Millstone schools face ugly budgeting process

Superintendent: There is no question that staff will be cut


MILLSTONE — There is nothing good in the school’s district’s preliminary budget, according to Board of Education President Tom Foley.

Business Administrator Bernard Biesaida gave a presentation about the budget at the Jan. 25 meeting, which a large number of people attended.

“From a cost perspective, there are more challenges for the district,” said Foley.

He added that nearly half a million dollars must be cut to bring the budget to cap.

“That’s why it is so ugly,” he said.

Biesaida said the district faces a number of obstacles, including a lack of budget guidance from the state and not having budget software at this time. He put together four possible budgets that range from a best- to worst-case scenario.

In the best-case scenario, state aid is flat, and the district can raise the tax levy up to 4 percent. If that is the case, according to Biesaida, the budget could grow about $1 million and the school district could attempt to maintain current staffing and include all needs to keep the schools open for 180 days.

Such a budget would total $220,000 over cap, and since anticipated revenues are expected to go down $270,000, the district would have to cut $490,000 to get to cap in the first scenario, according to the presentation. Biesaida said facility use, investment interest, and preschool enrichment program tuition revenues are down.

The proposed cuts to get to cap include eliminating one assistant principal position at $120,000 — a position that is currently vacant, eliminating one teacher at $70,000, negotiating a tuition adjustment pay plan of $275,000 with the Upper Freehold Regional School District, and reducing purchased professional services by $25,000.

The second scenario anticipated a 10 percent cut in state aid, which would mean cutting an additional $530,000 from the budget. These cuts would eliminate four additional within two miles of schools at $125,000, a part-time public relations position at $35,000, energy spending at $50,000, nonpublic school transportation and a part-time clerk/typist at $13,000.

The third scenario posted a 3 percent cap on the tax levy, with additional cuts of $250,000. These cuts would include a social studies curriculum initiative at $70,000, a fund balance withdrawal from the Millstone Performing Arts Center at $50,000, a clerk/typist in the transportation department at $50,000, technology purchases at $40,000, and the community education program at $40,000.

Biesaida said the community education program posted a $15,000 loss last year.

The worst-case scenario anticipated a 2 percent cap on the tax levy, which could mean complete privatization of district transportation at $250,000.

“Whether we will sell the fleet of buses, would have to be worked out if we get to that point,” said Biesaida.

Board member Patrick Whalen noted that the second scenario would affect four regular education teachers, as the district is required to add special education teachers due to state mandates.

With regard to the possibility of eliminating courtesy busing, Vice President Margaret Gordon said there is no way the board would reverse its policy designating the routes without sidewalks too hazardous for students to walk to school.

“We can’t un-hazard something,” she said.

Superintendent of Schools Mary Anne Donahue said there is no question that the school district would lose staff this year, and noted there are few nontenured teachers left.

There are projected to be 58 fewer students in the district next year, according to Donahue. Under the best-case scenario, class sizes would range from 21-22 students per class in kindergarten to 25-26 students per class in fifth grade. In the second scenario, there could be 28 students in a thirdgrade class, and 13 (up from seven) students per special education class.

Foley said the board may have to consider whether the district needs three school buildings.