VTSD bringing budget challenges to community

| 06 Feb 2019 | 12:45

The Vernon Township School District has spent the last several months informing the public of the budgetary challenges it will face going forward the next several years as it combats declining state aid.
Business Administrator Steve Kepnes, Superintendent Karen D’Avino and Associate Superintendent Charles McKay held a community presentation, the second of two, on Tuesday night.
“The last thing I want to do as a new superintendent, I’ve only been here five months – is pass this along to the taxpayers,” D’Avino said.
According to a presentation by district Business Administrator Steve Kepnes, the state is looking to decrease the amount of state aid the district receives to about $14 million over the course of the six years, which he said will bring it down to where the state formula says the district should receive due to enrollment.
The presentation was based on a budget that has no cuts and the state aid numbers could change in March.
During the 2018-19 school year, the district received about $24.5 million and the district is looking at about a $1.3 million drop in 2019-20. Also this year, the Board of Education contributed about $1.7 million of its fund balance, and he said it could only afford to contribute $326,000 of the balance.
Kepnes projected a flat budget would increase by $1.2 million in 2019-20 and the district could only raise the tax levy by $764,000.
Kepnes projected a flat budget leaves the board still needing to make up $3.15 million dollars.
State law allows the district to bank tax levy money if they don’t reach the cap and the district stayed below the cap since 2016 and since then the board has banked about $3.6 million.
Kepnes said the board could use that to apply to the 2019-20 budget, leaving $472,000 to apply to the 2020-21 school budget, which would create a hardship then.
In a flat budget, that would bring the total tax levy, the amount of the budget raised by taxes, to $42.1 million.
He said the average of $214,000 would see a $317 increase if the budget remained flat.
“It’s going to be a rough road,” D’Avino. “Unless the state changes what they’ve projected in reductions, we are looking at some challenges.”
Parents have expressed the most about extracurricular programs, including the music program.
“This session had an assumption for an analysis and the assumption was if there were no cuts, what might it look like,” Kepnes said. “I can’t stand here and tell you there will be no cuts. I can’t imagine there won’t be some kind of cuts or reductions.
He said simplest cuts could be retirements if they don’t have to fill that retirement.
“Even that could have a negative impact because naturally class sizes will go up if you do that time and time again,” Kepnes said. “But at least you’re not removing a staff or reducing a program. No one is hurt and the program continues.”