Proposed School Budget Could Mean $31.89 Tax Hike For Residents
Summit school officials attribute the increase to higher enrollment at the high school.
School officials met on March 7 and presented a tentative budget of $65,913,363 for the 2013-2014 school year, an increase due mainly to enrollment in students at the high school, which saw a rise of an additional 388 students since 2008.
What the proposed budget would mean for the average taxpayer is a $2.66 increase per month or $31.89 per year, according to School Business Administrator Louis Pepe. Last year, although there was no increase in the budget, a $14.22 per year increase was absorbed by taxpayers due to the loss of ratables.
Pepe said that since he and Superintendent Nathan Parker joined the Summit School District in 2008, they have been able to keep expenditures down and build up a reserve that was basically zero in 2007 and also included yearly lease payments near $1 million dollars. By 2010 the lease payments were down significantly and currently the district has no payments, Pepe added.
Currently, the district has a $4.1 million reserve, which is a testament to the fact the district has been under cap for the past several years, according to Pepe.
The most significant expenditure included in the budget is 65.6 percent allocated for classroom instruction, which accounts for 9.6 full-time equivalent additions in staffing.
At the high school level, for regular instruction, one addition full-time English, math and physics teacher will be added. In addition, one part-time teacher will be added in the following subjects: Biology, Social Studies, Latin, Mandarin and Spanish.
Parker added that as times change, there is an increase needed to meet student needs, so the proposed budget includes an additional $65,000 that will be spent on resources for the guidance department.
Referring to the growth in student population, Mayor Ellen Dickson asked whether additions would be needed in the sports budget as interest in athletics increases.
Parker said that although enrollment is rising at a rate of 25 percent, the interest in athletics surpasses that at 37 percent. Subsequently, the budget proposal includes a part-time assistant to the athletic director and a part-time physical education/health teacher.
However, the part-time physical education/health teacher could be removed from the budget if they need to find somewhere to save additional costs.
Other additions to staffing expenditures include 2.7 full-time "equivalent" instructors at the Middle School level — this includes a full-time special education teacher to teach a Middle School autistic class program and three full-time special education aides. Adding the autism program in the Middle School is a new initiative which will expand the programs that already exist at the elementary level in an effort to keep students in-district, and better serve them as a members of the Summit community, Parker stated.
Extending the autism program in the middle school will also keep tuition costs down by keeping students in the district, as opposed to sending them for instruction in other districts, officials said. Sending students to other districts would cost twice as much as educating them in Summit schools, Parker said.
Pepe added that tuition for out-of-district students remains the same, however, because those students who are going out of district have extreme needs that can’t be addressed in the city.
“The more important attribute is keeping the kids in their own community and enrich our schools,” Parker added. “It’s important that we support those families that need and deserve it.”
To support this program will also be the addition of one part-time special education behaviorist and a part-time speech teacher for the autistic program.
This year’s proposed budget is well within state-mandated the 2 percent budget cap, Parker said. According to Pepe, the budget is .12 percent under the state’s cap.
The board presented this budget on March 7, and then submitted it to the county for approval.
When Dave Bomgaars, member of the Board of School Estimate asked if Pepe or Parker thought there would be any issues with the county approving their proposed budget, Parker indicated that he did not believe the county would hesitate to approve the spending plan.
“We expect them to use our budget as an example for the rest of the county,” he said.
Bomgaars added, “As it should be.”
Pepe said smart financials over the past five years played a major role in how smooth their budget has become, adding that in different areas they have saved $6.5 million.
Through effective management the board has saved $31,158 in interest just by changing banks and $415,000 by changing their food service, according to Pepe.
Additionally they have saved $84,151 in finance and banking, $179,559 in electric, $236,447 on discounts on telecommunications, $268,583 on special education tuition, $484,514 on a consortium with other districts to buy supplies, $946,367 on personnel reductions and $3,862,200 on an employee contribution plan.
One of the savings in personnel reduction has paved the way to give them the opportunity to make new additions in staffing for times when they would really need it, such as now.
“In the high school we are up 254 students since 2011 yet we have not advanced any increases in staffing since that time,“ Pepe stated. “So it got to the point where we could not deliver the instruction appropriately without having those positions.”
The budget proposed includes a $778,585 increase in regular instruction and a $389,268 increase in special education to cover the staffing and expansion needs. Pepe added that areas such as student transportation services, employee benefits and capital outlay are all in the negative due to careful planning and a reallocation of funds to cover those increases in instruction.
It is expected that this is the budget that will be presented on that March 25, Pepe said, but it could change.
“We are very pleased with the where we are collectively,” Pepe added. “This is a very good budget that we are happy to present.”
The Board of School Estimate, which consists of two members of the Board of Education, two members of the Common Council and the mayor will meet again on March 25 to vote on the proposed 2013-2014 budget.