Uncertainty surrounds next FRHSD budget

Pay-to-participate option is on the table as officials start work on spending plan

Staff Writer

With certain information unknown, it is not easy to predict what the financial situation will be for the 2011-12 Freehold Regional High School District budget, but administrators are starting to look at ways to save money.

The district’s budget for the 2011-12 school year will not be presented until March, prior to the public’s vote on the budget in the April school election.

During the FRHSD Board of Education’s Nov. 29 meeting held at Freehold Township High School, Business Administrator Sean Boyce gave a presentation on the forecast for the upcoming budget.

He said the 2010-11 school year is a transition year, and he explained that the district is “moving into a new era.”

Giving a hypothetical situation based on flat state aid and a 2 percent increase in the local tax levy, combined with increased costs for salaries and health benefits, Boyce put forth an estimate of a $10.3 million deficit facing the district.

He reiterated that this is a hypothetical scenario because the amount of state aid that the district will receive for 2011-12, and other information, is not yet known.

The business administrator said that in looking at the next budget, administrators must keep in mind the district’s No. 1 goal — student achievement.

Areas that may be examined to generate revenue include requiring students to pay to participate in school activities, commercial opportunities, and solar renewable energy certificates. Boyce said in terms of staffing, the district’s organizational structure may be looked at, along with alternative staffing options and opening talks for negotiations with the district’s unions.

Administrators may also examine programs and services. He said programs and services that may be underperforming or underused could be refined or eliminated.

Typically in each year’s budget, Boyce said, there are planned improvements to the district’s facilities to keep them in top shape. The 2010-11 budget eliminated all improvements.

Boyce said administrators will likely need to find different ways to maintain the district’s facilities. The options could include placing a referendum for certain improvements before the public, something the district has not traditionally done in the past.W

hat makes a referendum for capital improvements possible is that the state offers aid on certain capital items and appears to be continuing to provide those funds, Boyce said.

He said that over the summer, district officials took stock of the FRHSD’s facilities and determined what areas will need improvements. Officials are also revisiting the possibility of installing solar panels at some locations. That option initially came before the board in 2008.

At the Nov. 29 meeting, the board voted 8-0 to hire the Spiezle Architectural Group for pre-referendum work in regard to solar panels. The cost of the firm’s services is listed as $29,000.

Boyce said there may be ways to install the solar panels in the district that would be tax neutral, meaning no increase in school taxes even though bonds would be issued to pay for the work.

One way this could be possible is if solar renewable energy certificates — money that would be coming into the district from the solar panels — covered the cost of the bond payments.

Board member Tom Caiazza of Freehold Township said that if the board does nothing, it will not be able to succeed at the primary goal of student achievement.

Boyce said discussions and presentations about the possibility of requiring students to pay to participate in school activities would likely begin during December’s board meeting. The next scheduled meeting is on Dec. 20 at Howell High School.

Discussions on the others areas are expected to be held in the months leading up to the budget’s introduction.