SOMSD preliminary budget tax impact is 2.3 percent

MAPLEWOOD / SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education unanimously approved the district’s preliminary budget for the 2018-2019 school year at its March 26 meeting. The approved preliminary budget comes in at $137,352,722, or slightly less than the budget of $137,374,530 originally presented at the board’s Feb. 20 meeting. The budget had to be approved by March 29, the last day for school districts to submit their budgets to the county.

According to SOMSD business administrator Paul Roth, the district had been looking at a $4.8 million shortfall in its 2018-2019 budget; initial predictions that the cost of health benefits for district staff, out-of-district tuition and transportation would increase remained unchanged. With the newly approved preliminary budget, the gap went down to $4.2 million. According to Roth, the district was able to close this gap by instituting spending freezes on nonessential projects, selling obsolete equipment and planning to use shared service agreements to maximize buying power. The district will also be taking $1 million out of its maintenance reserve account.

“With that (the spending freeze) I’m hoping to generate some excess revenue to put toward next year’s budget,” Roth said at the meeting. “Assuming we hit all those things, we close the budget gap.”

Roth also addressed the tax impact of the budget on the towns next year.

The operating and debt tax impact in the district will be 1.87 percent — under the 2-percent state-mandated cap. But with $474,585 in banked cap added to the $122,246,739 to be raised by local taxes, the tax impact rises to 2.3 percent.

Interim Superintendent Thomas Ficarra stressed that one of the district’s goals was to keep the number of staff members in the district steady.

“One thing we want to make everyone aware of as part of the budget development was, first and foremost, to maintain the staffing levels,” Ficarra said at the meeting. “We increased staffing levels by about 20 staffers this year. Our main goal is not to cut staff this year and generate money by postponing things we’d like to have but feel we can add to next year’s budget.”

Ficarra also addressed the STEM program realignment, which is part of the $17,465,589 curriculum, technology, maintenance and operation, utilities, BOE and central administration, and the legal and special services budgets.

The STEM program will have new curriculum development, technology resources, professional development, program enhancements, text books and summer school.

“We have been working very closely over the last four weeks with guidance counselors, principals and teachers developing those supports for next year and we’ve targeted money for this for the budget,” Ficarra said.

BOE member Anthony Mazzocchi asked how the spending freeze would be addressed if it didn’t recover the money that administrators anticipate it will. Roth said there has been discussion about this, but there is no formal plan in place.

After being approved by the BOE, the district’s budget must then be approved by the county. There will be a special BOE meeting April 30 for a public hearing on the budget, and an action to levy the 2018-2019 school tax.