016 spending plan is comprised of three components: Fund 10 (Operating): $55,718,746; Fund 20 (Grants and Entitlements): $1,299,273; and Fund 40 (Repayment of Debt): $1,218,589. Of the total, said Ferreira, $44,942,061 will be paid through taxes with state and federal funding in the amount of $10,600,959 along with fund balance and miscellaneous revenue accounting for the difference.
While New Jersey State mandates that the cap for increasing the tax levy not exceed 2 percent it does allow district’s to utilize the health benefits waiver to exceed the cap; for 2015-2016, South Plainfield’s utilization of the health benefits waiver is .95 percent (or $416,000), which makes up the difference over the 2 percent cap. However, with the cap set at 2 percent – and expenses increasing at much higher rates – even with the addition .95 percent there isn’t a lot of wiggle room left in South Plainfield’s budget.
“The South Plainfield School District has a lot of needs and … we will never catch up with a 2 percent increase. That is just impossible,” said Thomas Gialanella, interim superintendent of schools, noting that in the beginning of the budget process, the district’s ‘needs list’ exceeded its anticipated revenue by close to $2.7 million. “We began looking at what that means and what would have to cut for $2.7 million. The first cut was very easy … you find you can add some revenue here or there or perhaps there is some additional revenue out there that you didn’t realize, but really when it came down to it, at the very end, it became very difficult,” he said.
As a result, said Gialanella, the district needed to make some really difficult decisions. For starters, three teacher positions have been eliminated from the budget as a result of attrition (not replacing retirees). Also, the budget calls for less technology and less professional development than initially requested and needed. “When you are faced a situation where you have to cut that much money from this budget you are going to have to make some tough choices,” Gialanella said.
Board of Education President Debbie Boyle added, “In order to keep our students on all levels of learning in the 21 century we need to provide them with tools and technology [they need] … our buildings and grounds need to be maintained and there are many repairs that are imperative. Boyle added, “It is also very important that we do not cut any of our teachers and staff, where learning begins.”
According to Nicole Pormilli, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, the 2015-2016 budget supports and preserves curriculum and programming and provides for the addition of Advanced Placement (AP) economics and psychology classes as well as Italian II, Latin II and Engineering I. The spending plan also allots for social studies resources, instructional technology programs, educational technology devices, character education, mandated training, out-of-district professional development, athletics, and visual and performing arts.
“These are items that preserve our curriculum and program, beginning with the necessity to revise and write curriculum based on multiple reasons,” said Pormilli. “Standards change, in fact this year there has been a release of new state standards in many of our content areas, and we need to revise our curriculum accordingly so we are compliant.” Additionally, said Pormilli, the district has added new courses, resulting in the need to write new curriculum to support them.
The 2015-2016 budget also supports Linkit! (data warehouse system and student online testing); programs such Odyssey of the Mind, Teen Pep, Heroes, Cool Kids, the Multiple Disabled (at the high school) and Tomorrow’s Teacher. The budget also maintains a handful of necessary and every-day technology components such as the district’s Microsoft license, antivirus software, email filtering, server support and website hosting, among other things.
“This is an adequate budget that meets the needs of the district for next year [but] in the long term I firmly believe we are going to have to find another source besides this budget to correct some of the facility needs and some of the other needs the district has,” said Gialanella. “
Board member Carol Byrne agrees. “We need to start thinking outside of the box,” said Byrne, adding that the district needs to look into partnering with businesses that are willing to fund some of the things the district needs. “We have to look at people who can help us and themselves at the same time … somebody who will be willing to help our students get the things that they need that we cannot provide them because of the restrictions that are put on us by the state. This is something we need to go into in depth and something that needs to be done quite soon.”
Board member Steven Bohn added, “This board needs to start moving forward, now … We have many items to address …”