The Vernon Township School District Board of Education voted on Wednesday, March 18, to send its preliminary 2020-21 budget to the Sussex County schools superintendent for review.
The budget, according to Board of Education President Justin Annunziata is a $1.2 million decrease from last year’s $66.48 budget.
The budget calls for a $43.2 million tax levy, a 1.79 percent increase over last year.
"There are many things I don't like about this budget,” Annunziata said. “I'm sad that some of the programs I think are beneficial for our students are going to be sunsetted and phased out."
The school board voted 6-3 to send the preliminary budget to the county.
Board members Mark Cilli, Theresa Scura Coughlin and Kelly Mitchell voted against the measure.
"I know we're somewhat pleased that we're coming in with a reduced number, reducing operating costs,” Cilli said. “The reason I'm voting ‘no’, I do feel we need a multi-year plan. A target that we're shooting for over the long term. It's a multi-year crisis. I think we need a multi-year plan to get us there."
At a previous budget forum, Business Administrator Stephen Kepnes said the school board has decreased taxes between the 2012-13 school year and 2016-17. He said if the school board had continued to raise taxes from 2012-13 at a 2 percent clip, this year’s tax levy would be at $48.5 million.
The district, in the middle of a state aid reduction, which sees them losing about $10 million in state aid over the course of six years, has not been replacing retired teachers.
Assistant Superintendent Chuck McKay said that has been effective.
School board member Kelly Mitchell echoed Cilli’s statement that the district went forward with no multi-year plan.
"There hasn't been a strategic plan,” she said. “There's been a hope and a prayer that people would retire and that is wrong. A leader leads. A leader has a plan for three years."
Board members stressed that the budget is not complete. Part of the process is voting to send it to the county for notes and feedback.
If this were final approval, school board member Brad Sparta said he would not have voted for it.
The final approval vote is scheduled for April 30.
“There’s more to find here,” he said. “We go to the taxes and teachers well too often.”