SOM Schools Face $17 Million Budget Gap in Five Years

District presented "staggering" numbers at recent Board of Ed meeting.

(Correction: the BOE will vote on the school budget on Thursday, March 21).

The South Orange - Maplewood School District will face a skyrocketing budget shortfall within the next five years, leading to an eventual $17 million deficit, according to recent projections issued by the adminstration.

Business administrator Cheryl Schneider presented the numbers as part of a review of the 2013-14 budget at the February Board of Education meeting. 

"South Orange - Maplewood, every single local school district cannot budget ourselves out of this situation," said Facilities and Finance chair Andrea Wren-Hardin. "This is staggeringly helpless."

The board is currently addressing a $2.8 million shortfall in the 2013-14 budget. Schneider's projections show that gap steadily widening to $17.4 million by 2018-19, assuming the tax levy increases by 2% each year, costs continue to grow as in the past and state aid remains flat. 

The chart can be found in a document on the district's website.

Superintendent Brian Osborne and Board President Beth Daugherty also discussed the projections in a recent budget presentation to the Maplewood Township Committee.

"This graph is stunning," said committeeman Jerry Ryan. "You've gotta be doing something different," he said. He said he hoped there would be long-term strategic conversation and planning to address the issue.

"I don't know how you don't go home and put the covers over your head," Mayor Vic DeLuca said to Osborne and Daugherty. 

"There are 6,760 reasons a year not to do that," said Osborne, referring to the district's students, "and we will figure out a way to continue providing quality and do more with less." However, he admitted it was becoming more and more difficult to find places to cut.

"The five-year projection worries me," said Jeffrey Bennett in an email to Patch. "We cannot budget our way out of the deficit, but neither can we tax our way out."

Bennett said that although many areas were outside of the administration's and board's control, such as growing health care costs and flat or reduced state aid, the board should continue to scrutinize the budget each year.

He said while SOMSD schools are operated efficiently, there are non-direct classroom areas where spending is above the local average, including remedial education, attendance and social work, transportation, and improvement of instructional services. 

On March 4, the  with an operating budget with a 2.47% tax impact and an "all-in" total tax impact of 2.93%. Bennett, Wayne Eastman, and Madhu Pai voted against the budget, saying they wanted to keep to a 2% tax increase in the operating budget. 

This is the first year that the Board of Education does not submit their budget to the Board of School Estimate and the board itself sets the tax levy.

At the February BOE meeting, a frustrated Wren-Hardin said the district cannot keep "cutting and cutting" when "the answer is not to continue to look inward; we have to be looking outward." She called the projections "horrifyingly awful."

"This is depressing," said Daugherty. "There's no other way to put it." 

The Board of Education will vote on the final budget on Thursday, March 21 (note: this is a change from the original date). There will be a public hearing before the vote. The public can also make its views known at the next regular Board of Ed meeting on March 18.

lolly evans March 11, 2013 at 06:29 PM
I know! How much did those stupid bus lane stickers and signs cost us? How ridiculous is this! And what about the "Green garbage cans" in town? How much did these cost? The TOC is just spending money on dumb things. Things that really are not helping the contituents at all. And do you remember that giant climbing monstrosity the HS had last spring? It was on the news. How much did that cost? I mean, c'mon! 800 new computers? 58% of my tax dollars for the freaking schools?
lolly evans March 11, 2013 at 06:30 PM
I meant bike lanes!
lolly evans March 11, 2013 at 06:31 PM
The BOE and the Township Committee need to show some restraint!
emy March 11, 2013 at 06:45 PM
I agree that our taxes are too high and are increasing at an unsustainable rate, especially in regard to our schools. I've done the math; at 4% increases year over year -- not an unrealistic expectation given my experience in town so far -- my property taxes will exceed 30K in five years, will be pushing 40K when my first child goes to college and be pushing 50K when my last goes. I suspect we agree that this trend will some day soon make our homes unmarketable (unless we miraculously become the #1 high school in the state, or other similar compensating rationale). I just don't agree that the cause of this problem is assignable to one political party or another. Obviously the school district has a lot of cutting to do, and it is going to hurt.
KSSR March 11, 2013 at 11:47 PM
Emy - Are you kidding? The politicians make the decisions on taxes and spending. Which party here in Maplewood and Essex County have been in control for a long, long time? Democrats!


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