Compared with last year's rough waters, this year's budget process should be smooth sailing based on what was presented at Monday night's school board meeting.
As expected, the proposed operating district budget for the 2012-2013 school year is about $114 million, or about 2.4 percent higher than the $111 million spending plan approved by the board last March.
Board members noted that they wouldn't approve a budget that would increase property taxes.
Whereas last year the budget process was dominated by talks of layoffs, cuts in programs, and even possible school closings, this year's presentation included a string of good news.
For example, the school district will receive about $800,000 more in state aid than was previously expected and also will benefit from the unexpectedly high surplus announced towards the end of last year.
Just last week, the New Jersey Department of Education announced that Montclair would receive more than $6.5 million in state school aid for the 2012-2013 year that begins July 1. (Still, only 5.8 percent of the district's budget comes from state aid.)
"We think this will be a much smoother budget process than last year," said Superintendent Dr. Frank Alvarez.
According to Business Administrator Dana Sullivan, the "surplus" fund balance was $3,280,919 in 2011-2012 versus $5,646,392 in the proposed 2012-2013 budget.
The proposed schools budget—which will be tentatively approved at a meeting on March 5 and formally approved on March 19—includes staffing additions such as a full-time nurse at Renaissance Middle School.
In total, 12.8 positions would be added next year including two teachers for Montclair High School's small learning communities and two middle school literacy teachers.
The proposed buget also includes:
—$75,000 for upgrades to the planetarium at Glenfield Middle School
—$100,000 for improvements in infrastructure (wiring) at Mount Hebron Middle School
—$300,000 for high-tech equipment at all schools
—$140,000 for labs at Mount Hebron Middle School
—$374,000 for textbooks at all schools
—$100,000 for improvements to facilities at Montclair High School
In total, the proposed budget included $1,219,000 in one-time expenses.
Sullivan also presented a capital budget for 2012-2013 that totaled $3,869,000 and included $933,000 to add artificial turf to Heningburg Field. (The district hopes to get some grant money to help pay for this.) In addition, the plan is to replace the carpet and floor at Renaissance Middle School at a cost of $55,000; paint the gym at Nishuane Elementary School at a cost of $18,000; upgrade lighting and ceiling tiles at the Montclair High School cafeteria at a cost of $78,000; and transform the library into a lab and computer center at Mount Hebron Middle School at a cost of $370,000.
A few other budget highlights presented at Monday night's meeting:
—No increase to tax levy
—No reduction to existing programs or staff
—A $950,000 deposit into a capital reserve account which can be spent in the future on capital improvements
Alvarez, who recently announced he was stepping down at the end of this school year, said the aim is to "not get in a situation where we can't sustain things in the future" such as the hiring of librarians.
For example, instead of hiring more foreign language teachers the district will continue to rely on computer programs such as Rosetta Stone to teach languages to students.
The public will have a chance to comment on the proposed budget at the school board's meeting on Monday, March 5 at 7:30 p.m.
For budget updates, check back with Montclair Patch later on Tuesday and also check the district's website here.