Maplewood Schools / Kids South Orange

Ficarra: Despite $3.9M Budget Gap, No Staff Reductions Proposed for 2019/20

The preliminary South Orange-Maplewood School District budget for 2019/2020 shows a $3.9 million shortfall, but interim Superintendent Thomas Ficarra said on Monday that no reductions in staffing levels were planned.

Projected revenue from all sources — including a 2 percent local tax levy, totaling a nearly $2.4 million increase — is $137.2 million. That represents a 3.6 percent decrease from the current year’s revenue.

“Next week, we expect state aid figures, and we expect it to be flat,” SOMSD business administrator Paul Roth said at the Board of Education meeting.

The state kicked in just over $5 million in the current budget year.

See the full slide presentation of the proposed 2019/2020 SOMSD budget below. 

On the spending side, the school district is expected to increase salaries and contract services by nearly $1.8 million — a 2.2 percent hike and by far the category with the largest expenditure increase — to the tune of $80 million.

Despite the $3.9 million shortfall, Ficarra said that the district won’t need to cut staff, even as enrollment for the 2019/2020 school year will approach 7,200 students. Kindergarten enrollment also is estimated to grow to 586 students, the highest number of pupils since the district began offering full-day kindergarten in 2010.

Managing the budget deficit will require spending adjustments of approximately $293,600, accessing a maintenance reserve of $1 million, and instituting a spending freeze of $2.6 million. Last year, the district successfully used a larger spending freeze to close a budget gap.

Total proposed expenditures for 2019/2020 clock in at $141.6 million, down nearly 0.8 percent from the current year.

The budget anticipates a $359,000 reduction in out-of-district tuition payments, for a total of $15.3 million, as well as a $500,000 decrease in spending for Special Services, Technology, Curriculum, Maintenance & Operation, Utilities, Central Administration — all of which will cost almost $17 million in total.

Ficarra noted that instruction accounts for approximately 78 percent of the outlays, which include salaries, health benefits and professional development.

Facilities spending represents 10 percent of the budget. “That’s an area I hope you will see a decrease after the bond,” Ficarra said, adding that a significant portion of the ongoing maintenance expenditures happen after the fact — as emergency repairs.

“After it breaks, we allocate money to fix it,” he said. “Generally, it’s more expensive. Generally, at this time of year, it’s in the middle of the night. Going forward, it’ll be reduced greatly.”

In November, the board voted 8-0 to approve the Long Range Facilities Plan, which outlines nearly $140 million in improvements and construction projects for the district to expand and renovate schools and eliminate the use of portable trailers as classrooms.

Ficarra also clarified that while administration costs accounted for 8 percent of projected expenditures, it was “somewhat misleading” because the allocation included not just salaries for administrators and principals but also equipment such as copy machines and telephones, legal fees and administrative supplies.

The interim superintendent also noted continued funding for a Chinese language teacher, along with training for the district’s data warehouse, and professional development for restorative practices.

Board First Vice President Susie Adamson said that she hopes to have further details after the state announces its aid level, scheduled to occur next week. “Hopefully, I’ll have everything for the March 3 workshop,” including cost per household, she added.

Former Board President and current member Elizabeth Baker expressed concern that efforts to improve the school state aid formula had not benefited South Orange-Maplewood, which continues to receive far less than it did before Gov. Christie’s cut aid drastically in 2010. Baker said that, if this is the case, SOMSD needed to give feedback to state elected officials about the ineffectualness of the new aid formula. Roth noted that state aid has increased slightly in recent years, with local funding now constituting 93% of district revenue instead of 94%.

The Board of Education is scheduled to meet on March 18 to vote on the preliminary budget ahead of the April 22 deadline for its approval from Essex County. A public hearing on the budget will take place the week of April 29.

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