The Montclair Board of Education unanimously approved a 2012-2013 budget of $114 million on Monday night that includes no tax increase, no decreases to current programs or staff, and allows millions from the fund balance to be used for tax reduction down the road.
Superintendent Dr. Frank Alvarez said the budget also will allow the district to spend $828,315 to hire a dozen full- or part-time teachers or staff. The plan is to hire three student counselors at the elementary level, two middle school literacy teachers, and two teachers for the small learning communities at Montclair High School, among other employees.
One of the biggest surprises of the night came toward the start of the school board meeting when members announced that $933,000 previously proposed in the capital finance budget for new artifical turf at Heningburg Field had been taken off the table.
"At this point the field is not something we'd like to take on," said School Board President Shelly Lombard to a round of applause.
At a previous board meeting, various residents expressed displeasure with the idea of spending so much money on turf in a troubled economic climate.
Lombard noted that to pay for the field, more bonds would have to be issued, which translates into more debt for the town.
In addition, the district's budget does not give additional support to the Adult School of Montclair or to the Montclair Community Pre-K, much to the chagrin of those institutions' many supporters. Nor does it restore foreign language teachers at the elementary level.
But it does include one-time funding for various other projects at several schools including:
—$100,000 for improvements to Mount Hebron Middle School's technology infrastructure
—$130,000 for server virtualization
—$140,000 for Mount Hebron lab improvements
—$300,000 for tech equipment at schools throughout the district
—$75,000 for an upgrade to the planetarium at Glenfield Middle School
—$374,000 for textbooks throughout the district
—$100,000 for Montclair High School improvements
In addition, the budget reflects an increase in state aid of $1,937,871—from $4,648,780 to $6,586,651—and a transfer of $950,000 from the fund balance into a capital reserve account for use in future years.
In general, the budget is almost $3 million below the state's adjusted tax levy CAP.
The good news, Business Administrator Dana Sullivan said, is that the district could wind up by June 30, 2012 with a nearly $10 million surplus. That figure is the result of more than $5.7 million in surplus funds left over from last year combined with the fact that the district is likely to under spend its current budget by as much as $4 million.
Lombard said the goal is to put surplus money toward the lowering of property tax levies during the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years.
Board members say they intend to gradually reduce the district's surplus over several years rather than spend it all at one time. Lombard also said the board plans to work with the town to reduce the debt service costs on bonds. She noted that the board wants to use the reserve fund to decrease borrowing for capital projects in the future.
"We plan to bring the surplus down gradually year after year," said School Board member Norman Rosenblum. "We feel the surplus was too much and too high and we want to bring it down to an acceptable level."
Meanwhile, the school board also voted Monday night on a 2012-2013 capital finance budget totaling $2,936,000 that includes $749,000 for roofing.
In addition, some $336,000 will be spent on repairs to sidewalks through the district; $110,000 for upgrades to the kitchen at Nishuane Elementary School; $18,000 for the repainting of the gym at Nishuane; $55,000 for replacement of the flooring at Renaissance Middle School; and $370,000 to renovate the library at Mount Hebron so that it becomes a Project Lead The Way laboratory.
Monday night's school board meeting couldn't have been more different than the when dozens of incensed union members stormed out yelling "you should be ashamed" by the passage of a $110 million budget that outsourced many of the district's classroom aides.
Yet there were dozens of Montclair Education Association members in the audience Monday night and—as he has at least 10 times before—classroom aide Jim Zarrilli stood to ask that health benefits taken away last year be restored to the district's paraprofessionals.
School board members say the issue is part of the board's ongoing contract negotiations with the union.
"Don't make our lives a negotiating tool," Zarrilli said before receiving a standing ovation.
The school budget now goes before the Board of School Estimate which will hold a public hearing on March 26 before adoption of the budget on April 2.
For more information on the details of the budget go here.
For more information on the budget and on the rest of the news from Monday night's school board meeting, check out Montclair Patch on Tuesday morning.