VTSD to vote on preliminary budget


By Mike Zummo

VERNON The Vernon Township Board of Education is expected to approve a preliminary version of the 2019-20 budget on Thursday so that it can be sent to the County Dept. of Education for review and approval.
Business Administrator Steve Kepnes said as of Tuesday, March 12, the Vernon Township School District's budget will require a tax levy of $42.26 million, up from $38.22 million, a 10.57 percent increase.
The district expects to use about $2.6 million in capped bank.
Kepnes said new information could change the budget before it's voted on in April.
The state plans to reduce the district’s state aid by about $10 million dollars over six years and Business Administrator Steve Kepnes said in December, he expected about a $1.3-million-dollar reduction in state aid.
On Thursday, March 7, after the final state aid numbers came in, Kepnes said state aid numbers were about $170,000 less than expected, a total of $22.64 million for the 2019-20 school year.
"They're actually holding to what they said they would do,” Business Administrator Steve Kepnes said on Thursday, March 7. “So that allows us to make a plan."
However, the price Vernon is expected to pay for students to attend charter schools is about $100,000 less than expected. Instead of $900,000, the district only expects to have to pay about $800,000.
“It’s almost a wash,” Assistant Superintendent Charles McKay said.
However, the district is going to reduce staff going into the next school year as there will be 18 retirements and 10 “non-renewals”. Kepnes said there will be a retirement in maintenance and a 25 reduction in aides.
Officials said on Tuesday, March 12 that the retirements will not be replaced and they will transfer existing faculty to cover the retirements, with an eye toward keeping class sizes the same size.
McKay said the faculty has been understanding.
"This is Year 1 of some major cuts and these cuts have already painful,” McKay said. “This is where it gets really painful because we go around to each of the buildings because we talk about this is what we're going to do. By the time you're finished with the transfers and you finish with who you you're not going to rehire, everyone's annoyed. That's part of this process. It's a very human process."
Bus RoutesThe district also looked to save money by the possibility of consolidating bus routes and asked families if they were willing to waive transportation and take the responsibility upon themselves.
A memo from Superintendent Karen D’Avino indicated that out of 858 responses, 88 percent said they would not want to waive transportation.
Most of the responses came from Vernon Township High School. There were at total of 99 yes and unsure responses and 41 indicated they were parents of Vernon Township High School students so D’Avino recommended the board may want to consider an additional survey of the high school.
AP ExamsThe Board of Education also pondered on March 7 whether continuing the new practice of funding AP exams is still worth it in a budget crisis.
“I think it would be great if we could offer that to our students,” school board member Natalie Buccieri said. “I just don't feel comfortable doing this if we’re going into bank cap, reducing staff, reducing programs. This may be a drop in the bucket, but I don't know about the optics.”
Board member Justin Annunziata defended the practice saying while the district spends a lot of money on sports and arts programs, the money spent on this academic pursuit serves another population that “does not receive a lot out of the budget”.
“They’re getting that class,” school board President Brad Sparta said. “They’re getting the credits to go to college at a significantly reduced rate.”
Sparta said he is not advocating changing the practice, but he said the district does not have to pay for the exams, which cost about $100 each.
“We have a lot of kids going in as second-semester freshmen and we’re saving parents tens of thousands of dollars,” Sparta said.