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Ridgewood School Taxes to Rise $195

No program cuts, minimal staff changes expected in 2013 budget

school administrators unveiled the first look at the FY 2013 budget though they caution this isn't the end of the process, but only the beginning.

"It's a tight budget," said Assistant Superintendent Angelo DeSimone, who made the presentation to the school board Monday night.

As it stands, instructional staff and programs will be largely shielded from impact in the upcoming budget. Nine teacher's aides, however, have been cut as administrators work to close a . The district recently got a boost when the , reducing the budget to a gap further. Trims based on historical budget levels by Friday.

The operating budget of $90,653,862 calls for a tax levy of $86,150,328. The district will need to raise $82,949,642 in taxes for the upcoming year, a two percent rise in line with the state-mandated tax cap. That cost amounts to $195 increase in school taxes for the average home assessed at roughly $794,000.

The preliminary budget, passed by the board unanimously Monday, now moves for approval by the county executive superintendent.

According to DeSimone, the district faces rising costs in the form of increased health care claims (totaling $626,000, a 20 percent increase), a budgeted 2 percent salary increase to staff in line with the tax cap, and a one-time purchase of science "kits" in grades K-8.

The kits, which in effect constitute a brand new science program much lauded by curriculum administrators, will cost around $350,000. Though the one-time cost may seem significant, Superintendent Daniel Fishbein said if broken down over the 5-to-10 year life expectancy, the investment is comparably minimal.

Special education costs are also projected to rise nearly 15 percent and the maintenance budget will shoot about $119,000 with a new contract in place for the custodial crew, according to district figures. Beyond the loss of nine teacher aides (which HR Director Gary Hall said would be made up for by "attrition"), the 's budget has shrunk by $300,000.

DeSimone also expressed concern with the state of extraordinary aid funding, allocated by the state in a process similar to grant applications, and pegged at just over $1 million as a budget revenue. Should the number – considered by administrators to be 'conservative' – increase, it would replenish the overall budget to help eliminate deficiencies.

But if it doesn't, "it's a scary number," DeSimone said. "It makes me very nervous." About $500,000 is still left in the capital reserve account, which has shrunk considerably in recent years.

Administrators are also shopping for a new healthcare provider to find further cost savings, and should hear back by mid-March.

Discussions will continue throughout the next two months. The budget must be submitted to the state by March 26. Voters get their say on April 17.

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