Staff Cuts, Slight Tax Increase Included In Preliminary School Board Budget

Board told cuts could be avoided if substitute teachers are outsourced.

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The Board of Education was told at its March 19 meeting that staff cuts would be necessary to fill a budget gap if substitute teachers were not outsourced.

Teacher and paraprofessional layoffs and a slight property tax increase are in the offing under a $142 million preliminary 2014-2015 school year operating budget approved March 19 by the Board of Education.

Those layoffs could be mitigated by outsourcing the district’s substitute teachers, the board was told.

Interim schools Superintendent Eveny Pagan told the board that the layoffs of the equivalent of 6.5 teachers – including two science specialists at Samson G. Smith School  – and eight paraprofessionals was made necessary by what grew to be a $2.3 million gap in the proposed budget.

Pagan said the bulk of that gap was caused by a nearly $736,000 increase in the district’s charter school costs. The district also has to make a $167,000 payment to the state for a grant it received to build the new high school, she said.

The proposed budget is powered by a tax levy of nearly $130 million, comprised of $124,774,680 for the general fund and $4,626,751 for the district’s debt service.

The general fund portion of the levy is 2 percent higher than that for the current year, the highest increased allowed by state law.

The proposed school tax rate is about $1.43 per $100 of assessed valuation, which means the owner of an average-assessed house – currently $306,058 – would pay $4,391.93 in taxes, an increase of about $68.

The district must pay the tuition for township students who attend charter schools. District business administrator John Calavano said the charter schools expect their enrollment to increase because “you see a lot of children going from parochial schools, where they have to pay, to charter schools, where it’s free.”

He said the district will have to pay about $5.9 million in charter school tuition and transportation next school year.

The increased charter school costs powered a budget deficit that grew from $1.75 million to $2.3 million, Pagan said.

She said other cuts included in the preliminary budget are two district-level administrators – the now-vacant personnel director and the supervisor of science education for grades 7-12 – as well as a maintenance person, among others.

A number of items the district hoped to fund would also have to be cut, Pagan said, including a high school math teacher.

Some of those cuts could be avoided, she said, if the school board chose to outsource substitute teachers. She said the district will cut the eight paraprofessionals regardless of whether the substitutes are outsourced.

The district could save more than $416,000 by outsourcing the substitutes, she said.

If the board does outsource, substitute teachers would find their daily pay rate increasing from $85-$95 to $90 to $100, Pagan said.

Substitute teachers have been lobbying since last summer for the board to rescind a pay cut that slashed some subs’ pay from $115 a day. The district maintains it does not have the money to do that.

There would also be no limit to the number of hours a substitute could work in a week – the district would limit tat to fewer than 30 – and subs could work in any other district served by the agency if no openings were available in the township, said Brian Bonanno, the district’s manager of administrative services.

The board’s finance committee will hear a full presentation on substitute outsourcing in April, and the board will consider the proposal at its April 24 meeting. If outsourcing is approved, the board will introduce a new budget – without the cuts – at its May meeting. Final budgets must be approved by May 7.

Commenting on the proposed tax increase, school board vice president Eva Nagy said, “to have only a $68 increase on the average home, that’s a lot of belt-tightening.”

She also asked Pagan if money could be found for a grant writer.

The position would pay for itself, she said.

The public hearing on the budget is set for the board’s May 6 meeting. The public no longer votes on the school budget because the district decided to move school board elections to coincide with the November general elections.

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