Council, school boardpursue budget solution

Council, board at odds

over how to trim budget
By:Krzysztof Scibiorski
   Despite serious differences and the approaching May 20 budget deadline, the Borough Council and some Board of Education members seem confident that an amicable resolution is possible.
   "There’s always been cooperation between us and we’ll find a solution," said Manville Mayor Angelo Corradino, referring to the discussions about the defeated school budget. "It’s not beneficial for anybody if we don’t find a solution to the problem and the budget issues plays out for months."
   Under state law, the Borough Council must review the defeated $13.5 million school budget and, after consulting with the school board, determine whether spending cuts should be made. The school board must then reduce the budget by the amount recommended by the Borough Council, or appeal to the commissioner of the state Department of Education.
   The council met with the Board of Education on Tuesday evening, and Mayor Corradino said he expected the board to cut $600,000 from the defeated $13.5 million budget.
   "This is a critical year, we all need to tighten our belts. We have a very real $3.5 million deficit and we need to remember that," the mayor said. "We will be better off next year, when the state aid figures will be up. Then we’ll be able to do the good things for the schools."
   He identified three areas where he believes the school district could save some money. "First of all, I have never seen a budget where everything that was assigned was spent; second, the district has a surplus account that could be used and some of the services could be consolidated without harming the education," Mr. Corradino said on Wednesday.
   Councilman Martin Wierzba said that he believes that the district budget contains hidden funds that could be cut without hurting the education process.
   "I guarantee that even after we make the cuts they (the district) will still have surplus money next year," Mr. Wierzba said. "There’s hidden money there, but we don’t know where it is."
   Board President Dorothy Bradley said that her aim has been to maintain the integrity of the board and the budget.
   "I don’t like the ‘let’s pad it so they can cut it’ idea," Ms. Bradley said. "No matter what we do (in terms of budget cuts), it will have an impact on the education process. We have to do our best to represent the kids and the taxpayers in this town."
   Ms. Bradley said that the board has been considering several areas of possible savings but also plans to show the council how possible cuts would affect the education of the students at the Manville schools.
   "We will certainly be very straight with the council. We will show what’s in the surplus and how that could be used, and there are some things that we can look to postpone for a year," Ms. Bradley said.
   She said that the projected surplus for the current (2001-2002) fiscal year would be less than the state-recommended 3 percent of the $12.5 million budget.
   "To deplete that sum completely, and put it into next year’s budget would leave us very vulnerable to any unexpected events during the year," she said. "However, there’s no one on the board that says we should hold on to that money for a rainy day because it’s pouring right now."
   She also identified some items such as audiovisual equipment and school supplies that she believes could be postponed for a year.
   Ms. Bradley also said that the board has looked at saving funds by not replacing some teachers who will be lost to attrition.
   "Thanks to the provisions that we negotiated with the teachers’ union we have some flexibility in covering the curriculum with less staff," Ms. Bradley said. "The reality is that the budget is going to be cut, but I don’t have $600,000 worth of ideas to give to the mayor."
   The previous board president, Frank Jurewicz, questioned the council’s position.
   "They ask us about how the senior citizens feel about increasing school taxes, but how do the high school students feel when we are not giving them a chance to go to good colleges because of the education they get," Mr. Jurewicz said. "Our spending is even lower than some charter schools. If this goes on we might as well put for-sale signs outside our schools."
   Mr. Jurewicz said that if the council decides to cut the $600,000 from the school budget he would vote to appeal the decision to the state education commissioner.
   "We can’t hit that high of a number ($600,000 in cuts) without firing people and hitting the children’s education," Mr. Jurewicz said. "I know at least two other current board members who have said that if the sum reaches that high we should immediately appeal to the state."
   If five school board members disagree with the cuts determined by the borough council, they have the option of appealing the outcome to the state commissioner of education, district business administrator Richard Reilly said.
   According to Mr. Reilly, the appeals process could take several months and any potential budget restorations would be added to the spring 2003 property tax bill.
   "We encourage everyone to come to an agreement together because otherwise the taxpayers could get flattened with a lump increase," Mr. Reilly said.
   Ms. Bradley said that she would not be in favor of an appeal to the state.
   "It’s hard to predict what five board members would do, but I would not be in favor of an appeal, both us and the Borough Council live in Manville we all know what’s best for our children," Ms. Bradley said. "This is our house and we should resolve our issues here, not have somebody from Trenton tell us what to do."
   The council and the Board of Education were scheduled to meet on Wednesday and Thursday nights to come up with a resolution to the budget issue. On Friday, the two bodies plan to hold separate meetings on the final version of the budget, which has to be submitted to the state on Monday.