But last night he told the board state aid figures release last week will provide the district with an additional $222,523 for the 2012-2013 budget.
“We will not have to make the proposed cuts,” Bellino stressed. “We are grateful we don’t have to go through with them.”
While $186,300 still remained to be slashed from the budget, Bellino noted the reduced spending will not impact the schools or the student body. He explained the district found savings, totaling the amount of spending cuts needed, in insurance costs, teacher retirement and moving the school board elections to November.
But programs previously suggested for the chopping block have only been granted a temporary reprieve.
For instance, the Gifted and Talented program and elementary school music and foreign language instruction, which were the focus of budget cuts in the last board meeting are still under review by the board according to Bellino, who said members will be looking to identify the least-effective programs over the next several months.
For now the budget is slated to increase by $99,505 according to Bellino. He pointed out with the 3% waiver granted by the state, the board could have increased the budget by as much as $248,347. As it stands now, residents will see a tax levy increase of 2.37%.
Of course the $32,790,349 budget approved last night is only a tentative one. Some additional costs may be factored in Bellino acknowledged, noting the $30,000 requested by Superintendent Steven Forte for facility and technology upgrades were not included in the budget.
“It could go up slightly,” Bellino said. “I’m talking about very slightly.”
Barring any further increases the impact on residents currently works out to about $130 per household for homes valued at $400,000.
Board member Dawn DuBois recognized an increase is still an increase and expressed the board’s sensitivity to the current economic climate. “I can’t emphasize enough how sensitive we were that people in town have to make adjustments to their budget, and so do we. In the future it would be great to come in under budget.”
Although how the board would come in under budget is unclear. With a proposal for a full-day kindergarten accepted last night, the district is now seeking approval from voters to raise an additional $140,000 to fund the program.
Although Verona is within the minority of towns (26%) that do not offer full-day kindergarten, the program under consideration is modeled on one implemented in Roseland’s school district, which starts out the year with four-hour sessions and turns mid-year to a full-day program.
If passed by voters the taxes raised will be used exclusively for the program to provide funds for an increase in teachers and administrative salaries, lunch aides, supplies and textbooks. The board of education’s agenda says “approval of these taxes will result in a permanent increase in the district’s tax levy.”
But an even bigger piece of the budgetary puzzle is salary contracts, which are up for negotiation this year.
“We put this budget together without knowing what the biggest component of our budget will be,” Bellino stated.
“A very round number is $16 million for 200-odd people, and that’s for the salary alone,” said Board President John Quattrocchi. He estimated salaries and benefits for entire staff totaled 71% of the current budget.
Forte raised the issue of bringing in revenue and said he would like to see the after-school program, now run by the YMCA, to be operated by the district.
“Not only will the district make money on it,” Forte said, “We will do it better.” The “substantial” amount of money that could be generated he said could be given back to taxpayers or used for general purposes.
The evening ended with a public comment session in which residents thanked the board for listening to their requests and made a plea for clearer communication and more transparency.
“It would behoove the board to increase the level of transparency,” said Victor Lugo. “It would increase the level of comfort the residents have.”