Tuesday night, Verona Schools Superintendent Steven Forte presented the final $32.865 million 2012-13 school budget at the district’s board of education meeting.

The budget represents a 2.37 percent increase, or $248,347, over the current budget, Forte said, which will be used to maintain existing staff and academic programs, fund curricular enhancements, support strategic goals and address some needed facility repairs.
The increase above the state-imposed 2 percent cap is allowable because excessive increases in healthcare costs made Verona eligible for an automatic cap adjustment, according to Forte.

Of the $248,347 raised by the adjustment, the board will use $99,505 to balance the 2012-13 budget and bank the remaining $148,842 for possible use over the next three years.

Forte explained the budget is largely driven by state mandates with a majority of the funds, 71 percent, going to staff salaries and benefits.

This year healthcare costs have increased by 9.35 percent. Another significant cost was incurred due to the increase of approximately 8 percent in student enrollment over the past six years.

Forte broke down the budget as follows:

• Salaries account for $16.1 million in the budget, an increase of 1.62 percent from last year
• Benefits account for $4.1 million in the budget, an increase of 8.5 percent from last year
• Special education costs account for $5.8 million in the budget, an increase of 2.36 percent from last year
• Non-discretionary spending on necessities such as utilities and basic maintenance comprises $1.8 million of the budget, up .30 percent, with discretionary spending for items such as supplies, textbooks, staff development and technology totaling $920,642, representing a 14.87 percent increase over last year

Board President John Quattrocchi was quick to point out that while the percentage of discretionary spending may seem high, over the five-year projection the spending is slated to decrease to a negative 4.75 percent.

When measured against 11 comparable districts, which is based on size (1,800 to 3,500 students in K-12 grades) as well as similar socio-economic factors or “I” district groups in Essex and surrounding counties, Verona ranked the fourth lowest in property tax levy, according to 2010-11 state data, the most recent available. Verona also placed second lowest in comparative education spending.

In other news from the meeting:

• Forte noted the district is currently in the fourth year of it’s strategic five-year plan and in the upcoming school year looked forward to embarking on the next five year plan. He hopes the plan will include 21st century facilities as well as new curriculum and possibly implementation of a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program throughout all schools in the district.

• Forte announced the Montclair YMCA will continue to run the district’s after-care program after a meeting was held with the Y’s CEO in which she agreed to address the district’s complaints about the program. Next year participants should see a reduction in costs and the elimination of bussing.

The next BOE meeting on April 10 will provide a curriculum update.