The Board of Education on Monday introduced a budget for the 2011-12 school year and discussed preliminary figures in a spending plan that will be outlined more fully for the public before its potential adoption on Monday, March 28.
The roughly outlined $82,432,885 proposal to run the district's six schools next year can be changed at any time up until the budget is adopted, Board Member Susan McGowan said. Like Monday night, the next meeting is again scheduled to be held in the auditorium.
The planned budget would stay within the state's 2 percent cap on increases, according to the school district's business administrator, Nick Markarian.
However, several board members confirmed after hearing questions from the public that the board has no intention of reviving the nine-period day at Ridge High School. The board already had voted to eight periods for 2011-12 in anticipation of receiving the same level of state aid as for 2010-11.
Instead, under Gov. Chris Christie's budget proposal, it was on Feb. 23 announced that Bernards schools will receive $1,625,312 next year—an increase of $777,421 from the 2010-11 allotment of $847,891.
Those figures are supposed to be firm, Markarian said earlier on Monday. But he and other school officials said at the meeting those figures are not guaranteed for this year—and certainly not for years going forward.
Markarian said during his presentation that the school district considers the additional $777,000 in aid promised for next year as "non-recurring," meaning the money can't be counted on for the future.
That money would be part of a $3.4-million capital account set up next year to handle necessary building improvements throughout the district, such as leaking roofs, according to Markarian's presentation.
Board members said during their comments that they don't want to return the $360,000 in estimated savings by cutting staff to go to an eight-period day to the budget, only to later find out that aid will be lower than expected, or the budget is again voted down.
"It's still a tough economy out there," Board President Susan Carlsson said. "There's no guarantee the budget will pass."
Along with last year's state aid cut, the district was forced to absorb another $800,000 reduction after this year's proposed budget was defeated at the polls last April.
Board members said they don't want to reinstate a program and then find that it has to be cut again when final figures are in place for next year.
But some parents say they would like to use the money the district has received to keep the nine-period day, or at least save the jobs of a few science teachers.
Resident and parent Fred Douglis urged the board not to cancel school programs this year in anticipation that the funds might not be available another year.
"Why don't we keep things instead for this year?" he said. "You are closing the door on things we could actually keep."
Another parent, Vita Caravias, urged the board to use some of the money to keep some of the science teachers who now are slated to lose their jobs. She said some of those talented teachers will be gone when others who are nearing retirement age leave the high school.
"If we keep them for one year, it will make a huge difference for these kids," she said of science teachers.
During his presentation, Markarian referred several times to a board goal to come up with a school program that can be "sustainable" on reduced funding into future years.
School board members did agree they may look at hiring another guidance counselor rather than shifting a guidance counselor from the high school to middle school next fall.
But several spoke of the need to make repairs such as fixing roofs. "It's really scary how much needs to be fixed and how much has been deferred," Board Member Robin McKeon said. "If we put it off, we are going to be paying more in the future," she said.
Resident Douglas Wicks, however, brought up again his contention that the district should pursue the contractor who put up the roofs and, he said, may have failed to use proper materials. Repairs on some of those roofs should be covered for up to 25 years, he said.
Another resident, Greg Healy, questioned an architect's report that estimated a cost of $500,000 to replace 250 doors in various school buildings.
Board members said they anticipate further discussion on the budget to come up again at the next board meeting, set for next Monday, March 14 at the Oak Street School at 7 p.m.