Ridgewood District Needs to Cut $655K
Programs could be at stake after first budget comes in high, though officials stress it's still very preliminary and subject to change
Members of the Ridgewood school board may be feeling a slight sense of deja vu. As they had in 2010-2011, the district is facing a significant gap in revenues and expenditures.
A preliminary budget presentation revealed the board is short roughly $655,000 and has less than three weeks to find the cash.
If it can't, it must start looking at what it can slash.
"I do not know what needs to be cut at this time," Superintendent Daniel Fishbein said in an e-mail Wednesday. "That is what we are working on."
Education officials, when asked, did not speculate as to what programs may be reduced should the shortfall remain.
In a comprehensive but early look at the budget at Monday's school board meeting, Assistant Superintendent for Business Angelo DeSimone said a flat 2 percent tax rise would amount to an increased tax bill of $194.72 on the average assessed home of $797,000.
The average homeowner would be paying just under $10,000 in school taxes, he said. The assessment data is a bit shaky, DeSimone cautioned, as the assessed rates were taken from 2011. The village has not yet revealed the 2012 assessment figures, though they're expected to be lowered.
"This is an almost $90.9 million budget, which is a growth of $2.9 million," DeSimone said, later adding: "The challenges for us going forward is obviously to balance the budget. If we could find more revenue that would be great. But we need to work to get these two numbers to be even.""
The reason for the increase? Aside from a budgeted 2 percent increase in staff employee salaries and more health care claims, an increase in school supplies for science kits will be a one-shot claim of around $340,000.
Additionally, said DeSimone, outside tuition sources cannot be budgeted for at this point as students from group homes are waiting on charter school movement. That question mark totals $180,000, DeSimone said.
The school board may also receive a life boat from the state, though they're not likely holding their breath given the tenuous history under Governor Christie's reign. State aid figures are due 48 hours after Governor Christie's budget address on Feb. 21.
"As you can see there are many remaining questions such as the amount of state aid this year," BOE President Michele Lenhard told Patch. "We will have a preliminary budget to review at our next meeting but have until March 26th, the public hearing on the budget to finalize numbers and adopt it after the hearing."
It's unenviable, but familiar territory for administrators and a majority of the school board.
In 2010-2011, the school board faced a significant deficit after the loss of state aid and increased benefits obligations, forcing over $6 million of cuts in staff and programs. The budget was defeated that year. If not for a new insurance deal and a sympathetic council, it could have been much worse.
If the state isn't feeling "generous" this year, it seems likely someone or something will face the axe.
Students involved in the music program must be hopeful the decision to hold off on purchasing $25,000 worth of instruments won't materialize or represent a trend.
The board meets next on Feb. 27. Preliminary budgets must be submitted by March 5.
[Editor's note: Clarification – the school board has made no definitive decisions on purchasing $25K worth of musical instruments but held off on funding it Monday night.]