The approved its preliminary budget for the 2012-2013 school year at a special meeting Tuesday night convened specifically for that topic. By approving, the members set the maximum amount the budget can be, although it can still be reduced or adjusted before it is adopted.
Before discussion began, Superintendent LeRoy Seitz explained that he was asking the board to approve a budget of more than $128 million at an increase of 2.74 percent with a tax levy revenue increase of more than $3 million over the 2011-2012 budget. This would cost the average homeowner about $114.69 in taxes.
This amount is slightly increased from the over the last few months – the most immediately previous version representing a 2.3 percent tax increase – due to an additional $500,000 that has been added to address certain topics.
Seitz explained that the budget is not simply rolled over from the previous year with money added here and there. Instead, the district starts with a clean slate, or what Seitz deemed a “zero-based budget.”
However, when establishing the budget's parameters, Seitz said he and the board agreed in November to maintain all current instructional and co-curricular programs and most staff positions.
The notable staff position exception is kindergarten paraprofessionals. At a previous meeting, Seitz had explained that, due to state accountability regulations, the district can no longer have kindergarten paraprofessionals unless class size exceeds 25 students.
“In talking to our principals, it is very clear to me that the loss of those paraprofessionals is going to have a significant impact on how we run our kindergarten classes, how we instruct our students and the amount of time we can devote to the instruction of our students,” Seitz said.
He said the $500,000 is intended to help the board find alternate ways to compensate for the loss of these 24 paraprofessionals, who were each making up to $20,000 per year.
[Editor's note: The figure, originally stated as $27,000, was corrected.]
Part of the additional money will be devoted to addressing class size issues.
According to the school district class size policy, 25 students is the maximum size permissible for kindergarten through fifth grade. However, parents of students at Troy Hills Elementary School .
Seitz said he and the policy committee are already looking for ways to fix the problem, having met with two principals earlier in the day. He said he plans to meet with more next week.
In addition to these two issues, Seitz said some of the other drivers that led to the total budget increase of $2.4 million from last year include new staff positions, health benefits increasing by 6.3 percent and the purchase of new technology.
The budget was approved by all but two board members, Susy Golderer and Michael Strumolo.
Earlier in the evening, Strumolo made a motion to have a forensic accountant come in and audit the budget line-by-line before it is accepted.
Board member Debbie Orme spoke against the audit, citing that a forensic audit would likely cost more than the $80,000 allotted to the district’s annual audit.
Board Administrator Mark Resnick explained that a forensic audit is much more in-depth and takes longer than the three months the annual audit takes. He added that it is difficult to guess what the cost would be.
Board President Frank Calabria said it has been a long time since the board has had a forensic audit of the budget. In fact, he said that was back when the district’s budgets were around $40 million.
“I have concerns that we’re going to spend $120,000 on it,” Calabria said.
The superintendent also suggested against attempting a forensic audit now as they can really be done only after a budget has been adopted.
The board ultimately decided to have the finance committee look into how much such an audit would cost and to report back at the board’s next meeting.
“By that time, hopefully we can have some numbers and not shoot from the hip at the numbers,” Golderer said. “This is the taxpayer’s money, and I don’t want to play with it.”
The preliminary budget must be submitted to the executive county superintendent for review by March 5. There will then be a public hearing, where the board will also vote to approve and finalize the budget, on March 29.
This will be the first year the budget will not go to a public vote , which also moves the school board elections to November.
The next Board of Education meeting takes place March 8 at 7 p.m. at the Administration Building, 292 Parsippany Road.