UNION, NJ – The public hearing for the Union Board of Education budget presentation that took place on Thursday includes the reduction in school staff of 60 with an average household tax increase of $58.60.

School Business Administrator Manuel Vieira presented the proposed 2020-2021 $141m school budget to Board of Education members and the public via a video conference meeting.

Vieira said the increased cost per Union homeowner will be $58.60, and a budget shortfall will necessitate a reduction in staff of 60 positions.  Superintendent Gregory Tatum said, “there’s a possibility of about 60 employees that would be reduced, but some of them would be done through retirement and attrition.”  Tatum said he has already identified 15 individuals who will be off payroll, bringing down the number to 45.   Vieira said the district has 1,058 full-time and 142 part-time employees.

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“With regard to what’s going on with the pandemic,” added Tatum, “we’re hoping that there’ll be additional funding that may come our way.”  He said the proposed budget was prepared in advance of the school shutdown.  “There may be a different budget message coming our way as well from the governor that will give further directions on this,” he added. 

During public comment portion of the meeting, a paraprofessional in the Union schools asked what types of positions will be impacted.  Tatum answered, “the one thing we try not to do is take away from the teachers and the classroom instruction.”  He said the only thing he can say with certainty now is they are “working very hard to try to limit the amount of reduction as much as possible.  Like I said, the original proposal was about 60 positions .  I’ve already got it down 15.  They’ll be some cuts across the board.”

During Vieira’s presentation, he said the budget is prepared for Union’s 7,200 students – 6,000 (84 percent) in general population and 1,200 (16 percent) special education students. 

Explaining the budget, Vieira said it consists of three funds:

  • General Fund of $131,845,513 (teaching and programs)
  • Special Revenue Fund of $7,100,637  (Preschool program, Title I programs)
  • Debt Service Fund of $2,804,650
  • Total = $141,750,800

Vieira said the current (2019-2020) budget is $138m; the 2020-2021 proposed budget shows an increase of a little over $3m.  He said the budget includes a state aid increase of 1.2 percent ($393,478) and a local tax levy increase of 2.0 percent ($1,831,433).  Vieira said expenditures are increasing at a rate of three to four percent.

Regarding the tax impact on the average homeowner, Vieira said the General Fund shows an increase of $61.81, but the Debt Service Fund has a decrease of $3.21, for a total of $58.60.  Vieira said the decrease was due to the tax base in Union increasing by $6.7m.  “ There’s a lot of new construction in town which increases our ratables which is a good thing for the town.”  He said the total tax increase for homeowners is 1.22 percent.

Vieira attributed the largest portion of the budget increase to employee benefits and transportation.  Regarding employee benefits, Vieira said over the past three years those expenses have shown an average increase of 8.4 percent.  “We have to keep our eye on the employee benefits.”

Vieira said the district’s transportation budget continues to increase “because special services are requiring more transportation services and also there seems to be a shortage of drivers so prices keep going up.”

Regarding special services expenditures, Vieira said they are averaging a seven percent increase over the past five years for a total of $195m.  “That is the area growing the fastest,” he said.  The proposed special services budget for the 2020-2021 school year is $42m.  “It’s approximately a third of our general fund budget.”

“Our expenditures are just increasing at a greater rate than our revenues so in order to balance this budget we’re going to have to have a reduction in force, increase class size a little bit,” said Vieira.

However, Tatum said with the uncertainty coming from Trenton and possible mandates regarding school structure for next year, “we talk about the possibility of class sizes increasing, but it may have to do the opposite, they may have to decrease.  And then that means money will have to be shifted from some part of the budget to make that happen; to retain more teachers and to retain more paras.” 

Tatum said there may be a different budget message coming from the governor that will give further direction.  “Be prepared,” said Tatum, “there’s going to be a lot of things on the table, far more than what we’re talking about right now.”

Vieira said the cost per pupil in Union in the 2020-2021 budget is $15,740, slightly below the state average. 

The budget was passed unanimously.